Virunga National Park, D.R. Congo
VNP covers 790,000 ha and was inscribed in 1979. It contains the greatest biological diversity of any park in Africa: from steppes, savannas and lava plains, swamps, lowland and montane forests to volcanoes and the unique giant herbs and snowfields of Rwenzori over 5,000m high. Thousands of hippopotamuses live in its rivers, its mountains are a critical area for the survival of mountain and lowland gorillas, and birds from Siberia overwinter there.
In 2009, two oil exploration and exploitation permits had been issued for areas overlapping the site, even though national legislation forbids any kind of mineral exploitation in national parks.
Impact on Operations
A large international campaign was mounted by World Wildlife Fund and other NGOs, amounting to the shaming of the companies involved (Total, Soco). After sustained public pressure, including statements from the government of France, Total withdrew, but not before having taken a hit to its reputation in France and elsewhere. It has now committed to no further activities within WH sites anywhere. Soco remains engaged, despite significant bad press in the UK, and including statements from the UK government strongly urging the company to withdraw. High level dialogues between the director general of UNESCO and the president of DRC led to the temporary suspension of exploration activities.
Some companies consider it appropriate to seek exploration and exploitation permits in WH sites despite national and international laws forbidding such activities.
Different levels of government within a country may actively pursue contrary objectives, resulting in a confusing regulatory environment with the potential to cause significant problems to project investment plans.