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10 Sep 2018

Botswana has close to 300 billion tonnes of known coal reserves underground.

The actual figures are probably much higher. It is thus befitting that on his recent trip to China, President Mokgweetsi Masisi chose coal as one of his key selling points.

Choosing coal as an integral component of our sales pitches has come rather too late and half-heartedly.

That is because many countries across the world have taken difficult but progressive decisions to reduce their reliance on coal in their overall energy mixes.

Having said that one cannot deny that there is still a lot of coal demand across the world, especially in China and India where coal-fired power stations still constitutes a bulk of those country’s energy inventories.

China and India are among the world largest and fastest growing economies.

Thus China and India alone are thus able to propel and even sustain demand of what is by all accounts a commodity that is on decline.

For more developed countries, the proportion of coal in the overall energy mixes has been steadily declining as to be on the back foot.

Across the world, environmental self-awareness has been catching fire. Because burning coal to produce electricity results in high carbon-dioxide emissions, this commodity has been a soft target for lobbyists eager to reduce carbon footprint.

In Europe and the United states, coal has been among the first casualties of incessant drives towards clean energy.

Latest statistics from the United States indicate exponential growth in cheap gas and other renewables. Naturally this is happening at the expense of coal, notwithstanding the fact that President Donald Trump campaigned on a ticket to revive coal.

The reality of the matter is that countries are at different developmental states. And this alone means that there is really no consensus on the pace at which countries can withdraw from coal as a source of energy.

Rather than racing to embrace climate change exigencies many developing countries find themselves hard pressed by demands of their energy security without which economic developments will be immensely undermined.

Thus countries like Botswana will have to be allowed laxity in selling a part of the coal reserves – if not to fight poverty then at least to fight unemployment.

The reason why Europe is today engulfed under the blazes of immigrants from Europe has to with much more than just wars and violence that these immigrants are running from.

A good amount of these immigrants flocking to Europe in their quest to get away from grinding poverty in their countries, made all the worse by declining prospects of ever finding employment.

Making a pitch for coal to a skeptical world is never going to sound the same like it was when we started selling our diamonds.

The world is growing increasingly wary of coal. And clean energy has become a bug that has kind of infected the whole planet.

So in our attempts to boast of our large reserves, these are the pitfalls that those doing the sales pitch should be conscious of. Exporting coal will no doubt earn Botswana the much needed foreign currency. But then it would equally be very important for those in power to factor in just how many people stand to gain employment from our new-found fascination with coal.

And for all the gloomy predictions made about the prospects of coal, one need to point out that even the most pessimistic of studies point out that coal has a future for at least the next 20 years.

For Botswana and especially the country’s marketer in chief, President Masisi the importance of balancing all these good prospects against potential negatives cannot be overstated.

Again, and this is very important, we must never as a nation allow ourselves to be held hostage by the environment lobby tree huggers.

Nonetheless it would be reckless to underestimate their global influence and the reputational risks from coal that if not properly calculated and calibrated could spiral way beyond just coal but to our other resources as well.

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