Demystifying the science

Digital tools: mining the data

An African NPO combines traditional investigative reporting techniques with data analysis and geo-mapping to help track eco-offences

Assessment of eight coal mines in Mpumalanga showed pollution of both surface and underground water resources.
Photo: Oxpeckers

South Africa has laws and processes in place that cater for public participation in the environmental impact assessments (EIAs) needed before most new developments can go ahead, including mining. The problem is that many local residents affected by these developments struggle to access critical information about what is happening – often they have to read about them in small type on notices pinned to fences and trees, or in obfuscated newspaper advertisements.

At an Editors’ Lab Hackathon in 2013, a team from Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism, a non-profit organisation that combines traditional investigative reporting with data analysis and geo-mapping tools to expose eco-offences and track organised criminal syndicates in southern Africa, put together an innovative solution: build a digital app that would alert residents to developments happening in their neighbourhood. The app would enable users to search for new developments in their area, give inputs where appropriate, and register to receive alerts whenever new information became available.

This was the start of #GreenAlert, an open-source web and mobile platform that provides citizens with a simple tool to track EIAs and other land-use change notices, and that aims to stimulate public engagement, improve accountability and promote civic engagement through active citizenry. Based on the #GreenAlert project, Oxpeckers went on to build a similar initiative in the mining sector. Called #MineAlert, this app is a centralised tool for users to access, track, and share information and documents on mining applications and licences.

The first iteration was launched in April 2016, the second in 2018 expanded the platform to map risks posed to water resources by mining activities, and the third iteration, launched in August 2019, empowers users to track and share water-use licences approved for mining. Both tools are citizen-focused, web-based apps that aim to promote transparency and an informed citizenry. Using location-based  email alerts for development and mining applications, they also provide online access to important documents, such as environmental authorisations, and mining social and labour plans.

The ideal implementation of these platforms would be to update the data inputs via an API (application programming interface) linked to the relevant government departments. Oxpeckers are working on this option, and in the meantime populate the tools with data obtained under South Africa’s Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), and information provided by users. Long-term impacts of the extractives industry, such as acid mine drainage, are adding to the problems of drought, water security and climate change across South Africa. Rural communities are usually the first to experience first- hand the negative impacts on freshwater resources.

“Since the platinum mine began operating in our area there’s been polluted water discharged into our rivers. Our livestock drink from there and are dying. Our community is angry,” tweeted one community member, Mathapelo Thobejane, during a recent #MineAlert community symposium. Most    communities affected by mining have no prior knowledge that a mine is planned in their area, what the conditions of related permits such as water-use licences are, or how to go about addressing negative impacts. They often don’t know how to seek redress when things go wrong, other than to become angry.

Goals for rehabilitating derelict and ownerless mines are often not met. Water pumped out of these abandoned mines leaches heavy metals, including aluminium, cadmium, iron, and manganese, into nearby water reserves and pollutes the quality and quantity of potable water. With these risks in mind, #MineAlert partnered with South Africa’s Water Research Commission (WRC) to develop simplified, user-friendly maps that pinpoint identified strategic freshwater areas most vulnerable to mining activities. The WRC had collated data on water systems, geology, mining activity and ecosystem vulnerability around South Africa, and built models to estimate risks posed to freshwater resources.

#MineAlert translated this complex data into a series of heat-map layers that provide instant visualisations of the risks to freshwater sources and ecosystems posed by mining activities. The visualisations span all mineral provinces, with a greater level of detail in areas where mining frequently takes place. As a country that is considered to be one of the driest countries per capita in the world, South Africa depends greatly on its strategic water source areas. These are natural “water factories”, supporting growth and development needs that are often situated far away.

Strategic water source areas (SWSAs) cover just 8% of the country’s surface but supply 50% of the annual runoff, according to the WRC. They supply 50% of the population with water, 64% of the economy and about 70% of the water that is used by agriculture. Although 21 SWSAs have been identified, only 11% of them receive formal protection. The #MineAlert Mining your Water map layer, launched in August 2019, drills down into granular data on priority freshwater resources to investigate the impacts of mining on those.

