Saturday, February 27, 2021

Botswana’s push for coal at odds with climate goals

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. 

However, at a time when an increasing number of governments around the world are starting to transition towards renewable energy, the Botswana government announced that it would be pursuing coal as a way of weaning Botswana off dependence on diamonds.

In his address at the Investing in African Mining Indaba which was held virtually last week, 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.”

This announcement has however been met with mixed reactions. The Paris Agreement which entered into force on 4 November, 2016, clearly stipulates the need to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.

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.

Botswana has large untapped coal reserves estimated at over 210 billion tonnes, making Botswana the second largest after South Africa. 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.”

Furthermore, the State of Global Air 2020 report released in October 2020 states that Botswana has high concentration of deadly particle pollution, at two and half times over the World Health Organisation (WHO) threshold limit. 

Ramatlhape says coal is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel and government’s decision to expand its revenue base to minerals such as coal puts the country at odds with its climate goals of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

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