UNESCO has welcomed the announcement by SOCO international this week to halt oil exploration activities in the Virunga National Park, a World Heritage Site in Danger in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In a joint statement with the World Wildlife Fund, the British company agreed “not to undertake or commission any exploratory or other drilling within Virunga National Park unless UNESCO and the DRC Government agree that such activities are not incompatible with its World Heritage Status”.
SOCO further announced it would not conduct any operations in any other World Heritage site and would ensure that any current of future operations in buffer zones adjacent to World Heritage sites do not jeopardize the Outstanding Universal Value for which these sites are listed.
The company now joins including SHELL, TOTAL and ICMM (International Council on Mining and Metals), which have also undertaken not to explore for petroleum or start mining operations within World Heritage properties
“The World Heritage Committee has always taken a very clear position that oil and mining exploration and exploitation are incompatible with the World Heritage status of natural sites on the World Heritage List,” said World Heritage Centre Director Kishore Rao. “It is encouraging that this position is now more and more accepted in the oil and mining industry and is also used as a criterion for several large investment banks. We hope that the Government of DRC will follow up on this commitment by SOCO and cancel all the oil exploration permits granted within the Virunga National Park, as requested also by the World Heritage Committee.”
Virunga includes an enormous diversity of ecosystems, from the snow-capped Ruwenzori Mountains and the active volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains to the wetlands of Lake Edward, afromontane forests and savanna. It harbors an enormous biodiversity, including the mountain gorilla, but also okapi, elephants, and many other species. The site was seriously impacted by the past years of conflict in the DRC.