It pinpoints where water-use licences granted for mining project are situated in SWSAs – and shares the conditions that apply to the licences. Knowing what conditions and guidelines mining companies should adhere to in terms of water-use regulations is a useful way of tracking and understanding the impacts of mining on water resources, and of holding the companies involved to account. The need to monitor water-use applications and licences was emphasised by a recent Oxpeckers investigation that exposed sweeping water permit violations at mines across South Africa.

Based on data shared in parliament by the Department of Water and Sanitation, the article showed a radical increase in the number of mines flouting water-use regulations.holding the companies involved to account. The data Oxpeckers uses on its digital platforms is aggregated and analysed in journalistic investigations. For example, in 2015 Oxpeckers investigated whether the mining industry in South Africa was abiding by the undertakings that companies, by law, make to rehabilitate mines that are no longer in use.

Drawing on the mining licences data shared on #MineAlert, and working with other Oxpeckers team members, journalist Mark Olalde sourced and collated data on mine closures and the financial provisions for rehabilitation of end-of-life mines. He spent 21 months pestering government departments for information, formally submitting requests under the PAIA and travelling from pillar to post to secure the data.”Thursday mornings were for sitting in the office with a cup of freeze-dried, instant coffee,” Olalde recalls.

“#PAIAday, as I called this weekly ritual, was my method for prying as much formerly secret information as possible from the country’s Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) into the public domain. Between sips of coffee, I would call/email/pester every provincial DMR office on my list for the week.” Olalde then curated and analysed the datasets to produce a series of investigations on mine closure trust funds, financial provisions for rehabilitation and closure certificates, starting with ‘Mine closures: What’s happening in your backyard?’.

His second investigation, ‘Coal mines leave a legacy of ruin’, revealed that since at least 2011 no large coal mines operating in South Africa had been granted closure. This means the mines have not been rehabilitated and were simply abandoned, leaving a legacy of local and global pollution. The third and final investigation, ‘R60-billion held for mines that are never closed’ exposed “a failed system of mine closure in which there is little oversight, large mining house carry the brunt of responsibility for financial provisions that are never used and mines that are never fully closed”.

This work on mine closures not only liberated previously unseen datasets but has been discussed during parliamentary committee meetings and has resulted in the government amending the regulations pertaining to Financial Provision for Prospecting, Exploration, Mining or Productions Operations. The revised regulations will repeal and replace the Financial Provisioning Regulations of 2015 and include changes in the calculation of financial provisions.

The Department of Environmental Affairs is drafting new regulations to govern financial provisions for mine closures that could fundamentally transform how clean-ups are funded. Previously governed by the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, financial guarantees and other aspects of mine closure now fall under the National Environmental Management Act. The new regulations come with more stringent requirements for transparency, including for auditing financial provisions, which are proposed to occur every three years and to include “independent specialists”.

Will rising temperatures make some areas uninhabitable for animals and humans? Will today’s coastal towns be under water in future? These are the type of questions scientists all over the world are trying to answer by predicting how local climates and the global climate will change over the next decades. Climate modelling is an incredibly complex science. Carefully generated algorithms that try to consider all the variables are fed into powerful computers that calculate how climates might change. The variables that influence the climate include things like how cloud cover affects sunlight penetration, how air flows over mountain ranges and across oceans, how the sun heats up different parts of land and sea at different rates, and how much pollution is in the air over different parts of the world.

Oxpeckers set about demystifying the science with ClimaTracker, a geojournalism tool that uses interactive maps and journalism to make complex climate modelling easily accessible. Its aims include working with civil society and government entities to inform vulnerable communities and to assist in strengthening their responsive capacity by reporting on both good and bad adaptive practices for building resilience.

Using heat maps based on climate modelling data generated by researchers at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), ClimaTracker features a temperature timeline that shows how much average temperatures have changed and are likely to change in the future. Farming maps, based on a climate model called ACRU developed by Professor Roland Schulze at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, show how these temperature increases will affect the average yearly primary production in different parts of South Africa over the next 100 years.

Food security is one of the biggest worries associated with climate change; what do rising temperatures and changes in agricultural production mean for the average household? Oxpeckers has created the ClimaTracker Food Basket Calculator to show the costs of climate change in real terms. The tool offers a gamified user experience that brings the message home by letting users calculate and compare their average food basket costs from year to year. Users select items they are most  likely to purchase in a shopping trip to get an idea of how much crop and animal product costs have increased, or decreased, over the year.

