Why is Africa’s Largest Peat Bog Under Threat?

The Cuvette Centrale peatlands in the Congo basin form Africa’s largest peat bog and the second largest peat bog in the world. Peat bogs are an important carbon store, preventing carbon dioxide (CO2) being released into the atmosphere. The Cuvette Centrale peatlands are estimated to store the equivalent of three years’ worth of global carbon emissions. However, they are under threat….

What is a peat bog?

Peat bogs are formed when dead plants partially decay underground. Living plants take in CO2 from the atmosphere and store it as carbon-containing compounds. When these plants die in certain conditions they can partially decay to form peat. Waterlogged ground prevents further decay, so the carbon becomes trapped. This prevents the carbon being released into the atmosphere as CO2, a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap heat around the earth, leading to global warming.

Why are peat bogs important?

Peat bogs are important as they prevent greenhouse gas release into the atmosphere. This reduces global warming. Peat bogs can also be burnt for energy, but this releases CO2 into the atmosphere. As peat bogs take thousands of years to form, they are classed as a non-renewable source of energy. Peat bogs are also home to a range of wildlife, and so are important for biodiversity. 

Why is the Congo basin endangered?

In 2019, a Congolese company called Petroleum Exploration and Production Africa (Pepa) announced that they believed there was oil underneath the Cuvette Centrale peatlands. Pepa said that they planned to drill for this. It is estimated that drilling the proposed area of peatland would release the same amount of carbon emissions as Japan produces in a whole year. This drilling would also threaten local wildlife, as the peatlands are home to endangered forest elephants and lowland gorillas. New roads would also need to be built to drill into the peatlands. This would further disturb the local environment.

Will drilling in the peatland definitely take place?

In short, no. Some academics disagree with surveying done by Pepa and describe it as too basic. These academics suggest that Pepa’s estimates for how much oil is underneath the peatlands may be wrong. Based on this research, international companies such as Shell and Total have turned down the opportunity to invest in Pepa and drilling in the Cuvette Centrale peatlands. This means that the area may stay undisturbed in the future. However, Pepa are still interested in drilling the land, so further protection is needed.

Governments should also be making an effort to conserve the Cuvette Centrale area. In March 2018 the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of the Congo and Indonesia signed the Brazzaville declaration, pledging to protect peat lands. As part of this, the government of the Republic of Congo set up a scientific committee to increase understanding of the peatland and its biodiversity. This increased research may help to identify the environmental value of the area and provide motivation to protect it.

Marwin Ramos

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