& Chloe Farand / The Independent – 2018-06-30 22:59:45
Congo Says It Will Open Two National Parks Up to Oil Drilling
Amedee Mwarabu and Aaron Ross / Reuters
KINSHASA, DRC (June 29, 2018) – Democratic Republic of Congo’s government said on Friday that it has decided to open up parts of Virunga and Salonga National Parks, home to mountain gorillas, bonobos and other rare species, to oil drilling.
Earlier proposals to allow oil exploration in the parks met fierce resistance from environmental activists, who say drilling would place wildlife at risk and release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, causing global warming.
The government has defended its right to authorise drilling anywhere in the country and said it is mindful of protecting animals and plants in the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The cabinet said in a statement that it had approved the establishment of interministerial commissions charged with preparing plans to declassify sections of the parks, including 1,720 sq km, or 21.5 percent, of eastern Congo’s Virunga.
Virunga sits on the forest-cloaked volcanoes of central Africa and is home to over half the global population of mountain gorillas. British company Soco International performed seismic testing there but let its license lapse in 2015.
Salonga covers 33,350 sq km of the Congo Basin, the world’s second-largest rainforest, and contains bonobos, forest elephants, dwarf chimpanzees and Congo peacocks.
Democratic Republic of Congo Plans to Allow
Oil Exploration in National Parks Home to
Endangered Mountain Gorillas
Chloe Farand / The Independent
Documents seen by The Independent show
the government plans to re-draw the borders
of the Salonga and Virunga national parks
(May 4, 2018) — The Democratic Republic of Congo is planning to reclassify two protected national parks to allow oil exploration.
Documents seen by The Independent show the government wants to redraw the boundaries of the Salonga and Virunga national parks, which are home to critically endangered species such as mountain gorillas, to remove protected status from certain areas.
Both parks are UNESCO World Heritage sites, a status which in theory should protect them from oil exploration and other extractive activities.
In a letter, Congo’s oil minister Aime Ngoi Muken invited the environment minister and the minister for scientific research to a special commission meeting to discuss the plans on 27 April.
Minutes and notes of the meeting give more details about the areas in which the Congolese government wants to allow exploration.
In another series of letters seen by NGO Global Witness, Congo’s oil minister Ngoi Muken argued for the need to open up the protected sites for oil exploration and set out the legal procedures to do so.
Global Witness said the plans would be a violation of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention to which the Democratic Republic of Congo is a signatory.
The Virunga park is one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet and is home to about a quarter of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas.
According to UNESCO, the Salonga park is Africa’s largest tropical rainforest, home to many endangered species such as bonobos, dwarf chimpanzees, Congo peacocks and forest elephants.
Peter Jones, a campaign leader on corruption for Global Witness, said the attempt to open up the parks must be halted immediately.
“If we cannot protect even UNESCO World Heritage Sites from oil exploration where in the world is safe from the fossil fuel industry?
“The potential damage to these rare and valuable ecosystems is enormous. The Congolese government should be seeking to extend protection of these areas rather than selling them off to the highest bidder.”
In February, Congolese President Kabila authorised oil exploration inside areas, which partially overlapped with the Salonga park.
At the time, oil minister oil minister Ngoi Muken said no land should be off limits for oil exploration in the country.
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