Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Botswana’s push for coal at odds with climate change aspirations

Although Botswana was among countries at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, which signed up to shift and reduce the use of coal, Ember lists Botswana among a dozen of countries which have a substantial number of planned new coal projects.

This comes at a time when an increasing number of governments around the world are starting to transition towards renewable energy.

The planned new coal projects have 2.8 GW capacity. “Botswana has five new coal plants planned, with none yet under construction. Despite difficulty attracting investment, pipeline capacity has recently increased as Botswana has announced its intention to make maximum use of its coal reserves,” states Ember which is an independent climate and energy think tank focused on accelerating the global electricity transition from coal to clean.

Although Botswana signed up to reduce the use of coal at the COP26 in Glasgow, the country chose not to sign a pledge to stop issuing new licences to mine the fossil fuel. With Botswana having over 210 billion tonnes of untapped resources of semi-bituminous coal, it would make economic sense to tap into these reserves as a way of propping up the economy which has been battered by Covid-19.

Furthermore, Botswana is a net importer of South African energy, relying on Eskom for its increasing energy needs. This means there will be economic implications for Botswana to suddenly do away with its vast coal reserves.

In his address at the Investing in African Mining Indaba which was held virtually in February this year, President Mokgweetsi Masisi said “overdependence on diamonds has more than ever made it imperative for us to urgently expand our revenue base to other minerals such as coal and base metals,” adding that “to this end, Botswana has developed a coal road map that identified eight potential options with the aim to increase the contribution of this resource to our economy.”

For Botswana any transition to green energy will be expensive and a slow process. Neighbouring South Africa will phase out coal in an agreement called the Just Transition, which will see $18 billion being allocated to the country to assist with the transition away from coal. However, Botswana is likely to face climate funding difficulties since it does not have a clear roadmap on how it intends to end the use of coal.

The minister of environment, natural resources conservation and tourism, Philda Kereng who attended the High Level ministerial dialogue on Climate Finance at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, noted that Botswana needs financial support to start climate initiatives mainly clean energy and adaptation. However it is reported that in the last few years, Botswana received no adaptation financing while South Africa received the most multilateral climate financing on the continent. Zambia, Tanzania and Comoros also received relatively high amounts of adaptation financing relative to their climate vulnerabilities, but the sums are still inadequate to meet their needs.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Tumisang Ramatlhape said it is imperative for Botswana to consider a more sustainable energy transition which will be central to future climate strategies. “Botswana finds itself in a Catch 22 situation. First coal exports can build the Botswana economy and generate electricity. What is not clear is if this will be sustainable in the future since the global market for coal is evolving,” she says.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP): “Excluding the uptake of carbon dioxide through tree growth in Botswana, the climate-changing effect of the emissions are 52% due to carbon dioxide, 33% due to methane and 16% due to nitrous oxide.”

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