The area of land allocated to oil and gas activity in Africa is set to quadruple, threatening critical forests that help combat climate change, according to a new report by two environmental groups.
Rainforest Foundation UK and Sacramento, California-based Earth InSight used mapping technology to show that gas and oil blocks overlap with about 30% of the continent’s dense tropical forests and more than a third of the Congo Basin, the world’s second-largest rainforest after the Amazon.
“This report lays bare the stark threat that oil and gas expansion poses to the Congo Basin forest and its millions of inhabitants least responsible for the climate crisis,” said Joe Eisen, executive director of Rainforest Foundation UK. The two groups launched the report Thursday at COP27, the United Nations’ annual climate conference taking place in Egypt.
Six nations share the Congo Basin, which scientists increasingly recognize as an essential so-called carbon sink. Its peatlands alone contain about 29 billion tons of carbon, equivalent to about three years of worldwide carbon-dioxide emissions. Compared to the Amazon, the rainforest is relatively untouched, but that could soon change.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, which accounts for about 60% of the basin, launched a bidding round in July for 30 oil and gas permits, several of which overlap with the basin. Congo, one of the world’s poorest countries, has defended its right to explore for oil and develop its economy.
Protecting the wetlands and the wider Congo Basin was the subject of one of the landmark agreements of last year’s COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. Under the pact with the Central African Forest Initiative, Congo would get $500 million over five years, provided it met agreed milestones.
The two groups said much more needed to be done, calling on wealthy nations to “ramp up financial support for the protection of forests and peatlands and expand direct support to Congolese civil society organisations, indigenous peoples and other local communities on the frontlines of tropical deforestation so that they may control their own development.”