I spent some time working with WWF at the beginning of this year. They are a great bunch of campaigners and environmentalists and I had a good time making or renewing friendships whilst I was there.
It slightly pains me that WWF-UK is spending less and less time involved in UK conservation issues because the rest of us will miss their wit and wisdom but it does free them up to get stuck into issues like this, which is their new big global campaign to save the Virunga National Park from oil exploration.
The Virunga National Park (sounds a bit more African than its former name, ‘Albert’, doesn’t it?) was Africa’s first. It is the home to a good chunk of the world’s mountain gorillas and a host of other wildlife. The park has gone through some good times and bad times but it seems that things are on the ‘up’ at the moment – apart from the threat from oil exploration.
SOCO International is a UK-based FTSE-250 listed oil exploration company. There are fears about the way that it is conducting its business and also fears about whether a National Park is the right place to be prospecting for oil. I wasn’t impressed by SOCO’s statement on the matter which seemed to say ‘It’s not my fault, talk to the government about it’ and contained no promise about wildlife impacts at all. SOCO’s environmental statement on their website is rudimentary and uninformative.
When SOCO says that ‘it will never seek to have operations in the mountain gorilla habitat, the Virunga Volcanoes or the Virunga equatorial rainforest’ it just makes me wonder why they chose to use the word ‘seek’. Such statements are usually made with great care being taken over their wording.
Why ‘seek’? It just made me wonder whether it was paving the way for a future statement along these lines ‘We have been working closely with the government of the DCR and we are just doing what they want’. If you care about the environment and you care about gorillas there isn’t much comfort to be taken from here.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the second largest country in Africa. It used to be the Belgian Congo (hence ‘Albert’) and it used to be Zaire. The eastern side of the country, close to Rwanda and Uganda, is known as ‘the rape capital of the world’. DCR ranks 121st out of 151 countries rated in the New Economics Foundation’s ‘Happy Planet Index‘ (a naff name but a good concept). If you live in the DCR you have a miserable short life but you don’t screw up the rest of the world much with the way you live. It seems that that last measure may be about to change.
WWF are right to be worried about this development. I wouldn’t knowingly buy shares in SOCO today – I would wait and see what happens if I were an investor with a conscience (I do have a conscience – it’s just that I don’t have any money to invest).
I’ve supported WWF’s campaign and I suggest you do too. No doubt things may get a bit messy in future so they might need our help and support.