Friday, December 3, 2021

A big opportunity beckons for Botswana to wean itself from the shackles of coal-fired energy

Botswana imports well over 80 percent of its electricity needs from Eskom, South Africa’s power utility.

All that electricity is generated using coal, which scientists have identified as one of the biggest polluters.

In Glasgow over the past week, Eskom executives have been negotiating and even signing big deals that would help the South African power utility to retire some of its coal powered plants and start new ones that are carbon neutral. 

The European Commission has been in hand to help Eskom as has been big American banks and fund managers.

Of course Eskom huge debt owing largely to corruption means that the corporation will not get even half of what it needs – first to keep the lights on in South Africa and across Africa, but also to make ambitious investments that are now vital as a result of economic growth and also to get away from coal based generation.

Efforts are ongoing among negotiators in Glasgow to end all new investments in coal powered generation.

Time is running out.

As things stand coal-fired electricity is the world’s single largest polluter.

Other than importing a large chunk from the South Africa that uses coal, Botswana exports coal from different mines.

Botswana Power Corporation currently runs two power plants, Morupule “A” and “B”, both of them coal fired.

All things equal, consensus coming out of Glasgow is that developed countries need to start phasing coal out by the 2030s with 2040s being the latest for that to happen in developing countries.

It would seem like there is not much enthusiasm on the part of Botswana government to embrace green technology.

It would seem like the lack of enthusiasm is a result of fears from the costs involved in new investments that will have to happen.

At face value, phasing out coal might seem unimaginable and even irresponsible.

The truth though is that there is no other way to go about it.

Botswana should work hard at doing away with coal.

Any further delays can only postpone a problem will get bigger with time.

We should also disabuse ourselves of working at exporting coal-generated electricity.

Our view is that Botswana should not be left behind. In fact the country should look at the future and accept that coal represent the past. Trying to look both ways will only engender hesitancy and half-heartedness.

Botswana should break the cycle of dependence on South Africa.

Botswana can do that by going her way and working at becoming electricity self-reliant.

To do that Botswana should start as early as now to invest on green technology.

This will not be easy. It will need political will and a change of mindset.

It will be costly, but there are at the moment huge opportunities through finances and investments.

Big funds are coming on line to finance green technology.

And there is a clear and unambiguous movement towards ceasing all finance for all kinds of coal related investments.

As the CEO of Eskom said at Glasgow, “the stone age did not come to an end because there was any shortage of stones.”

The coal era will come to an end not because coal has finished.

The World Bank and the IMF too will henceforth finance projects strictly based on verifiable credentials of pollution reducing targets.

To demonstrate seriousness and indeed political will, Botswana should set itself pragmatic targets on coal transition.

Government should have for itself a near term decarbonisation time table.

This means mapping out in clear detail how the country intends to reduce all its unwanted emissions, chiefly from coal.

Such a time table is necessary to show progress or lack of it. But the time table will also be used to avoid sliding back into unsustainable and environmentally dangerous substances like coal.

Obviously government cannot be expected to do everything.

The private sector needs to come to the party.

Companies need to also demonstrate their seriousness on climate changing.

But before that happens government has to demonstrate a clear determination to tackle the issue not just of coal but also one-use plastic manufacturing.

There is absolutely no reason why shops today should be using and or selling plastics to customers to put in goods purchased

Or else Botswana will once again, be dependent on Eskom and South Africa even beyond coal fired  generation.

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