Help: Africa is new dumpsite for dirty energy

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Gilbert Alasa

Zuriat Muniru sits in between the weary laps of her mother, Ramatu, that Thursday morning in August. As her mum peers at their shack overtaken by floods in Taodak Estate in Gbagada, Lagos, Zuriat flaps her frail arms without a care, tugging at her mother’s black veil.

But unless the government takes critical steps to address these extreme weather climate conditions, Zuriat’s joy and hope of a better life may be hampered. Together with her mum, they are likely to be among an additional 100 million people shoved deeper into poverty by 2030, according to the World Bank.

It says the impact of this extreme climate crisis equals a global USD520 billion loss in annual consumption and keeps about 26million more people in poverty every year.

Ramatu fled Borno with her husband in 2014 in the wake of Boko Haram onslaught. Her husband works as a home security guard while she sells pap and bean cake to earn a keep.

But the family was rendered homeless in 2019, following the heavy floods that ravaged several neighborhoods across Lagos. “When the floods became too much, the residents fled the house. We were forced to leave, too,” said Ramatu.

Africa flirts with coal

In August, residents of Nasarawa State in north-central Nigeria were in high heavens. The governor, Mr. Abdullahi Sule, had just announced plans to build a 1000-megawatt coal power plant as a response to the energy crisis in the state.

Across many communities in Africa, where regular power remains a luxury and where darkness is a legitimate neighbor, this announcement signals a major victory; one that reminds residents of a possible end to the problem of power. But experts predict that the project portend enormous environmental risks for the residents, and could worsen Nigeria’s green emission levels.

“Many nations in Africa have alternative energy sources; so coal is never the answer,” says Philip Jakpor, an energy expert with Environmental Rights Action.

Jakpor, who was part of the Climate Action group that carpeted oil firm CEOs at the 2019 United Nations General Assembly Summit, believes African governments are to blame for their weak policies that failed to encourage cuts in coal consumption.

Nigeria’s policy on power generation fuels this addiction to coal. According to the former Minster for Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, coal accounts for more than 30% of the nation’s energy generation.

READ ALSO: FG moves to revive Enugu coal mines

From Ghana to Ivory Coast, Malawi, Kenya, Morocco, Madagascar and Senegal, Africa’s coal power pipeline is widening. But African countries could be plunged into a vicious circle of coal dependency due to a rise in coal mining activities and power plants built around the continent, according to Urgewald, a Germany-based environmental rights group.

Why China invaded Africa with coal projects

In 2018, China announced plans to cut its coal consumption as part of a war against pollution. It was believed the move would assuage the country of the damage suffered by the economy since the post Mao Zedong years.

To achieve this, the government created key pollution control provinces made up of coal-producing regions of Shaanxi and Shanxi. Some regions like Beijing were mandated to cut coal by at least 10% within a space of four years (2016-2020).

But in spite of its clean energy campaign, China stills controls the highest number of coal companies in the world, surpassing Australia (51) and the United States (82) combined. But as investments in alternative energy sources heighten, there is a steady decline in the demand for coal power, resulting in redundancy of equipment and technology.

As a way of managing the glut, Chinese energy firms, backed by leading financial institutions, have swooped on Africa and other nations around the world in search of new markets.

“If we do not keep our policies in line with global best practices and our commitment under the Paris Agreement, then we are sitting ducks,” warns Caleb Adebayo, Founder of Earthplus.

Adebayo insists that despite the presence of huge coal deposits in Africa, sustainability should guide how we utilize these resources.

“True, we have high deposits of coal and other mineral resources. And the question would be, what do we do about it? The answer becomes, should we continue to rely on a solution that is harmful to health just because we have huge deposits of that resource?”

“It’s a question of demand and supply,” Jakpor added.

“If China pushes obsolete, unhealthy energy technology and equipment to Africa, it’s our responsibility to accept or reject what we consider unfit for our safety and wellbeing. Nobody will do that for us if we fold our arms and sit still,” he says.

Future of Africa with coal power

Africa’s current status on the climate change vulnerability scale is worrisome. Of the ten countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change, Africa alone accounts for seven.

But this situation could worsen as a total of 18 new coal power plants are currently being built across the continent. Egypt, South Africa and Zimbabwe are at the forefront of efforts to increase their coal-fired capacity by 35,080MW combined.

In Egypt, a consortium of three multinational power generation companies – Shangai Electric, Hassan Allam and Dongfang Electric – is building the world’s largest coal power plant around the Red Sea.

Elsewhere, South Africa is pushing an ambitious coal pipeline expansion drive estimated at over 14,000 MW. Despite its status as one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases, the Rainbow nation hopes to grow its coal power capacity by an additional 34%.

In Zambia, it is a story of ambition marked by ruthless execution. Its first coal power plant, built by Singapore’s Nava Bharat Pte, is at critical stages of being expanded from an initial 300MW to 600MW. EMCO Energy is also considering a 340MW station in the Sinazongwe district. Upon completion, Zambia will see its coal-fired capacity rise by a stunning 190%, according to Urgewald.

“Coal has been helpful in the past, but not anymore, says Alex Akhigbe, founder of Africa CleanUp Initiative.

“The advantages and disadvantages of coal require a balance of current power needs and environmental management. The truth is even though coal has been a useful energy source all these years; we need to start exploring new, safer options considering the present state of our climate.”

Adebayo is concerned that even though Africa does not contribute so much to the global green gas emission as China (29%), US (16%), and India (7%), it remains the biggest victim of a global problem.

A cut in Africa’s coal consumption is a win for the future of Africans across generations.

Original Article

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