Sunday, January 29, 2023

Coal mining: Our past or future?

In April 2021, Botswana’s Parliament adopted a Climate Change Policy in accordance with the COP-26 requirements to reduce carbon emissions. COP26 stands for Conference of the Parties. In diplomatic parlance, “the parties” refers to the 197 nations, including Botswana that agreed to a new environmental pact, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, at a meeting in 1992.

That year, Botswana and other countries ratified the treaty, which aims to combat “dangerous human interference with the climate system” and stabilize levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere including consigning that coal-fired power stations such as Morupule A and B belongs to the history books. However, a war between two European nations, Russia and Ukraine which disrupted energy supply has led to a watering down of this key commitment.

With energy demand in Europe and some parts of Asia on an upward trajectory, coal producing countries are ramping up production in their respective mines with the aim of supplying desperate nations. In Botswana, the country’s leading coal miner, Morupule Coal Mine (MCM) this past week commissioned the Motheo Project which will increase the current production capacity from 2.8 to 4.2 million tonnes of coal per annum.

Coal: Botswana’s black diamond or a green goals hindrance?

As it stands, Morupule Coal Mine, which is hundred percent owned by the Botswana government through Minerals Development Company (MDCB) aspires to supply various markets with a cumulative total of 7.6 million tonnes of coal per annum by the year 2027. This will grow the mine’s annual revenue to P3 billion from P1 billion which is expected in 2023. This would mean as a solo shareholder the Botswana government stands to benefit through the expected dividends. The returns however pit the country against its green goals as reflected in the Cop 26 agreement.

“I am aware of the sensitivities surrounding coal mining and the utilisation of natural resources, particularly from the point of view of environmental sustainability and the green future”, admitted President Mokgweetsi Masisi at the commissioning of Motheo project in Palapye on Wednesday.

Beyond being aware, Masisi said that the Botswana government is pursuing globally-adopted standards of de-carbonisation of fossil fuels like coal, through using clean coal technologies.

“As a matter of fact, in April 2021, the Parliament adopted a Climate Change Policy in accordance with the COP-26 requirements to reduce carbon emissions. During the just energy transition period to a green economy, the Government will, in partnership with Independent Power Producers work steadily towards attaining investment capacity for the requisite energy mix that incorporates a significant proportion of cleaner energy sources, in the long term” said Masisi.

Just like the past administrations, Masisi’s appears to be prioritising a domestic energy supply line, aiming to secure all of the country’s energy demand through domestic sources.

Masisi also said that the Morupule Coal Mine is the predominant source of energy feedstock for the production of energy locally by supplying the Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) with coal to meet the country’s electricity demands.

“And as you have heard of late, BPC is now producing surplus power which is being exported to neighbouring countries and surely the Motheo Project will go a long way in facilitating and consolidating the success of this most welcome development”, Masisi said.

Masisi’s acknowledgment that the future of coal is limited to the use of clean mining tech, a question arises on whether this black diamond has a shrinking lifespan or the recent shift in energy transitions plans by the world’s powerful nations will prolong the life span of Morupule Coal mine including the newly commissioned Motheo.

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