‘Our Priority Is Not to Save the Planet’: Rainforest Auctioned for Oil Drilling

DR Congo will sell parts of the world's second-largest rainforest and peatlands that currently absorb a decade's worth of global carbon emissions.
Dipo Faloyin
London, GB
Western lowland gorilla in Marantaceae forest, Odzala-Kokoua National Park.
Western lowland gorilla in Marantaceae forest, Odzala-Kokoua National Park. Photo: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has announced that it will auction off vast quantities of critical tropical peatlands and rainforests for oil and gas drilling, just months after promising to preserve them at the COP26 climate conference. 

A leading Congolese minister said ​the country’s “priority is not to save the planet” as the hugely controversial decision was made to sell off the carbon sinks. 

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The vast Congo Basin is the world’s second-largest rainforest, representing 10 percent of the world’s tropical forest. It spreads across six countries and stores more carbon than it releases into the atmosphere and is considered a key site in the fight against climate change as it offers a “carbon absorption service equivalent to 10 years of global emissions”, according to the United Nations.

The land up for sale also includes parts of the Virunga National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site that’s also home to the only mountain gorillas in the world. 

Last week, the Congolese government said that the decision is key to raising funds to fight poverty and a rising cost of living crisis across the central African country. It comes as the world scrambles for fossil fuels as prices rise steeply in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  

“[Tackling poverty] is our priority,” Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, a government climate adviser, said last week. “Our priority is not to save the planet.”

The sale is a reversal of the DRC’s 10-year pledge made during last year’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow to protect the Congo Basin in exchange for $500 million in international investment. 

“With its forests, water, and mineral resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a genuine ‘Solution Country’ to the climate crisis,” President Félix Tshisekedi said in a statement at the summit. “To protect our forest and promote its sustainable management, our priority, backed by this new partnership, is to strengthen governance and transparency across all land use sectors.”

Today, President Tshisekedi believes that the immediate challenges facing the DRC, exacerbated by Russia’s war on Ukraine, outweigh his country’s responsibility to help lower global carbon emissions.