Saturday, October 16, 2021

Coal Industrialisation: A lesson from China to Botswana

Notwithstanding, as indicated by the World Economic Forum (WEF), worldwide 40 percent of electricity generated still comes from coal. The dominance of coal powered electricity compared to other energy power generation methods such as solar and natural gas, is attributed chiefly to its low cost and risk nature. In other words, coal production ensures greater economic benefits by way of providing the earliest possible revenue streaming. While the mining and processing of coal in the country offers grand opportunities such as replacing expensive electricity imports from South Africa and ensuring domestic energy power security, the human cost for this method of power generation cannot be overlooked. The trade-off between economic growth and environmental damage was clearly evidenced in the world’s most populous country, China. The Asian giant provides in that respect a case study and lesson to countries such as Botswana which at present sit on the cusp of coal industrialisation.

From the world economic map, China comes top as the most powerful developing economy and makes a bigger contribution to global growth than that of the US and Japan, which exceeds 30 percent. Between 2013 and 2017 China’s share in the global economy grew to roughly 15 percent up from 11.4 percent. This tells of a remarkable economic growth trajectory, one that superseded the world trend of average growth. With this success however came a heavy price to pay. The price that China paid, and continues to pay, for its rapid economic growth was environmental damage. According to WEF China is among the biggest coal producers alongside India, United States, Australia, Indonesia, Germany and South Africa. In fact, the latest HYPERLINK “http://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/KeyWorld2017.pdf”Key World Energy Statistics report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which provides data for the 10 largest coal-producing nations, ranked China as the world’s number one coal giant. The country was reported to have increased its global share of coal production from 13.6 percent in the early 1970s to 44 percent in 2016. India came second at 9.7 percent and third was the US at 9.2 percent. According to WEF in 2015 coal accounted for half of global emissions, compared to just over a third in 1973. Of the top 10 coal giants Kazakhstan tailed at 1.3 percent, following Poland at 1.8 percent. This demonstrates the wide production gap between number one (China) and 10 (Kazakhstan).

In the China’s capital city, Beijing, a mask covering the nose and mouth is not an uncommon sight on people’s faces; it is in fact a part of daily life. Blue skies are increasingly disappearing behind fog and murkiness. Clean air continues to be usurped by the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. The culprit behind these climatic misfortunes points to coal production. When speaking about the environmental movements and the role of media in China as a form of pushing back against industrial chemical pollution and contamination, Jia Dia, a professor at Tsinghua University narrated the role public pressure, as was shaped and applied through social media, played in forcing government to be responsible in its energy projects. Dia showed pictures of movements in which people held up placards written ‘We want life. We don’t want to increase GDP.” Today China is working tirelessly in a race to replace coal production with renewable clean energy sources. WEF reported that at the start of 2017 China HYPERLINK “https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/05/world/asia/china-renewable-energy-investment.html”announced that it would invest $360 billion in renewable energy by 2020 and scrap plans to build 85 coal-fired power plants. Additionally, according to Cui Shoujun, a professor in International Studies at Renmin University of China, the country committed to reducing carbon emissions by 40 – 45 percent in 2020 in line with the 2005 levels agreed at Copenhagen Climate summit.   

“Breathing is the foundation of human life, the most important function of living,” said Professor Dia, a statement which undeniably holds truth. From an economic perspective processing Botswana’s rich coal resource is poised to transform the country’s power energy from production insufficiency to domestic consumption security, hence the move to industrialise it. It is likewise important for companies involved in coal production in Botswana such as Tlou Energy, Shumba Energy, Minergy Limited and African Energy to pay mind to the human cost that may result to their pursuit. Equally important is the government’s role in overseeing the responsibility to human life. From the experience of China the need for responsible energy power production is sufficiently demonstrated, lest Botswana finds herself in the same quagmire of human life versus economic growth.

Facts:

Coal reserves in Botswana are estimated at 212 billion tonnes

The generation of electricity in Botswana started in 1985 with a coal fired thermal power station at Morupule, operating at a capacity of 132 MWH

Morupule B’s current capacity was estimated at 600 MW

Botswana’s past practice has been exporting coal with limited domestic processing of the resource

Coal is a low cost and low risk energy resource hence its wide global use

The closure of BCL mine affected coal production as the mine served as a local market for the commodity

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