globalwitness-What lies beneath

 

How an oil project linked to the Republic of Congo’s corrupt rulers was obtained by one of Africa’s richest men in questionable circumstances — imperilling climate-critical peatland forests

 

This report is based on a joint investigation by Global Witness, Der Spiegel and Mediapart, in conjunction with the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) media network.

 

  • Claude Wilfrid Etoka, who manoeuvred out a rival to take control of the Ngoki oilfield, had company bank accounts closed down in France over corruption red flags, our investigation reveals.

 

  • An environmental impact assessment almost entirely pre-dated the peatlands’ discovery with no analysis of the risk to peatlands from drilling – rendering it unfit for purpose.

 

  • There is evidence oil reserves have been wildly exaggerated and may not be economically viable at all.

 

Introduction

 

The oil-rig looks incongruous on the banks of the River Likouala-aux-Herbes, which meanders towards the River Congo through savannah floodplains and swamp forests. This is a place roamed by endangered forest elephants and lowland gorillas, described by one travel guide as “literally one of the most wild and remote regions of the planet by any scale or stretch of the imagination”. Beneath the dark waters of this idyll, frequented by fishermen in dug-out canoes, the Republic of Congo’s rulers claim there lies a vast oil reserve that will lure international investment and transform the country’s debt-riddled finances. But a wide-ranging investigation by Global Witness, in collaboration with Der Spiegel and Mediapart journalists, into the oil block named Ngoki - ‘crocodile’ in the local Lingala language – sheds new light on this oil project. Global Witness can reveal serious corruption risks, environmental assessments that are completely unfit for purpose, and expose claims of vast oil reserves as seemingly hollow. Oil production in this region would not only be environmentally harmful, but an investment every bit as perilous as these crocodile-infested waters.

 

 

The Cuvette Centrale is a vast swathe of forest and wetlands at the heart of the Congo Basin. It is critical in terms of biodiversity and the global climate, forming part of the world’s second largest tropical rainforest. In 2014 British scientists made the startling discovery that the region also holds the world’s largest tropical peatlands. The Congo Basin peatlands are crucial to the global effort to combat climate change. They have been estimated to store 30 billion tonnes of carbon, equivalent to three years’ worth of global fossil fuel emissions. If this region were fully exploited by oil companies, much of this peatland would have to be drained to build roads and infrastructure, releasing stored carbon in the process. That makes the Cuvette one of the biggest carbon time bombs on the planet.

 

 

The region is also one of the world’s last frontiers for oil exploration. The governments of both the Republic of Congo and neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo have signed various exploration deals with oil majors in the Cuvette. But so far its oil reserves have remained largely unknown and unexplored, largely due to its extreme remoteness and Congo’s difficult business climate. Congo’s government has long been keen to develop an oil industry in this region. 2019 thus saw an ongoing bidding round for new oil investors there.

 

A startling oil ‘discovery'

In August 2019, dignitaries gathered in President Sassou-Nguesso’s sleepy hometown of Oyo to hear the announcement of a gigantic oil discovery. The Ngoki find would purportedly quadruple the country’s oil production, putting the Cuvette region firmly on the oil map.

 

 

President Sassou-Nguesso trumpeted the discovery in a televised address to the nation a few days later, claiming: “Our country has never ducked the obligation to protect the peatlands and has no intention of doing so.” This was despite Congo “still waiting” for financial compensation from richer nations for protecting these ecosystems, he said. The president was at pains to point out that Ngoki was located not on the peatlands but their “periphery”, insisting “innovations” meant oil could be produced in a way that would “limit the impact on the environment”.

 

 

Three weeks later, the president flew to Paris to meet French President Emmanuel Macron and sign a US $65m agreement to protect Congo’s forests and peatlands, as part of the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI). CAFI is supported by donors including Norway, France and Germany. The visit made headlines for Sassou’s arrival at this climate meeting by private jet rented at an estimated €456,000. Yet the agreement did not rule out oil or mining activities in Congo’s peatlands, merely committing to grant the peatlands a “special legal status” by 2025. The threat of oil exploration in the Cuvette was apparently of little concern to Congo’s donors.

 

 

Find out more...

Go back

CBFP News

COVID-19 crisis tells world what Indigenous Peoples have been saying for thousands of years - nationalobserver

COVID-19 and other health endemics are directly connected to climate change and deforestation, according to Indigenous leaders from around the world who gathered on March 13, in New York City, for a panel on Indigenous rights, deforestation and related health endemics.

Read more …

A sustainable global economy must arise once COVID-19 pandemic is reversed, UN chief tells G-20 summit - UN

World leaders at the G-20 virtual summit held on Thursday committed to inject over $5 trillion into the global economy to counteract the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. They will also expand manufacturing capacity to meet the huge and increasing demand for medical supplies, which will be made available at an affordable price and in the shortest possible time, pledged the leading economic powers.

Read more …

Join us in the fight against COVID-19! - INTERHOLCO

Whilst our teams continue to guarantee the best customer service in this evolving situation, our thoughts are with the families of those who are suffering and our deepest gratitude goes to the medical personnel who watch over them, at great personal risk. We are thinking outside the box to collect extra funds, critical to prevention and mitigation activities in the Northern part of the Republic of Congo. In a remote area, 1000 km away from the capital Brazzaville, our medical facilities already serve on a daily basis a population of 16’000 inhabitants, including indigenous people.

Read more …

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) update - iucncongress2020

In light of recent developments in France linked to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), IUCN and the Government of France are in close discussion about the impacts on the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2020. Together, we are carefully considering any decisions that might need to be taken.​​​​

Read more …

New dates and venue for critical UN Biodiversity Convention meetings, dates for UN Biodiversity Conference 2020 to be adjusted – CBD

The twenty-fourth meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA-24) will now be held 25 to 30 August 2020; and the third meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI-3) will take place 1 to 6 September 2020. Both meetings will be held in Ottawa, Canada.

Read more …

China’s Belt and Road Initiative could pose increased risk to endangered wildlife, EIA warns UK MPs - EIA

The global spread of China’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) brings with it increased risks of endangered wildlife consumption and illegal wildlife trade, UK politicians were warned. At an event organised by the All-Party Parliamentary China Group in Parliament yesterday (11 March), EIA Wildlife Campaigner and China Specialist Aron White cautioned that the international proliferation of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) – touted as a pillar of the BRI – poses potential risks for biodiversity around the world.

Read more …

Differentiated evolution of the tropical timber trade in 2019 – COMMODAFRICA – ATIBT

The 16 March 2020 article on the COMMODAFRICA website shows that log imports into China have decreased and that sawn timber imports into the European Union are increasing for the second consecutive year.

Read more …

Atibt- Timber sector in the DRC: Study on the state of play of the stakeholders

As part of the implementation of the FLEGT-REDD CERTIFICATION projects set up by the ATIBT and financed by the European Union, the FFEM and the KfW, the Federation of Timber Industrialists, in abbreviation FIB, conducted a study on the state of play of the actors of the forest and wood sector in the DRC.

Read more …

CBFP News Archive

2020