Are the profits of an oil company more important than the safety of people and the protection of rare and unique species? That’s the question we put directly to UK-based oil company SOCO in an open letter recently.
The proposed oil exploration in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a good example of how the never-ceasing demand for fossil fuels and other resources is harming our natural world. But it’s just one of many examples.
As demand increases, companies like SOCO are going to greater lengths to access fossil fuels in remoter parts of the world.
Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Ramsar site (a wetland of international importance), so you might think this kind of activity wouldn’t even be proposed there. But in fact Virunga is just one of an increasing number of the world’s most prized landscapes coming under risk from mining for oil, natural gases and metals.
In Australia, for instance, a proposed pipeline and port developments across the Great Barrier Reef have the potential to destroy this already fragile ecosystem.
And in Peru, gas exploration is proposed in Manu National Park (another World Heritage Site). Its biological diversity exceeds that of “any other place on Earth”, according to UNESCO, and is inhabited by indigenous people living in “voluntary isolation” who could be put at serious risk by sudden contact with the outside world.
Less than 1% of the Earth’s surface is set aside for World Heritage Sites. Surely Virunga and other such sites are just too important to risk damaging. And yet a recent study found that a quarter of all natural World Heritage Sites are threatened by mining, oil, gas and associated infrastructure.
We need to challenge companies and governments to respect such international agreements – and prevent the exploration of these prized havens for wildlife and the world’s most stunning landscapes.
It’s clear we all need to move away from fossil fuels anyway, as they’re driving global warming to dangerous levels. The question is: when will we make the switch to a low-carbon world?
My colleague Luke Wreford, in his fascinating blog post about the green economy, outlines the value this switch will have to the UK economy and people living here.
It’s time for companies and governments around the world to listen – and act – before it’s too late for biodiversity hotspots like Virunga.
About our open letter to SOCO – reminding them why they ought to stay out of Virunga
The UK government recently came out with a statement opposing SOCO’s oil exploration in Virunga National Park.
SOCO promised they would obey best practice and that they wouldn’t harm Virunga’s biodiversity, environment and livelihoods of people that depend on it.
We have no reason to doubt SOCO’s intentions.
But the experiences of other companies and sites across Africa and the world suggest that such promises are often not kept. And it’s likely to be particularly difficult in the conflict-ridden region of Virunga and eastern DRC.
That’s why WWF has sent an open letter to SOCO’s Roger Cagle, reminding them of the World Heritage Convention obligations, and calling on the company to stay out of Virunga National Park. You can read WWF’s open letter to SOCO here.