Former chief executive officer (CEO) of De Beers Botswana, Sheila Khama, contends that there is need for greater examination of the factors and influences driving climate science and politics.
She shares her views at a time when Botswana and other African countries are being put under pressure to deliver clean energy and adhere to stringent green measures while European nations increase their reliance on coal, dubbed a “dirty fossil fuel.”
“I’m concerned that in the debates on climate change, on decisions, and milestones and various international protocols that have now given speed to the pace of climate change, there is a risk that transparency is compromised because of the multiplicity of interests that are not only diverse but in effect they conflict,” she says.
Khama, who has broad understanding of mineral policy and regulatory frameworks, proclaims, “I call for scrutiny of the motivation and influence behind the science, economics, and politics of climate change.”
In her words, “unless we have sight of how the decisions that all of these people make, unless we are sure that the decisions they make speak primarily to the need to save the planet,” there is a risk that “climate change becomes a talking point rather than a problem that scientifically, economically, and politically we commit ourselves to solve.”
The use of coal was a hot topic at United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26 which was held in Glasgow, Scotland in 2021. More than 20 developed countries pledged to end the use of coal by 2030. At the same conference, wealthy countries pledged to stop overseas development finance for gas projects.
However, the global energy shortages brought on by the war in Ukraine have pushed the European Union (EU) to the precipice. The EU is now turning back to “dirty fossil fuels” which they have been encouraging global institutions such as the World Bank to stop financing. Despite the fact that Europe’s energy crisis is easing, it laid bare Europe’s conflicted approach to fossil fuels.
The ex-head of De Beers Botswana is particularly concerned that the debate around clean energy transition has missed the importance of transparency, adding that openness must be the heart of why such decisions are made. “When I think about the debate on climate change, and transition to clean energy, I worry that we have not inserted the importance of transparency,” she says.
She adds that transparency is essential since it “empowers those who are responsible for oversight like auditors, Members of Parliament.” Aside from that, she says depriving civil society and the electorate of transparency disempowers them, and “the result is that we cannot govern responsibly because there is no public scrutiny.”
Despite some objections from some climate scientists, Botswana has indicated that it intends to supply Europe with up to 50,000 tonnes of coal each month. Furthermore, Botswana announced plans to build a P33 billion coal-to-liquids plant to convert coal into liquid fuels, reducing reliance on imported fuel. The coal-to-liquids plant which will function as a public-private collaboration will produce more than 1.5 million litres of diesel and gasoline each day over the course of its 30-year lifespan. Success in the initiative would give Botswana energy security, boost government revenue, and generate employment.
Additionally, there is one question that no one seems eager to answer. Why does the Global North have a right to continuously put its own national energy interests first over collaborative efforts to reduce global warming, while African countries are urged to decarbonise quickly?