WWF calls on Soco to explain Virunga allegations in new film

Local woman passing a sign for Virunga National Park.

Conservation organization WWF is issuing a call to UK oil company Soco International PLC to respond to allegations revealed tonight in a documentary premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The film, Virunga, debuted amidst rising tensions as the oil company prepares to begin seismic surveys, and after the shooting two days ago of the chief warden of Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Virunga National Park, Emmanuel de Merode.

“This documentary raises important questions that Soco should answer urgently, as well as highlights why such a fragile and iconic place should not be subjected to oil exploration,” said Zach Abraham, WWF International’s Director of Global Campaigns who attended the films premiere. “In the documentary, de Merode states that ‘any oil related activities are illegal’ and contribute to the instability in the region.”

“WWF calls on Soco to suspend plans for seismic testing and to withdraw from the park,” said Abraham. “WWF believes the Congolese citizens that depend on Virunga National Park for their jobs and wellbeing deserve an explanation from Soco, as does the company’s shareholders and the government of DRC.”

“The claims put forward in this powerful documentary will likely intensify the widespread belief that Soco should stop immediately all activities in Virunga,” Abraham said. “It is irresponsible for Soco to continue operating in the face of opposition from the UK government, UNESCO, the European Parliament, civil society and so many others.”

In recent months protesters from across civil society have voiced firm opposition to Soco’s operations, and some previously have reported threats and intimidation after speaking out against oil. Over 650,000 people worldwide have signed WWF’s petition against Soco’s oil exploration in Virunga National Park.

The World Heritage Site is home some extremely rare plants and animals, including about 200 of the 880 remaining critically endangered mountain gorillas. Pollution from oil exploitation could destroy the park’s fragile habitats and contaminate the air, water and soil.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee on multiple occasions has condemned oil exploration in Virunga and called for the cancelation of all permits. During a visit to the park last month, two high level European diplomats said that oil production would be a major risk to the park’s sensitive natural environment.

Soco is traded on the London Stock Exchange and is a component of the FTSE 250 Index.

WWF statement on Virunga warden

Emmanuel de Merode

 The chief warden of Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Virunga National Park, Emmanuel de Merode, has been shot in an ambush, according to a statement on the park’s official website.

The Belgian national is in “serious, but stable condition,” the statement says. De Merode was attacked while travelling from the provincial capital of Goma to the park’s headquarters yesterday, but no additional details are available.

“Emmanuel is a dedicated conservationist putting his life on the line every day to protect Virunga National Park, its rangers, its endangered species and the people that depend on the park for their livelihoods,” said Lasse Gustavsson, Executive Director of Conservation at WWF International. “I know how much Emmanuel loves this park. He continues to be a source of inspiration to those around him and I wish him a swift recovery.”

Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park, founded in 1925, a World Heritage Site and a Ramsar wetland of international importance. It is the most biodiverse protected area in Africa, and one of the four parks in the world home to critically endangered mountain gorillas, of which only about 880 remain. Virunga recently reopened for gorilla treks after being closed during a period of conflict in the east of the country.

IPCC highlights need to stop gambling on fossil fuels

A woman campaigning on climate change, Berlin © WWF

The world must shift from its current dependency on a dirty fossil fuel energy system to clean, sustainable renewable energy if the world is to have a chance of combating rampant climate change.

WWF highlighted this by setting up a mock casino outside the Estrel Convention Centre in Berlin, where the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are currently meeting in Berlin (7-13 April) to finalise their third Working Group report which deals with mitigation of climate change.

Dr Stephan Singer, Director of Global Energy Policy for WWF, said: “The world’s scientists are telling us that climate change is a massive risk that the world isn’t doing enough to tackle. We must act, and acting means changing the world’s energy sector from dirty to clean and renewable. We can’t continue to gamble with the future of the world we depend on.”

Banks, financial institutions and other investors need to start to divest from fossil fuel infrastructure and mining right now, he said, and governments must help speed up that process with climate legislation. “We need to stop subsidizing fossil fuels, and move that money into renewable energy support schemes, promotion of energy efficiency and overcoming energy poverty in developing nations.”

WWF also released a report, Decarbonising the Future: Seizing Power for Global Change, detailing a series of case studies illustrating actions being taken to promote renewable energy in countries around the world. They showed the action already being taken around the world to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in line with keeping global temperature increases below 2°C.

The report reveals views on climate change mitigation and illustrates the various national and regional options for strong emissions abatement. It includes essays that capture the key economic, social, environmental and ethical arguments for ambitious climate mitigation.

WWF report editor Tabaré Arroyo Currás, said: “Fossil fuels are responsible for about two thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions annually. Keeping global warming well below the 2°C threshold requires the world to fundamentally change the way it produces and uses energy."

“This report shows that in order to boost uptake of renewable energy we need strong political frameworks to attract investment and ambitious, binding renewable energy targets to more than triple investments in renewable energy over the next 15 years.”

WWF is currently running a global campaign, Seize Your Power, calling on financial institutions including major sovereign wealth funds, pension funds and multilateral development banks to significantly increase their funding of renewable energy and phase out funding to fossil fuels as a key means of tackling climate change.

In the past twelve months the World Bank, European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development have all committed to virtually end coal investments.