Greenpeace Africa has blown the whistle on the Republic of Congo’s most recent “greenwashing” campaign by exposing its plans to tender three oil blocks in the heart of newly-discovered peatlands that Environment Minister Arlette Soudan-Nonault has vowed to protect.

Four peatland oil blocks are already under allocation, awaiting development.

Tendering for the “Licence Round Phase 2” blocks began in September and is being actively promoted by the Congolese government at the Africa Oil Week conference in Cape Town this week.

“It is shocking to see how the Congolese regime is playing the international community on peatlands,” says Victorine Che Thöner, project leader of the Congo Basin Project at Greenpeace Africa. “The same regime that claims to champion peatland protection at big media events is now showing the world its real intentions.

“This is a set-back for peatland protection and we cannot just sit and watch while green commitments are used to hide the quest for financial profit.”

Covering 145 500 km² – an area larger than England – the Cuvette Centrale peatlands in the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo are estimated to contain 30-billion tons of carbon or the equivalent of nearly 20 years of the fossil fuel emissions of the US. They are home to communities that have been protecting them for centuries.

The Republic of Congo’s Environment Minister was applauded only a week ago by the FAO and UN Environment at the launch of a new International Tropical Peatland Center in Jakarta. In her keynote speech, she waxed poetic about the “rich biodiversity” of the Congo Basin peatlands and vaunted the region’s role in the regulation of the world climate.

In March 2018, she and her DRC counterpart signed an 11-point “Brazzaville Declaration” promising to “put in place land use plans that guarantee the conservation and protection of peatlands.” But a clause about the “sustainable management” of zones covered by “economic activity” left the door open to business as usual.

One of the four peatland blocks already allocated is held by Italian major ENI, whose Milan offices were searched and documents seized last April in an investigation by an Italian court into alleged corruption in Congo. One of the others is held by French giant Total.

In all, 91% of Republic of Congo’s peatlands are covered by oil blocks. The new blocks span 17 915 km² of peatlands – the size of Kuwait.