US climate envoy John Kerry asks DR Congo to ditch some oil blocks

John KErry

US Senator John Kerry (centre), special envoy of the President of the United States delivers his speech during the Conference of African Ministers on the Environment in Dakar on September 15, 2022.

Photo credit: AFP

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.

The DRC's government launched bids for 30 oil and gas blocks in the impoverished central African nation in July.

But the move was controversial, drawing criticism from green groups which warned that drilling in the Congo Basin's rain-forests and peat-lands could release vast amounts of heat-trapping gas.

Speaking to reporters at the pre-COP27 climate talks in Kinshasa, Kerry said the United States 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.

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

The Congolese 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 $1.9 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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