DRC, climate change ‘solution country’?

The resource-rich Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) can play an important role in combating climate change. Last November, at the COP26 conference, its president, Felix Tshisekedi, presented the country as a “solution country” to the climate crisis. However, on the condition that it allows itself certain strategic decisions and investments in terms of conserving its natural resources, developing renewable energy sources and managing waste.

It appears that the DRC is making full use of its resources and intends to use them. To do this, the country must meet the triple challenge of protecting its existing natural resources, developing the capacity of its energy infrastructure, and demonstrating initiative with regard to waste management. A rich program supported internationally and by the Congolese private sector.

Protecting Your Resources: The Congo Basin

With 165 million hectares of forest, the Congo Basin is the second largest rainforest in the world. Located two-thirds in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the forest is also a large biodiversity reserve. Its main asset remains its ability to absorb carbon (1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year), exceeding the capacity of the Amazonian forest: “This forest, contrary to what is often said, is not the second lung of the planet, but the first lung of the planet: it is the second area surface, but this is the first capacity for carbon fixation,” says Michel Baudouin, director of ERAIFT (Regional School for Planning and Integrated Management of Tropical Forests and Territories/UNESCO) and rector of the Yangambi Faculty of Agronomic Sciences.

But this resource is under threat. Reason: massive deforestation. The second country in the world to lose forests the fastest after Brazil, the DRC should be able to manage, use and develop this resource without destroying it. This is partly the goal of the FORETS (training, research and environment) project, supported by the European Union and funding the study and planting of trees in the province of Chopo. This work is related to teaching at the university. Botany, zoology, law and even politics are taught at Yangambi to 260 students and future experts in the field of sustainable forest management.

A “pearl” and “a factor in development for the population and the preservation of the planet”, according to Jean-Marc Chatenier, Ambassador of the European Union in Kinshasa, the Congolese forests are far from the only resource that the country has.

Renewable energy sources, underutilized wealth

As part of the presidential priorities, the energy sector and especially the electricity sector in the DRC is still underdeveloped, with less than 10% of the population having access to the grid (1% in rural areas). A reality that contrasts with the country’s energy potential (mostly renewable) and government priorities aimed at increasing the pace of electrification.

Of hydroelectric origin, most of the Congolese structures (Inga Dams 1 and 2) need to be rehabilitated. To ensure a viable energy balance, electricity generation must also be diversified. And this is quite possible in this Central African country, which meets all the necessary conditions for the exploitation of renewable energy sources. Solar energy is a good example of this, as the country is located in a band of very bright sunlight, which provides an average radiation of 3.5 to 5.5 kWh/m² and can go up to 6.75 kWh/m² (for comparison, in the south of France, in the sunniest region of the country, the average exposure is 5 kWh/m² in summer and 2.4 kWh/m² in winter.)

Because of this observation, the private sector is getting involved in this topic. This is the case of the Belgian-Congolese group Forrest International, which has been present in Africa for a century. Very sensitive to environmental issues, the group’s president, George Forrest, and his eldest son, Malta David Forrest, now CEO, decided to diversify into the energy sector, setting up a subsidiary in Congo Energy in 2013. “Each of our energy actions is aimed at clean energy, we want to combine the electrification of the country and respect for the environment”George Forrest says. Thus, Congo Energy has taken part in the rehabilitation of hydroelectric power plants (Nzilo in 2015, Inga in 2019-2020 and Sanga in 2017 and 2022) and has also worked on the construction of the largest solar power plant. , region, in Manono. The project, implemented between 2016 and 2018 and representing an investment of $9,750,000, has a maximum capacity of 1,000 kWh.[1] .

Other Congolese and foreign investors are increasingly interested in the potential of solar energy, as evidenced by the joint action of independent electricity producers and banks to build a photovoltaic solar power plant in Kolwezi.

Waste management: a challenge to overcome

The ‘country of solution’, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is also a country facing numerous challenges, chief among which is waste management. The capital of the country with a population of 12 million people is notorious for its piles of plastic waste that litter the land of Kinshasa.

And yet, non-disposal of waste and their accumulation are one of the causes of global warming. The accumulation of organic waste, first of all, creates favorable conditions for the release of methane into the atmosphere (responsible for a quarter of global warming). In addition, avoiding the management of other types of waste (eg chemical or plastic) directly affects biodiversity. Consequence: Water pollution, soil toxicity and over a million birds and 100,000 marine mammals disappear each year worldwide according to UNESCO.

To combat this phenomenon, Clean Plast decided to clean up its waste in the capital by sorting and recycling it. About 10 tons of waste is collected and centrally stored daily at the company’s sites. This initiative also serves the local economy. Thus, according to Jagdeep Pandya, CTO of Clean Past, the company employs about 100 people and the factory is currently only operating at 20% of its capacity.

For its part, on April 14, the state opened a new plant Kintoko Plast (Angel Cosmetic Group), specializing in the stabilization, treatment and recycling of organic and inorganic waste. It took $15 million to bring this second largest industrial complex in Africa out of the ground.

The environmental problems of the DRC are commensurate with the potential of its resources. While the path may seem tortuous, the environmental and economic benefits may well be significant. As proof, the Congo River alone has a hydroelectric potential in the DRC of 100,000 MW, or 37% of Africa’s energy potential in the area. It is enough to look to the future with optimism.

[1] Kilowatt-peak, i.e. maximum electrical power.

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