‘Leave it in the ground!’ Congolese civil society send a strong message to halt auction of oil and gas licensing rights in DRC as COP28 climate summit begins

November 30, 2023

Kinshasa, 30 November 2023

As the DRC government delegation prepares for crucial COP28 climate talks in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) starting later this week, Congolese civil society and Indigenous organisations have sent to them and to the broader international community a strong message: it is time for the country to move away from oil and gas plans and towards a just energy transition.

In a joint statement, 22 organisations call on the government to withdraw from further pursuing its hydrocarbon development plans, and to genuinely abide by its commitment of making DRC a ‘solution country’ in the fight against climate change.

The statement was the culmination of a two-day meeting held in Kinshasa and Goma, November 27-28, where participants from different provinces of the country discussed latest developments in the government’s contentious auction of 30 oil and gas blocks. They also reported on their consultations with impacted communities who have been kept in the dark over plans to develop fossil fuels in their territories, and who fear the loss of their lands and traditional livelihoods.

This position comes amid growing concerns over the auction launched by the DRC government in July 2022, which includes several concessions located in some of the world’s most intact tropical forests and overlapping with protected areas, the carbon-rich Cuvette Centrale peatlands and ancestral lands of thousands of communities.

Recent developments have raised fresh questions over the integrity of the auction process. The government awarded the first gas blocks were awarded in September, one of them to a Canadian company set up in January of 2022 with no known experience in the industry. This followed its pre-selection of Franco-British company Perenco for two oil blocks after they gifted four Toyota Land Cruisers to the Hydrocarbons Ministry.

The deadlines for submitting expressions of interest for the other blocks have been repeatedly delayed amid reported weak interest from potential bidders. Many of these blocks would require huge infrastructure investment, calling into question their commercial viability and leading some observers to conclude that their auctioning is partially intended to extract concessions in international climate finance discussions.

The civil society representatives also unanimously reiterated that transparent governance of natural resources and respect for the rule of law must be the pillar of sustainable development, together with the meaningful participation of local communities and Indigenous Peoples who have traditionally protected the tropical forests of the DRC.

Nicole Bila, representative of the ONG RENAD, speaking at the press conference held at the end of the meeting, applauded the messages contained in the Statement as genuinely reflecting the lived experience of communities in Muanda: ‘the Kongo Central is the only province in the DRC where oil exploitation is already happening. After many years [of oil exploitation by Perenco], we see that our ecosystems need to be protected and that there are only negative impacts behind fossil fuel extraction. Our traditional livelihoods and crops have been destroyed, our waterways are polluted, and we do not know any more where to live because the environment and the air quality are not healthy. This is why we say that we want to leave the oil in the ground. Our country is well endowed in natural resources, solar and hydroelectric alternatives are possible to generate access to electricity and sustainable farming can respond to our economic needs. Our ancestors gave us our land, and we have a moral responsibility to protect it for future generations.’

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