THE climate change conference in Egypt could not be held at any other better moment than this for southern African countries experiencing extensive energy shortages. Ironically and for political correctness, African countries are at the forefront of clamouring for clean and renewable energy while the developed world gets away with dirty, cheap and practical fossil energy.
The ongoing COP27 meeting has shown how much African leaders are ready to fawn before international capital, say the correct things before a global audience but in the end still go back empty-handed or worsestill burdened by new debts.
The COP27 conference takes place in the face of rapid climate change that is causing droughts, floods and high temperatures affecting both human, social and economic spheres of life for those in areas that happen to experience the phenomenon.
Rising output of carbon emissions from fossil fuels and refrigeration components are said to be the core elements that are causing ozone layer depletion. It is beyond debate that the industrialised world, G7, contributes more than 60% of these emissions today. These are mainly caused by their coal-fired industries, aviation and vehicles that use hydrocarbons.
As a pragmatic plan to control carbon gas emissions, clean renewable energy is now at the centre of all production. The world is experimenting with electric vehicles and solar-powered aeroplanes. The technology is not coming cheap and for good measure it’s patented and Africa and the Third World countries will have to pay more for these technologies.
Africa is not the worst polluter, but bears the brunt the burden of climate change. A significant percentage of its population has no access to clean water, is exposed to floods and droughts and each year faces food shortages.
At COP27, led by the most industrialised and diversified economy on the continent — South Africa — continental leaders were outdoing each other to be seen as the good guys who deserve loans and grants to develop clean energy.
This week, the Daily Maverick carried a story headlined, South Africa unveils plans to wean itself off coal. It read: “COP27 has seen some movement beyond the initial pleasantries. South Africa launched the start of its US$8,5 billion plan to get off coal and move to green energy. Backed by the EU, Germany, France, the UK and the US, the plan will take a variety of grants, loans and other financial doohickery.”
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Zimbabwe too, not wanting to miss the limelight announced a new deal to set up a 500MW solar farm. President Emmerson Mnangagwa is renowned for pulling these mega deal stunts on a world stage and many of them hardly materialise.
The Herald led with the article that read: “The new 500 megawatt solar power station being built by Skypower Global in Zimbabwe moved closer to fruition yesterday as more detail was added to the investment deal on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Summit, COP27.”
It was further explained that the project will be implemented by United Arab Emirates-based Skypower. This is a stark reminder that Zimbabwe, unlike South Africa, is still a leper in the international financial circles and has to depend on funders from the East.
It remains something beyond comprehension that Africa wants to lead in the clean energy race while the countries that finance those projects are still using dirty energy.
Some context here would help. In February this year, Russia invaded Ukraine in a military confrontation many thought would last a few months, if not weeks. However, after Europe and the United States hit Russia with economic sanctions, the proverbial shit hit the fan. Russia immediately used the only ace weapon in its arsenal — the biggest supplier of gas to Western Europe. It said it would only collect payment in Roubles and threatened to reduce production.
Western Europe was rattled. It was staring at the reality of its population freezing in winter. All leaders were scared and had to act, act for survival and climate was the last thing on their minds.
Deutsche Welle (DW), a German news agency in August announced that the country was reactivating its coal-fired power plant to save gas. It said: “Germany is restarting another coal-fired reserve power plant next week as the country tries to save up its gas supplies for the coming winter.”
It lit the 875MW Heyden plant, near Hanover for that.
The DW added: “Germany plans to phase out coal-fired power generation by 2038 at latest. However, the war in Ukraine and the resulting disruptions to the energy market are causing some plants to be temporarily reactivated."
Now we ask, should Africa bear the burden of borrowing from people using dirty energy to finance its new and cleaner energy? Why should South Africa and Zimbabwe with their large coal deposits be pushed to close shop and turn to solar when millions of their people have no access to energy?
It is conceivable African leaders could have argued that they will continue to use fossil fuels for the next 50 years or so as they try to industrialise and in that period start working on their energy mix. Alas, they were into competition to see who is the most likeable African to capital and European leaders.
They want to be liked by G7 countries that have given themselves 20 to 30 years to remove dependence on carbon-based energies. However, it escapes many minds particularly in Africa that these developed countries have used coal for over 300 years to build their economies.
It is high time African leaders appreciate the real needs of their people and fight for them. We now know Europe will discard all the political niceties when their populations are threatened. They should know, Africa cannot carry more than its fair share of the climate change burden. Someone needs to say this clearly at such forums or else the conclusion remains stark — we have poor leaders.