CONGO: The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) voted yesterday to elect a president who will play a crucial role in the world’s fight against climate change over the next five years.
The central African nation’s forests, rivers and minerals are key to the future of green development globally and Congo’s next leader will have urgent decisions to make about how they’re used.
President Felix Tshisekedi, who is up for reelection, likes to call Congo the “‘solution country’ for the climate crisis.” But he’s only just begun to make headway on key environmental and energy issues.
At stake is the protection of one of Earth’s largest carbon sinks, the construction of the world’s biggest hydropower project, and the mineral supply chain for electric-vehicle batteries.
Tshisekedi’s government has signed preliminary deals for the massive Grand Inga hydropower project and for carbon-credit initiatives to preserve Congo’s forests. He’s tried to start a state company to trade cobalt, a key battery mineral.
But the 60-year-old president has yet to make the big decisions that will provide the foundations for the development of these resources for years to come.
Companies are clamouring to invest in offsets generated by Congo’s rainforests, which capture about 822 million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year – nearly twice as much as Britain’s annual emissions.
But the government still needs to implement a new regulatory framework so the market can actually function.
Tshisekedi also complicated the initiative by launching a bidding round for oil and gas exploration permits, some of which overlap with critical ecosystems, to the horror of environmental activists.
The president has defended his decision as necessary to help lift Congolese out of poverty. His top opponent, businessman Moise Katumbi, has called for an end to oil and gas exploration in the Congo Basin, and presidential candidate and Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege is a vocal critic of the plan.
“If there is a new president, we can expect the process for awarding oil permits to be reviewed,” said Christian-Geraud Neema Byamungu, a development economist and editor at the China-Global South Project.
Tshisekedi has also been reluctant to start work on the 40,000-megawatt Grand Inga hydro project.
The government signed a preliminary deal with Australia’s Fortescue Future Industries in 2020 to build the site and produce green hydrogen.
But the two have yet to agree on a common vision, and Fortescue has threatened to pull out. The company didn’t respond to messages requesting comment.
Inga could power all of Congo and beyond: South Africa has long promised to buy sustainable energy from the project. But competing proposals and costs that may reach into the tens of billions of US dollars have delayed development.
Congo’s government also needs to decide what to do with its world-leading cobalt industry, which accounts for about 70% of global supply. Concerns about corruption as well as working conditions and child labour at informal mine sites have spurred companies to seek other sources of the material or eliminate it from their batteries altogether.
About 57% of EV cathode demand now comes from battery chemistries containing cobalt, down from more than 70% in 2018, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.
Still, demand for cobalt is expected to double by 2030, the Cobalt Institute industry group says. At the moment, most of that metal is processed in China, Congo’s largest trading partner by an order of magnitude.
The need for green-energy minerals like cobalt and copper have meant “both the United States and European Union have regained interest in the DRC and are determined to counter China’s geopolitical clout in the region,” according to Bryan Bille, principal policy analyst at Benchmark.
But without a plan to clean up the industry, Congo risks missing out on profiting from its near-monopoly cobalt position. — Bloomberg
Source: The Star