AS awareness on climate change improves, the Glasgow COP26 United Nations climate summit has quickened a move away from the use of coal as a source of energy widely blamed for carbon emissions.
World leaders, including Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, converged on the Scottish capital this week for the UN conference. Countries of the global south currently play catch-up with industrialised nations which have for decades been relying on fossil fuel to power their thermal stations, among other uses.
Zimbabwe has one of the largest coal reserves on the continent and may in future find itself in a Catch-22 situation as traditional source markets shift to renewable sources of energy such as hydro and wind.
Africa’s most industrialised nation, South Africa, got a shot in the arm when it secured commitments for US$8.5 billion over the next five years from Britain, France, Germany, the United States of America and the European Union to reduce carbon emissions and develop new renewable energy projects.
Zimbabwe heavily relies on coal for electricity production, with four out of five of its stateowned power stations being thermal powered. The country could find itself in a fix when the ban on coal comes into effect. World leaders committed to shift away from coal at the Glasgow climate summit, with signatories pledging to end all investment in new coal power generation domestically and internationally.
They also agreed to phase out coal power in the 2030s for major economies, and the 2040s for poorer nations. Data shows Zimbabwe holds 553 million tonnes of proven coal reserves, ranking 38th in the world.
Zimbabwe has no capacity to migrate from coal-fired power stations to alternative renewable energy sources, spelling doom for the country following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s announcement to end investment in thermal power plants.
Top executives at Zimbabwe’s power utility Zesa Holdings Limited and policymakers are deeply worried about the future of coal-fired electricity projects in the country following China’s recent move to stop funding projects that are outside its borders to flatten its carbon emissions curve to limit global warming and climate change.
Zesa executive chairperson Sydney Gata recently told journalists visiting Hwange Power Station that China’s decision has instantaneously affected two major projects in Zimbabwe.
“It must be noted that the economies of countries such as Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe were constructed on fossil fuel as the primary energy source,” Gata said.
“The economy of Zimbabwe has been touted as the fastest growing economy in Africa by the IMF and the World Bank. This growth was based on a fossil fuel economy. Hence decisions to cut funding on fossil fuel energy will leave a profound gap in the economic and social stability of the Sadc countries. Their targets for United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be missed, as all the SDGs are predicated on electricity supply which is available, accessible and affordable.” Chinese President Xi Jinping recently said at the UN General Assembly that China — the world’s largest public financier — “will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad”.
Chinese banks have already swung into action. Three days after Xi’s speech, the Bank of China announced it would no longer provide financing for new coal-mining and power projects outside the country from the last quarter of this year. Xi’s statement is expected to affect at least 54 gigawatts — which involve Zimbabwe’s projects — of proposed China-backed coal plants that are not yet under construction.
Shelving these would save carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to three months of global emissions. Before China’s move, Zimbabwe was embarking on a spree of coal-fired power projects to generate about eight gigawatts, to be mostly built and financed by Chinese companies. Last year in July,
President Mnangagwa toured eight companies building new coal mines, coking coal plants and power generation plants in Hwange, a coal-rich district in Matabeleland North province. During the tour, local firm Western Areas announced plans to build two 300MW coal plants, while Zimbabwe Gas and Coal said it would build a 750MW plant.
Chinese companies were also undertaking coal projects. For instance, Zimbabwe Zhongxin Electrical Energy, a joint venture with the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, was building a 50MW power plant with plans to expand that to 430MW. Dinson Colliery, the coal-mining subsidiary of steelmaker Tsingshan Holding Group, was working on a US$300 million coking plant.
Jinan Corporation was planning a 600MW plant. Other major coal projects were in the pipeline, especially the US$3 billion 2 800MW thermal power plant in Gokwe that RioZim Energy was building with engineering and financial support from China Gezhouba Group Company, and PER Lusulu Power’s proposed 2 100MW power plant in the north-western district of Binga.