Thought Piece

As Steven Lyazi of Kampala, Uganda has said before, the people of Africa need reliable electricity, good sanitation, clean water, clean air in their homes, modern technology, modern hospitals, DDT to end the threat of malaria (and the deaths of over 400,000 annually) and real economic development. If anyone would like to read more about Africa from an African point of view like Steven Lyazi’s, you can find two of his pieces in my previous LinkedIn posting. Steve P.S. Counter-intuitively, the more coal Africa uses, the more emissions it will reduce. After all, the large amount of biomass being used now has far more carbon emissions and deadly pollution in their housing than coal.

Africa to Play the Trump Card on Coal: For Poverty Alleviation

Some see Donald Trump as a rich weirdo who doesn’t care about climate change. Others believe he’s the first US president not to view Africa through a Western lens. His latest move on aid, the World Bank and the Paris Green Fund suggest they may be right. 

In June 2017, Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris Accord on climate change, to scorn of the Left and some in his own party.

America is the only country so far to pull out, but many have yet to ratify the treaty through their home parliament: major players like Russia, Turkey, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.

The Dutch have pledged not to fund coal-fired power stations overseas but haven’t ratified the Paris deal, and Holland is the world’s largest importer of US coal.

But the biggest bloc is in Africa where nearly a quarter of the 47 parties to Paris have not made it law at home, including the Congo, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Now, Mr Trump looks set to alter how the Accord spends its Green Fund, a multi-billion-dollar purse donated by rich countries to help poorer ones lower their emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases.
Instead of wind or solar projects that rely on imported equipment, the White House wants the Green Fund to help countries like Ghana or Tanzania burn coal more cleanly to generate power and stem poverty.

Together, all the electricity plants of sub-Saharan Africa don’t produce even half the output of a single country like Japan.

In Washington, the State Department is talking about the need to increase Africa’s power supply as a way of lifting employment. And reduce the risk of young men joining militia groups or crossing to Europe; some do both.

President Obama donated $1 billion to the Paris kitty. Mr Trump will use that money –- and a veto-wielding seat on the board — to “advance American-energy interests globally”, a White House official said.

The G20 group of wealthy nations has accepted a US pledge to “work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently”.

In his campaign for the White House, Donald Trump said he would “make America great again”, by rebuilding the economy. He would fund this by staying out of foreign wars, and cutting the billions Washington spends on NGOs, climate change, and aid programmes that critics say have failed to lift Africa out of poverty.

Mr Trump also pledged to bring back the coal pits of Wyoming, Kentucky and West Virginia, restoring thousands of jobs.

When asked about the effect this might have on the environment, he promised to spend big on making coal cleaner than ever.

As part of the US aid programme, he wants to do the same in Africa.

In the Mui basin, just over 100 kilometres east of Nairobi, Kenya has an estimated one billion tons of coal and a Chinese firm has been awarded the contract to mine it for supply to a new power station.

Zimbabwe gets half its electricity from coal, while in South Africa it’s 93 per cent.

Between them, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Nigeria and Tanzania have coal reserves of around 60bn tons.

America’s new tactic of controlling the Green Fund is a challenge for countries like Sweden and France who oppose any growth in fossil fuel, but Trump has already discussed it with new French president, Emmanuel Macron.

He also announced a policy to make it easier for the World Bank to finance coal plants in developing nations.

Washington is the biggest donor to both the bank and the International Monetary Fund or IMF.
“It is only by keeping an open mind about coal that we can tap its potential,” according to Trump’s energy secretary, Rick Perry. The trick, he says, is the new “clean technology”.

Using carbon-capture, where CO2 and other emissions are filtered off, America hopes to maintain its commitment to global warming with a “coal based climate change plan.”

In Australia, the world’s top coal exporter, the system is known as HELE, standing for “High Efficiency Low Emission.”

Canberra is already using the HELE plan at home.

Mr Trump has to support US coal mines, a promise in his bid for president. This year, more than 50 000 mining jobs have been restored across some of the poorest parts of America.

Coal is where India, China, Europe and Australia get much of their power and, in the 12 months to July 2017, it was the single largest source of electricity in the United States.

Africa looks set to follow, and a British group led by a board of scientists, investors and academics, says this is vital to getting the continent off its dependence on aid.

The Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF) is chaired by Nigel Lawson who began his career as a journalist on the Financial Times and served as chancellor in the government of Margaret Thatcher.

He is now a member of the House of Lords.

“There are more than 600 million people living in Africa without access to a national grid,” says the Forum’s director, Dr Benny Peiser, “This is scandalous in 2017.”

Electricity, he said, means more than having lights on in the home.

“Investors cannot set up factories or even farms when electric power is absent or unreliable. It’s also vital in purifying water, running a hospital and maintaining a modern economy.”

Dr Peiser said it was easy to talk about wind or solar power in Africa, “but with limited foreign exchange, this means importing equipment and know-how to make it happen. You have to ask how logical that is when a country like Tanzania has several billion tons of coal lying in the ground.”

The GWPF advocates the use of cost-effective energy including hydro and renewables, with gas or coal burned to the cleanest possible standard, depending on local conditions.

Renewables are growing around the world, but storing solar power has proved a problem at night and during the long rainy season in places like India and equatorial Africa. And where plants have been set up using aid money, it doesn’t always benefit the locals.

Britain’s government aid arm, the Department for International Development has spent millions on East Africa’s biggest solar farm north of Kampala. But, instead of Ugandan homes joining the grid, the power is being exported to Kenya for cash.

Another aid-funded solar project near Cabora Basa dam in central Mozambique transmits the output via giant pylons to South Africa.

Donald Trump’s plan is for the World Bank to fund power stations using HELE technology. And mining coal has potential to create thousands of jobs in Africa where youth unemployment can be 60 per cent or more.

Supporters say better use of the Paris Green Fund will see more Africans on the grid, and in work.

Those against view it as irresponsible, even a betrayal, after years of negotiation led to the first comprehensive treaty on climate. And there have been protests in Washington, London and Paris, the city where the agreement first took form.

But the world, says Bennie Peiser, can’t always “be viewed through the lens of rich nations who have never lived a day without electricity.”