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Botswana’s role in addressing climate change raises eyebrows

Opinion & Analysis
The use of fossil fuels, the worst being coal, for energy production is said to be the single biggest contributor to anthropogenic climate change in the world.

The use of fossil fuels, the worst being coal, for energy production is said to be the single biggest contributor to anthropogenic climate change in the world.


Botswana, among other African governments that are signatories to the Paris Agreement, is trying to juggle development with climate change mitigation and adaptation. To this end, Botswana has not phased out the use of coal, in fact, its plans to increase its coal fleet from seven plants to twenty-seven point to its increasing reliance on fossil fuels. The country’s actions are inspired by the fact that Botswana is heavily dependent on neighbours, largely South Africa, for its energy sources. With a view of harmonising its balance of trade by reducing the import bill, Botswana decided to tap on its massive coal reserves to produce electricity for its domestic consumption and exportation. This resolution has raised eyebrows. Botswana‘s ability to play a credible leading role in addressing climate change and sustainable development has been questioned.

Asked if Botswana should consider halting plans to increase its coal projects, which include its efforts to ramp up Morupule Coal Mine’s annual production to 8-million metric tons by 2025 from 2.8-million tons, Patricia Kefilwe Mogomotsi, a Senior Research Scholar in Natural Resources Economics at the Okavango Research Institute said it is only fair that low emitters such as Botswana be supported to grow their industrial bases using coal and other natural resources as long as sustainability is promoted.

“Botswana has been one of the few countries with low emissions recorded. That on its own should have gained it support from the developed countries. Botswana needs to be less dependent on energy importation,” explained Mogomotsi. However, she added that Botswana has to do more than make climate change commitments, but should ensure that exploitation of coal is done in an environmentally sustainable manner. The Botswana greenhouse gas inventory done in the year 2000 reflected that Botswana is a net sink, this may not hold for long given that energy security is more and more being anchored on the country’s coal reserves.

With the desire to discourage global warming, Botswana has made a voluntary commitment in its Vision 2036 to pursue green growth and attain a green economy, which can be argued to include reducing use of coal powered power stations in favour of renewable energy resources.

“Botswana’s commitment to global sustainability goals such as the Paris Agreement could be answered on the affirmative, the question on the country’s readiness to shift from fossil fuel dependent industries remains imperative and burning, as the answer leans more and more toward the contrary,” she said.

What can perhaps aid the country’s efforts to balance climate change adaptation and mitigation with development is the finalisation of the national climate policy, suggests the research paper titled ‘Paris agreement on climate change and Botswana’s Vision 2036: an examination of linkages’, written by Botswana scientists and published by the Chinese Journal of Population Resources and Environment in March this year. The absence of an overarching policy and or legislative enactment, despite its obvious benefits, the paper suggests has led to the proliferation of incoherent and uncoordinated sectoral legislation. This, it reads, results in the duplication of legislation or policy, and gaps in the regulatory framework, leaving some aspects of the environment unprotected and certain activities unregulated. The government of Botswana has been working on a climate change adaptation and mitigation policy since 2010. The draft policy is still to be adopted by parliament.

In the meantime, the newly unveiled national long-term vision 2036 encapsulates national aspirations. The third pillar of the vision states that by year 2036, the sustainable and optimal use of the country’s natural resources will have transformed the national economy and uplifted its people’s livelihoods. This it envisions will be made possible through the sustainable use of ecosystems and renewable energy resources. Sustainability clearly runs through the country’s developmental blueprint. In its endeavour to become an industrialised nation, Botswana intends to do so in an environmentally sustainable manner. It wants its plans to achieve economic growth to be consistent with the principles of the Paris Agreement.

“Such a developmental policy position is far from contradicting the Paris Agreement since the agreement has embedded mechanisms to balance between the developmental needs and the commitment in reducing carbon emissions. This middle-way or balancing act mechanism is provided for under Article 6,” Mogomotsi expounded. With coal projects in Botswana set to increase, Botswana’s role play in addressing climate change has raised eyebrows nonetheless. The question being, will Botswana be able to contain its emissions since it is not prepared to stop coal production or will the greenhouse gases be released into the atmosphere?

Since the government is working on ramping up its annual coal production rather than stop or maintain the status quo, Tshepo Tsito, a Development Practitioner and Founder of the Kalahari Culture & Nature Safaris advised the government to invest on research and development so that new methods of neutralising the harmful emissions from the Morupule Coal Mine can be implemented immediately. “The government should continue to develop and refine best-available combustion technology, including circulating fluidised-bed (CFB) technology, which includes supercritical and ultra-supercritical combustion. Burning biomass as a fuel, thus reducing the level of CO2 emissions, and oxy-combustion for collecting CO2-rich flue gas are other solutions. Gasification; turning coal into a gas and removing impurities from the coal gas before it is combusted is another viable solution,” said Tsito.

Moreover he is of the view that Botswana is heading in the right direction in trying to transition to clean energy but more funding and technical skills are needed to reach targeted outputs on time. Nevertheless, he said burning of fossil fuels should be gradually phased out.

In phasing out fossil fuels, the globe, especially Sub-Saharan countries will be relieved of high rates of undernutrition and temperature rises. Particularly vulnerable to these climatic changes are the rain-fed agricultural systems on which the livelihoods of a large proportion of the region’s population currently depends. As agricultural outputs shrink further, the rate of migration to urban areas will increase, consequently adding pressure to cities that are already failing to provide access to quality water, housing and sanitation services.

Botswana, a semi-arid country, is already being bowed down by the effects of climate change. Scientific data shows that water inflow from Angolan highlands into the Okavango Delta is affected by changing patterns of rainfall, relative humidity and temperature highs. The tourism sector is mostly affected. People are also directly affected, in recent years lives were lost to heat stress. Desertification in the greater Kgalagadi area is also affecting animal and crop production. Subsistence farming dropped due to erratic rainfall patterns.

Early August this year, the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi declared 2017/18 an arable drought in the country. She said the unevenly distributed rains, coupled with scorching heat that prevailed in the middle of the ploughing season, resulted in a drop in the hectarage planted. Due to the poor harvest, the government has adopted several measures such as supplementary feeding for children under-five, expectant and breastfeeding mothers and TB patients to mitigate the suffering. Botswana’s Southern African neighbours also received low rainfall. The need to stop the use of fossil fuels such as coal is therefore imperative.