Friday, June 13, 2014

Africa: UN applauds decision by oil firm to halt exploration in DR Congo national park

Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) comprises an outstanding diversity of habitats. Photo: UNESCO/Yvette Kaboza 

12 June 2014 – The United Nations agency that advocates for the protection of irreplaceable natural and cultural resources today welcomed as “a step in the right direction” the decision of British oil company Soco to halt oil exploration in ecologically rich but endangered Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In a press release today, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) welcomed the announcement that Soco now joins Shell, Total and the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) in pledges not to undertake extraction activities within the agencies’ World Heritage Sites.

“The World Heritage Committee has always taken a very clear position that oil and mining exploration and exploitation are incompatible with the World Heritage status of natural sites on the World Heritage List,” said UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre Director Kishore Rao.

“It is encouraging that this position is now more and more accepted in the oil and mining industry and is also used as a criterion for several large investment banks.

“We hope that the Government of DRC will follow up on this commitment by SOCO and cancel all the oil exploration permits granted within the Virunga National Park, as requested also by the World Heritage Committee.”

Soco, in a joint statement with the World Wildlife Fund agreed “not to undertake or commission any exploratory or other drilling within the legendary park unless UNESCO and the DRC Government agree that such activities are not incompatible with its World Heritage Status.”

Soco further announced it would not conduct any operations in any other World Heritage site and would ensure that any current of future operations in buffer zones adjacent to World Heritage sites do not jeopardize the Outstanding Universal Value for which these sites are listed, UNESCO said.

Famous as a home for the rare mountain gorilla, Virunga National Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979 for its exceptional diversity of ecosystems, ranging from snow-capped Ruwenzori Mountains to the wetlands of Lake Edward.

The site was seriously impacted by the past years of conflict in the DRC. The site has also been on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 1994 due to the impact of the conflict in the Great Lakes region, and UNESCO recently condemned violence against wardens there, some 150 of whom have been attacked since 1996.