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16 Sep 2021

Lungelo Ndhlovu, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Zimbabwe: As the world looks to abandon coal fuel, govt looks to turn Hwange into a coal hub

‘Bucking global shift to cleaner energy, Zimbabwe digs deeper into coal’ 30 August 2021

In contrast to the growing number of countries seeking to wean themselves off coal, Zimbabwe is opening new coal mines that authorities say will allow the country to meet its energy needs and, eventually, become an exporter of the polluting fuel. The government is looking to turn the northwest district of Hwange into a coal hub, with private investors - mostly based in China – investing up to $1 billion to build coking mines and thermal coal power plants. But environmentalists say the move - part of a bigger plan to grow mining into a $12-billion industry by 2023 - will increase Zimbabwe's climate-warming carbon emissions and harm the wildlife in its largest natural reserve.

…In a hard-hitting report released earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pointed the finger squarely at the burning of fossil fuels by humans as one of the main drivers of global warming, warning it is already too late to stop decades of future climate disruptions. "The alarm bells are deafening," U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement. "This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet." According to the International Energy Agency, coal-fired electricity generation accounts for about 30% of global carbon emissions. Yet, despite coal's reputation as the dirtiest of fuels, Richard Moyo, minister of state for Matabeleland North province, where Hwange is located, said coal mining was essential for the area.

…But Fidelis Chima, coordinator for the Greater Whange Residents Trust (GWRT), a nonprofit community group, said there was no need to dig down when Zimbabwe only has to look up for cleaner sources of energy. He urged the country to focus on exploiting its "great potential" for solar power, tapping into the average 3,000 hours of sunshine it gets per year - a greener approach that would "position Zimbabwe as innovative", he added. In 2019, the GWRT sued the government to force it to consider investing in clean energy instead of encouraging coal mining. The case is still in court, according to Chima. GWRT is mainly concerned about the impact of mining on Zimbabwe's famous wildlife sanctuaries. Chima pointed to special mining concessions that were granted to Afrochine Energy, a subsidiary of Chinese steel giant Tsingshan, to explore for coal near Hwange National Park, home to the endangered Black Rhino and African wild dogs.