Climate activists who have been making repeated calls for a total halt to further oil and gas exploration activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo said they would prevail on the Catholic Pontiff, Pope Francis, who is on a 4-day visit to the country to ask for his intervention and support for an end to oil and gas exploration in the country. The activists have been opposing oil exploration activities in the Virunga National, Africa’s oldest national park, as well as plans by the authorities to auction oil and gas blocks, some of which fall in sensitive areas in the DRC, citing the grave risks posed by oil exploration activities to the environment, including aquatic life and the lives of the local communities. As an advocate of environmental justice, the activists believe Pope Francis’ voice would add much vigor to the course as the urgent climate action and the immediate abandonment of fossil fuels was not negotiable. This is as recent reports indicated government’s plans to further grant 3 gas blocks to 3 North American companies.
Bonaventure Bondo, Climate activist in Kinshasa, DRC said:
“We are concerned by our government’s continued push for expansion of fossil fuel exploration in our country, which will come at great cost to our environment, wildlife, our communities and the climate. Our protected areas are under threat – from the oil exploration activities in Virunga National Park, to the oil and gas blocks that the government is auctioning off in the Congo basin. This comes at a time when all the signs point to the urgent need to shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, to contain global heating and avert catastrophic climate impacts. We appeal to Pope Francis, to engage our government on this very crucial matter, to call for the stop to these fossil fuel projects and the prioritization of renewable energy.”
Ashley Kitisya, Fossil Fuel Free Campaigner Laudato Si Movement said:
“Pope Francis in Laudato Si shares, ‘There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gasses can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.’ The exploration of oil and gas in DRC sets us on the path of more climate catastrophes that will disproportionately affect the poor. We therefore come together to call for the end of unjust actions to profit a handful of people. Instead, we call for a transition away from fossil fuels and the use of clean, renewable energy that primarily addresses the needs of local communities and economies.”
In July 2022, during its 40th Council of Ministers meeting, the Democratic Republic of Congo government approved a plan to auction off 27 oil and 3 gas blocks in the country. Nine of the blocks fall in the sensitive ecosystem of Cuvette Centrale, in the Congo river basin, the second-largest forested area in the world after the Amazon. Climate activists have opposed this as they threaten communities, sensitive ecosystems and the environment while contradicting the country’s laws and international conventions to protect and respect sensitive and unique ecosystems.