All this information is useful for journalists reporting on climate change, adaptation and food security. Again, using and linked to the data that powers the platforms, Oxpeckers created and published a series of related journalistic investigations.

Fiona MacLeod is a seasoned investigative environmental journalist who is pioneering the use of new media tools to expose eco-offences. She currently heads up Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism.

 

A clear and present threat

Climate change: perceptions and experiences

Although nearly 60% of Africans are aware of climate change, some of the continent’s most influential countries lag behind in widespread awareness

Across the continent, African citizens have begun to witness the consequences of climate change, driven by human industrialisation and the pursuit of economic growth. Climate change is a gradual process of average climate modification, which is what has made it difficult to track or detect based only on human personal experience. Every day we experience variations in temperature according to the time of day or season of the year. This makes it challenging for ordinary citizens to really comprehend the risks associated with a global average temperature change of 1.5 or 20C.

Factors that influence Africa’s vulnerability to climate change stem from its high dependence on natural resources, limited financial and institutional capacity, low GDP per capita and high levels of poverty. Employment in agriculture remains high across the continent; as of 2019 an average of 44% (of total employment) was in agriculture. The graph below provides the estimates for agricultural employment for African countries that have more than 40% of total employment in agriculture. Long-term temperature and rainfall variations will have a serious impact on the livelihoods of African citizens.

Agriculture remains an important economic activity for more than half the continent and will be a sector greatly affected by climate change. In the recent Afrobarometer Round 7 (2017- 18) Survey, “climate  change” was not identified as the most important problem respondents believed their government should address, although many respondents cited water supply (23%), food shortages (17%) and agriculture (9%) as urgent issues that needed to be addressed. Those responses are embedded in the issues that climate change poses for African citizens. Climate change will certainly have an impact on any developmental progress made in these areas by African governments.

Preparing for, and adapting to, the effects of climate change will require a coordinated effort across the continent. North Africa will witness a reduction in arable land and a shortening of crop-yielding seasons due to a predicted decrease in rainfall and increase in average surface temperature. Similarly, East Africa and southern Africa are regions sensitive to climate variability and most farming practices are dependent on seasonal rainfall. West Africa’s vulnerability also relates to climate-sensitive economic activities such as livestock rearing, rain-fed agriculture, fisheries and forestry.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that, under a high-emissions scenario, land temperatures over the African continent are likely to rise faster than the global land average. National governments are well aware of the risks climate change poses for future development on the continent, but under-resourced and fragmented institutional frameworks have caused most countries on the continent to be among the least prepared to adapt to climate change, according to the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative Index.

Building up resilience and capacity will require a coordinated effort by both national governments and their populations at large. Perceptions of climate change are arguably guided by national government and business rhetoric on the topic as well as by the personal experiences of ordinary citizens with regards to weather pattern variability. Afrobarometer’s Round 7 Survey conducted 45,823 interviews across 34 African countries, covering almost 80% of the continent’s population, between 2016 and 2018.

The survey included nine questions relating to climate change. The first question asked respondents to rate climate conditions compared to a decade ago; some 48% answered “worse” or “much worse”. An overwhelming majority of respondents from Uganda (85%), Malawi (81%) and Lesotho (79%) had witnessed worse weather conditions for agricultural activities. Only 23% of Mozambicans agreed that climate conditions had worsened, but this fieldwork was conducted prior to the devastating cyclones that hit the country in 2019.

Figure 3 indicates the distribution of respondents who had heard about climate change and believed they had experienced “worse” weather conditions over the past decade. Less than half of the South African citizens had heard about climate change and even fewer believed it had made weather conditions worse. Most ordinary citizens had heard of climate change, but opinions were mixed on whether it had made weather conditions worse.

Citizens were asked to rate whether extreme weather events such as drought or flooding had become “more” or “less” severe where they lived over the past decade. Almost half the respondents reported drought as being somewhat or much more severe, while 28% thought it had become less severe. Figure 4 shows the countries where drought has worsened. In early 2017 drought hit Uganda and its impact was felt most along its so- called “cattle corridors” and into its agricultural sectors. During this period, food insecurity rose to acute levels across most of the eastern and northern parts of Uganda.

