KINSHASA - The Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo are to jointly seek funds to help them protect their tropical peatlands, a major factor in the issue of climate change.
In a joint statement seen by AFP on Monday, the two central African neighbours said they hoped to gain "guarantees, in the form of funding... with the aim of sufficiently offsetting" sacrifices made by their populations if the peatlands are left untouched.
The two countries' environment ministers, meeting in the DRC capital of Kinshasa last weekend, agreed to set up a "joint peatland management mechanism," the statement added.
The swampy peatlands in the Congo Basin hold a massive stock of carbon -- the result of billions of years of vegetal growth and decay.
Draining these peatlands for agriculture would release huge amounts of planet-warming greenhouse gases, scientists have warned.
Last month, scientists co-led by Simon Lewis, a professor at the University of Leeds in northern England, said the Congo Basin peatlands covered 145,500 square kilometres (56,000 square miles), an area the size of England.
In addition to being a biodiversity hotspot, the peatlands contain previously unknown carbon stocks equivalent to three years' worth of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, they found.
Most climate change is caused by burning oil, gas and coal to power our economies, but a tenth of global emissions come from land use, mainly deforestation and agriculture.
In Southeast Asia, vast expanses of peatland have been drained and stripped of their vegetation to make way for commercial crops, especially palm oil.
That process releases CO2 and nitrous oxide -- another potent greenhouse gas -- and creates health-threatening pollution when the land is burned.
International funding to prevent carbon emissions through tropical deforestation is already well-established. However, there is no scheme yet on a similar scale that is specifically framed for tropical peatlands.