The Centre for Natural Resource Governance urges government to focus on renewable energy and halt coal related investments, as reliance on fossil fuels creates negative social and environmental impacts in the long run.
In a damning report ‘Coal Investments in Zimbabwe: A misplaced priority’ CNRG said decisions to finance coal investments are not only undemocratic and unilateral, but also prejudice the country’s commitment to international conventions towards reducing carbon emissions.
Continued investment into coal projects will discourage clean energy investments as remaining global fossil financiers will stampede to dump their money in Zimbabwe, hampering the country’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions said CNRG.
CNRG instead, implored government to move along with international trends, of a global shift from coal financing, to allocate more financial resources towards funding investments in renewable energy.
“The country’s addiction to coal is not healthy for the citizenry as it does not only go against Zimbabwe’s own policy and strategies but also globally agreed frameworks,” says Obrien Nhachi who penned the report.
“The Government of Zimbabwe has been indicating left and turning right, as proven by the commitment to invest in coal mining.”
Zimbabwe indicated its commitment to upscale investment in coal, President Emerson Mnangagwa says, this support for the coal sector ‘is in line with the vision of attaining a US$12 billion mining economy by 2023 as well as achievement of a middle income economy by 2030.’
Central to the US$12 billion mining strategy is generation of adequate energy, to fully exploit over 40 minerals, government wants this energy supply from an estimated 25billion tons of coal reserves as indicated by its investment commitments.
In October 2019, Mines and Mining Development Minister Winston Chitando, noted that Zimbabwe traditionally produced about 3 million tons of coal per annum and the produce was expected to leap to 15 million tons per annum by mid-2020.
CRNG however says, while increasing capacity to generate energy is in tandem to economic development, such investments must not violate constitutional imperatives to protect the environment, ultimately creating an even bigger climate change dilemma.
“Coal extraction and burning not only has serious environmental impacts on land, water and air, but has social impacts on the human population too, resulting in many succumbing to chronic diseases such as tuberculosis.
“…continued reliance on fossil fuel will be merely privatizing profits whilst externalizing the cost to the community.
“However, although increasing energy supply is key, the path of relying on fossil fuels is tantamount to solving a problem by creating an even bigger one,” reads part of the report.
Ironically, government’s own policies and ratification of the Paris Agreement proves ‘there is enough awareness and technical competence in government to reduce carbon emissions and take practical steps towards adaptation and mitigation’.
“Any commitment to increase energy supply should be done in a manner which should satisfy the country’s climate change policy as well as the economic, social and environmental well-being of the citizens.
“Already the communities where coal is mined are experiencing underdevelopment whilst those far away are experiencing extreme weather conditions whose manifestation is increasing vulnerability of the poor and thereby draining more from the fiscus as government attends to the climate change-related disasters,” said CNRG.
In his presentation of the 2019 Budget Statement the Minister of Finance Professor Mthuli Ncube noted that “the country’s constitution gives every Zimbabwean the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being.”
CNRG says this right towards a clean environment is under threats as it will be impossible to fully enjoy it if government follows through its investment commitments towards coal financing.
An independent report by CNRG on the impact of coal mining in Hwange also showed that, coal mining by Hwange Colliery, Makomo, Chilota, WMK & Coalbricks Mines has resulted in substantial and permanent damages to the landform.
The report also showed that the burning of coal by Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) emits pollutants such as matter (PM) and ground-level ozone (O3) — the key ingredients of smog – along with nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur oxides (SOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbon monoxide (CO).
“…The air in Hwange is heavily polluted and this has serious health impacts on the community…similar concerns about water pollution on Deka River by the mining companies that discharge effluent into the water body, killing livestock and fish downstream.”
CNRG also said other “studies have shown that living near coal combustion power plants is associated with fatal health risks – in the form of lung, laryngeal and bladder cancer. Respiratory complaints, increases in non-melanoma skin cancers, still births and miscarriages are also common.”
“Communities that host coal sites need to be sensitized on the Climate Change Response Strategy and National Renewable Energy Policy so they put pressure on the central government to implement the its own renewable energy policies and international commitment,” said CNRG.
Government is not only backing Hwange coal projects, it has also given backing to Zimbabwe’s Rio Energy Ltd’s plans to construct a US$ 3 Billion thermal power plant in Sengwa, Gokwe District, with financial support from China Gezhouba Group Corporation.