The UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has said it “commends” British oil and gas exploration firm Soco’s decision to abandon drilling plans in a Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) world heritage site.
Earlier this week, the firm and WWF, which had conducted a year-long campaign against its operations in the Virunga national park, released a joint statement. It stated that Soco would halt operations in the national park, commit to avoiding operations in other world heritage sites and ensure that environmental impacts assessments and human rights due diligence complied with international standards.
WWF described the agreement as a “victory for our planet and good practices in businesses”.
Soco’s decision to not conduct operations within any world heritage site follows similar commitments made by Shell, Total and ICMM.
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Kishore Rao, director of the World Heritage Centre, said, “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.
“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.”
Both the WWF and the World Heritage Centre are now calling on the government of DRC to follow Soco’s commitment and cancel all the oil exploration permits granted with the Virunga national park. In 2007, the government granted oil concession covering around 85% of the park.
Photo: Heather Thorkelson via Flickr