In Congo, activists turn to the pope to strengthen forest protection

Local climate activists in Congo hope Pope Francis’ visit will help spur action to protect the country’s rainforest from oil and gas interests.

The pope’s call to protect Congo’s “great green lungs of the world” on Tuesday was welcomed by activists who see the papal visit as yet another opportunity to highlight threats to the country’s biodiversity and goals global climates.

Parts of Congo’s rainforest are being auctioned off for oil and gas, and several climate activist groups are asking the pope to back their stance against fossil fuel investments.

Activists plan to present a petition calling for the cancellation of oil block leases to the Pope, who is in Congo until Friday.

“We call on Pope Francis to engage our government on this critical issue to call for a halt to these fossil fuel projects and the prioritization of renewable energy,” said Congolese climate activist Bonaventure Bondo.

Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi said on Tuesday evening that all projects involving natural resources in the country require “a serious and prior study of the environmental impact” and said it was the wealthier nations who were responsible for the change climatic.

“We have always campaigned for climate justice so that the biggest polluters, who cause the destruction of the environment, compensate us, the stewards of the planet,” Tshisekedi said in an address to the Pope.

The Congo Basin, the largest peat bog in the world, is an important carbon sink as it sucks up large amounts of carbon dioxide that warms the planet from the atmosphere. Other threatened areas, such as Virunga National Park, are considered important biodiversity hotspots.

On Tuesday, Pope Francis condemned the exploitation of the continent’s resources, saying “Africa is not a mine to be stripped or a ground to be plundered”.

Mbong Akiy Fokwa Tsafack of Greenpeace Africa said the activists’ goals were in line with the church’s position.

“Human creation has a moral responsibility to care for nature, not destroy it… it is our collective responsibility to reverse nature’s decline,” she said.

The Laudato Si movement, which encourages people of the Catholic faith to get involved in climate action, has also expressed concern about oil and gas exploration in Congo.

This “puts us on a path to more climate disasters that will disproportionately affect the poor,” said the movement’s Ashley Kitisya.


Nicole Winfield in Kinshasa, Congo and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.


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