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Blinken urges preservation of Congo rain forest, citing climate change

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KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — The United States will work with local leaders here in the Congo River basin to ensure that planned fossil-fuel extraction won’t result in a climate catastrophe, U.S. officials said this week, echoing environmentalists who fear the project will undermine efforts to combat global warming.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, was aimed partly at advocating protection of a vast rainforest and carbon-rich peatland as the country moves to auction nearly 30 oil and gas blocks. The brief stop coincided with Blinken’s tour of three African nations, an itinerary intended to promote partnerships with the United States as Russia and China make inroads on the continent.

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Environmentalists are particularly worried about the potential destruction of the flooded forest, an area larger than England, where the mud measures up to 30-feet deep. They have warned that disturbing the ecosystem could set off a “carbon bomb,” representing up to three years worth of global carbon dioxide output.

While the Biden administration remains concerned about the ability of Congolese officials to oversee the auction and ensure it does not lead to significant environmental damage, U.S. officials say they are not pressing the government of President Félix Tshisekedi to forgo the initiative entirely.

One of the world’s five poorest countries, the DRC is in dire need of jobs and income as its economy rebounds from the coronavirus pandemic.

“We appreciate the short-term economic challenges confronting the Congo,” Blinken said in a news conference Tuesday alongside his Congolese counterpart. “By conserving irreplaceable forests and other ecosystems and by undertaking development projects only after carrying out rigorous environmental impact assessments, the DRC can act on behalf of all the world’s people to protect our shared home.”

Together with the DRC’s neighbor, the Republic of Congo, the area represents the world’s largest tropical peatland. The surrounding tropical rainforest is the world’s second largest, after the Amazon.

Many industrialized nations drained their peatlands to make way for agriculture long ago and now are asking other countries to forgo doing the same.

As alarm grows about the potential impact of steps to disturb or drain the peatlands, state and private donors pledged at last year’s COP26 summit to provide at least $1.5 billion toward protecting the Congo basin forest and peatlands. Advocates say much more is needed, however.

DRC Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula said his government would work to protect biodiversity and the climate but must also address the needs of its people, most of whom live on less than $2 a day.

“Today, the DRC finds paradox that … the DRC is rich, is a wealthy country, but with a very poor…

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2022-08-10 19:08:00

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