Congo rejects U.S. request to pull oil blocks from auction

Eve Bazaiba, Deputy Prime Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development of Democratic Republic of Congo talks with U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry (not pictured) during an informal ministerial meeting ahead of the COP27 climate summit in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, October 3, 2022. REUTERS/Justin Makangara

KINSHASA, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo's government has rejected a request by U.S. climate envoy John Kerry to withdraw some oil blocks put up for auction to protect forests, Environment Minister Eve Bazaiba told Reuters on Wednesday, saying it could undermine the country's development.

Environmentalists fear the 30 oil and gas block put up for auction in July could open parts of the world's second-biggest rainforest and peat lands to drilling.

Kerry asked for some of the blocks to be withdrawn during a climate conference in Congo's capital Kinshasa on Monday to protect forests.

He was referring to six blocks that encroached on peat land and the Virunga National Park, according to Bazaiba.

"Those who think the six blocks pose a problem should come and re-assess," she said.

"Nobody can put pressure on us... no convention in the world, not even the Paris Agreement, forbids a country from emitting CO2 for development reasons," she said, adding that a joint US-Congo working group on forest protections was not going to influence the country's decision.

"This is not a working group in which a colonialist controls a colony," she said.

Congo's government has previously insisted it needs to tap its vast natural resources to boost its economy, power industries, and provide electricity to its population.

Bazaiba assured the environmental impact of drilling would be assessed before the blocks were auctioned.

"If we think it could destroy the environment, we will leave it," she said.

Drilling for oil and gas in rainforest and peat lands could release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, jeopardising climate goals to tame global warming, environmentalists say.

Reporting by Sonia Rolley Writing by Sofia Christensen Editing by Bate Felix and Bill Berkrot

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.