The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has announced plans to auction off drilling rights to oil and gas companies in the Congo Basin, a decision that threatens global climate targets and marks another blow to the success of international climate summits.
This decision comes just eight months after the COP26 summit, where UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and DRC President Felix Tshisekedi signed the Forest Protection Deal. One of the summit’s few successes, this agreement provided DRC with a US$500m investment that would see the regeneration of 8 million hectares of forests and ensure that the Basin would be protected for at least another ten years. The deal was hailed at the time by President Tshisekedi as “a solution to the climate crisis that will respond to the dual challenge of food security and climate change”. However, in light of the global oil and gas shortage caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as a recent trip from U.S President Joe Biden to Saudi Arabia in which he called for an increase in oil production, the DRC believes that it should benefit from the immediate fossil fuel demand.
The DRC is one of the world’s poorest countries, with more than 60 million people living on less than $2 a day and more than 27 million people facing food insecurity. As such, committing to increased climate action presents a number of challenges for developing nations; economically-poorer, resource-rich countries like the DRC view their natural resources as a way to earn enough revenue to reduce poverty and generate economic growth, even if that means investing in fossil fuels.
However, this auction has raised significant concerns because the Congo Basin is viewed as one of the world’s most important natural defences to climate change. The Basin’s peatlands – the world’s largest – house 30 billion tonnes of carbon, the equivalent to three years’ worth of global emissions with environmental scientists stating that further drilling of the Basin could lead to irreversible changes in the global climate. It also threatens the Basin’s 10,000 unique and endangered flora and fauna species including the critically endangered mountain gorillas, who are housed at the Virunga National Park, one of the sites being auctioned off.
The DRC’s decision to renege on the deal highlights a fundamental issue for future climate progress: the inability of countries to hold other nations accountable for their climate commitments. This has been a problem since the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, which was not ratified by the U.S, Canada, Russia or Australia because they all believed that it would not be economically viable. This argument has since been regularly used as an excuse to not commit to greater climate action. In order to ensure that countries maintain their climate promises, developed nations must lead global efforts and ensure that developing nations can adapt to clean energy through providing sufficient funding.
The United Nations has stated that developing countries need upwards of US$140bn a year by 2030 to facilitate a shift towards cleaner energy. This is much more than the US$100bn in funding that was promised to developing nations at COP15 in 2009 – a promise that has not been met, with the true number reaching only US$80bn. The COP27 summit being hosted by Egypt in November cannot afford to accept shortfalls such as this, as it will be significant in determining the future of our planet. Current emissions estimates show that the world will see a temperature increase of 2.7°C by 2100 from pre-industrial levels, with the President of COP27 Sameh Shoukry stating that his vision is to limit warming below 2°C. A temperature rise of this magnitude would still see record-breaking droughts and floods, as well as widespread species loss. These projections highlight the significant failure of governments to adopt progressive climate policies in recent years, with the summit already shifting targets away from the Paris Agreement’s goal of a global temperature increase of 1.5°C, just six years after it was signed.
It is important that large global emitters such as the U.S, Australia, and India who are attending COP27 with revised climate targets and increased spending packages push for greater commitments. These countries must focus their efforts on providing developing countries with significant investments to implement green technologies and ensure that future climate agreements don’t face the failures of previous ones.