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Four reasons Botswana needs to prioritise energy transition

Pressure is mounting on Botswana to move towards sustainable energy
BERLIN: With the desire to ensure that citizens have access to electricity, Botswana has been working on increasing its coal projects, and ramping up its Morupule Coal Mine’s annual production to eight million metric tonnes by 2025.

As a signatory to the Paris Agreement, however, these seemingly commendable efforts appear to be contrary to the country’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, as the use of coal for energy production is said to be the single biggest contributor to anthropogenic climate change in the world. A lack of adequate finance to transition to renewables is the biggest reason why Botswana finds itself in an uncomfortable position, wherein it is trying to juggle development with climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Participants of the just-ended Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue (BETD) and Berlin Energy Week are of the view that a lack of finance is no longer a valid excuse as renewable energy technologies have become cheaper, making the continued pursuit of fossil fuels like coal senseless.

After an encounter with several representatives from government, civil society, academia, the private sector and multilateral institutions from across the globe at the Berlin Energy Week, here are some of the reasons given, justifying why Botswana and other developing countries need to prioritise the energy transition.


Renewable energy technologies are now cheaper

In the 1990s and around the early 2000s Germany started experimenting with rooftop solar and introduced the feed-in-tariff scheme to promote solar electricity generation, said Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy at the African Union Commission. 

The feed-in-tariff, she said, led to a solar energy boom in Germany, which in turn spurred mass production of solar cells, resulting in the cost reduction the world is witnessing today. The feed-in-tariff Abou-Zeid added has now delivered gigawatts of renewable energy worldwide.

According to a scientific modelling study released recently by the Energy Watch Group, 100% renewables are more cost-effective, the energy costs for a fully sustainable energy system will decrease from €54/MWh in 2015 to €53/MWh in 2050. The transition in all sectors, the study posits, will reduce the annual greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector continuously from roughly 30 GtCO2-eq. in 2015 to zero by 2050.


Ensure new generations inherit a liveable planet

We are facing a climate crisis that poses an existential threat to all humanity, the evidence about the effects of climate change is incontrovertible, and the moral case for urgent action indisputable, said Mary Robinson, chair of the elders, and former president of Ireland. Now, thanks to the recent marches, strikes and protests by hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, she said, the world has begun to understand the intergenerational injustice of climate change and the need to plan transition policy

over a timespan to include many generations to follow, including those unborn.

The report released last October by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the steps needed to meet the target of keeping global warming to 1.5°C, she said, should and must herald the planned end of the fossil fuel era.

The world has entered a new reality where fossil fuel companies have lost their legitimacy and social licence to operate, she expounded. If governments are to retain their own legitimacy and trust amongst citizens, Robinson said, this means they must end all fossil fuel subsidies, in all forms, so coal and other hydrocarbons are kept in the ground and resources are invested instead in clean, renewable energy sources and green technologies.


Become independent

The energy transition is not merely a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. It is also upending political constants said Heiko Maas, Germany’s Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs. Using renewable energies, he said, enables states to improve their own security. Energy, he noted, is losing its potency as the geopolitical instrument, which was known for decades. Countries that are transforming their energy economy, Maas asserted, can be more independent in pursuing their strategic and foreign-policy interests.


Create employment

This shift will enable faster economic growth, create more jobs, and improve overall social welfare, said Francesca La Camera, Director General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). He is of the view that by 2050, the energy transformation would provide a 2.5 percent improvement in GDP and a 0.2 percent increase in global employment, compared to business as usual.

A 100%-renewable electricity system will employ 35 million people worldwide, the roughly nine million jobs in the world’s coal mining sector from 2015 will be phased out completely by 2050, these will be overcompensated by the over 15 million new jobs in the renewable energy sector, notes the new scientific modelling study released on Friday by the Energy Watch Group.

Given the reasons cited above, it makes sense for Botswana to pursue its transition now. Every dollar spent on the transition, IRENA’s Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050 report released last week at the BETD cites, will pay off up to seven times. Globally, a transition to a more sustainable system of energy is happening, however, efforts are behind life threatening climate pressures, hence the dire need for a speedy energy revolution.

*Sharon Tshipa is an experienced local journalist specialising in climate change and broader environmental issues.

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