US asks DRC to pull oil blocks from auction to protect forests

Authorities in the central African nation launched bids for 30 oil and gas blocks in July.

United States climate envoy John Kerry on Tuesday said Washington had asked the Democratic Republic of Congo to abandon some oil blocks that it put up for auction in sensitive environmental areas.

Authorities in the central African nation launched bids for 30 oil and gas blocks in July.

But the move was controversial, drawing criticism from green groups which warned that drilling in the Congo Basin’s rainforests and peatlands could release vast amounts of heat-trapping gas.

Speaking to reporters at the pre-COP27 climate talks in Kinshasa, Kerry said the US had asked the DRC’s government to “withdraw some tracts to protect the forest”.

The former US secretary of state also said there was a way to provide employment and economic development without putting sensitive environmental areas such as “really critical peatlands” at risk.

“We want to balance,” Kerry said, adding that he was due to meet Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi to discuss the issue later today.

Scientists have sounded several warnings about the DRC’s peatlands, which comprise an area about the size of England.

Approximately 30 billion tonnes of carbon are stored across the entirety of the Congo Basin, researchers estimated in a 2016 study in Nature magazine. The figure is roughly equivalent to three years of global emissions.

The DRC government has maintained that exploiting its oil and gas resources is an economic necessity that could help its citizens.

Some three-quarters of the Congolese population live on less than $1.90 a day, according to World Bank figures, despite the DRC enjoying huge reserves of minerals, ranging from gold and copper to cobalt.

Addressing delegates at the pre-COP27 opening ceremony on Monday, Congolese environment minister Eve Bazaiba asked if the government should let children die rather than profit from its fossil resources.

“As much as we need oxygen, we also need bread,” she said.

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