The severity of flooding was similarly seen as much worse in both Uganda (73%) and Madagascar (67%), which could be closely linked to the increase in drought intensity. When examining the demographic splits for the continent, respondents living in rural areas were more likely to observe worse weather patterns than those living in urban areas. There was a similar contrast among age groups; respondents over the age of 56 were more likely to provide a more negative view of historical weather changes than the younger age groups.

Occupation also played a role in the kind of response citizens gave: six out of 10 respondents whose occupations were in agriculture, fishing or forestry observed worse or much worse climate conditions over the past decade. Exposure to news from any source was also associated with higher levels of awareness. However, those who got their daily news from either the internet or social media sources were much more likely to have heard of climate change. Part of being informed about climate change is understanding the meaning of the concept itself. Citizens were asked whether climate change meant negative, positive or other changes in weather patterns and on average two-thirds associated it with negative changes in the weather.

Figure 5 indicates whether those who had said “yes” to hearing about climate change had in fact an understanding of its negative effects on weather patterns. Zimbabwe stands out in that although most of their respondents had heard of climate change, only 31% thought it might be an adverse phenomenon. Among the continent’s most politically influential countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa, only around one in four citizens had a basic awareness of climate change. Overall, Africa’s perceptions of climate change lack any uniform pattern and awareness remains as varied as its natural environment.

Many countries are experiencing changes in their weather patterns and evidence suggests these are having a dire impact on farmers and food security. Although nearly 60% of Africans are at least aware of climate change on average, some of the continent’s biggest players lag behind in widespread awareness and understanding. Collective awareness and an understanding of climate change by ordinary citizens will be crucial when governments try  to adapt and mitigate its consequences for socio-economic development. Capacity building for early warning systems and mitigation strategies are important to assist those citizens who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Monique Bennet is a senior researcher at Good Governance Africa. She has a keen interest in data science, data visualisation and statistics using the R programming language. Throughout her studies, research topics such as development, democracy and the environment within the context of developing countries have been her focus areas.

#ZimbabweanLivesMatter: Can South Africa get it right this time?

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced during a press briefing, that his government has postponed independence day celebrations and discouraged locals from travelling to all affected countries, even though the country has no detected cases so far of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Harare on March 17, 2020. (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)

 

Amid a spiralling economic and political crisis, President Emmerson Mnangagwa addressed the people of Zimbabwe on Tuesday 4 August. His speech, although sudden – four days after his government’s violent  clampdown on the July 31 citizen protests – was highly anticipated. There may have been a desperate hope in some sections of the bruised citizenry that the president would, perhaps in the remotest of ways, acknowledge their suffering and hint at atoning for the state’s brutality. However, the ‘crocodile’ neither acknowledged the legitimacy of the widespread grievances against his leadership nor took any responsibility for bringing the country to this precipice. Instead, President Mnangagwa argued that his administration “has been undermined by the divisive politics of the opposition, sanctions, cyclones, droughts and now COVID19”, and blamed widespread protests on “a few rogue Zimbabweans acting in league with foreign detractors.” The President’s speech exposed a tone deaf and intransigent government at war with its long-suffering citizens.

For the past two decades Zimbabwean citizens have engaged in diverse, valiant efforts to use every legally available avenue to expedite democratic reform. Many Zimbabwean citizens have made heroic efforts to shed light on the gross corruption and mismanagement that has characterised ZANU-PF’s rule and created a staggering man-made disaster. They are currently caught between a regime willing to go to any lengths to crackdown on dissent, the need to navigate the day-to-day difficulties of securing precarious livelihoods, and the fear of contracting COVID-19. In the face of an unrelenting regime and rising from the crushed hopes of 31 July 2020 protests, Zimbabwean citizens have grafted the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign onto ‘the energy and anger of the global’ outcry that #BlackLivesMatter. Can the South African government, whose President has taken  an unequivocal stance on #BlackLivesMatter continue on an indeterminate posture on the plight of its neighbour’s black lives? Their economic and political fate, as aptly observed by SAIIA CEO Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, is intertwined with its own and that of the region.

South Africa is ideally placed to push for change in Zimbabwe, with the two countries sharing many social, political, and economic ties. South Africa remains one of the country’s most important trading partners. Zimbabwe imports 40 percent of its total imports and exports 75 percent of its total exports to South Africa. However, despite the countries’ growing stake in each other’s fates, South Africa’s response to the deepening crisis across the Limpopo leaves much to be desired. