US offers Botswana help amidst global coal-phobia

The United States says it stands ready to help Botswana exploit its estimated 200 billion tonnes of coal, despite a global backlash which has seen funding dry up for projects involving the black rock.

Worldwide, major project funders such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund as well as numerous large commercial banks have limited or stopped financing new coal projects in line with global commitments on reducing carbon emissions.

In Botswana, government and other quasi-government bodies such as the Botswana Development Corporation, have taken up the role of funding coal projects, as the country pushes ahead with unlocking the value of its massive resources.

In an exclusive interview last Friday, US assistant secretary of state for energy, Francis Fannon told BusinessWeek his country stood ready to partner with Botswana in the development of its coal resources.

Fannon, who was on a three-country visit to Africa, is the inaugural holder of the assistant secretary of state for energy position, a role within which he advises the US secretary of state, one of the four most powerful positions in the US Cabinet.

“We are not prescriptive as to the type of energy and we will work with countries to help them achieve their ambitions in a way that’s responsible and sustainable,” he told BusinessWeek.

“I have met with local people on minerals, coal and solar and I think that’s a prudent approach which demonstrates an ‘all of the above’ view or lens with which to look at the development of a country.

“There’s plenty of new coal technologies that can be deployed and the US is leading the way on this that can get us close to near zero emissions.

“If you can take all the emissions out of coal and if the thing that is objectionable are the emissions, then why would anyone oppose the coal?

“Botswana has such great potential in three of these domains and a bit of blank slate to chart their course.

“We stand ready to partner with Botswana.” President Donald Trump recently officially notified the United Nations that the US was pulling out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, as the commitments would hurt the US economy.

The American President is also seen as softer on coal developments in that country, refusing to take a tough stance on the industry in his country.

Fannon said Botswana was a shining example to Africa and beyond on minerals’ governance and represented an ideal location for US firms to partner on energy.

“We think if a country wants to develop its economy and coal can be a part of that and they can do it responsibly and sustainably, they should be able to do that,” he told BusinessWeek.

“Countries want to invest in places that respect human rights, transparency and health safety performance and we should be able to work in partnership with those countries irrespective of the type of energy source.

“We should recognise the technology that’s here today and that’s being developed, rather than continue to look at technology from the 1970s and think it’s the same thing.”

Fannon said Botswana had both solar and coal in abundance and both could be developed responsibly.

“Both are indigenous resources that Botswana has in abundance and we are looking forward to continuing our dialogue and expanding our partnership to help Botswana develop its own energy resources.”

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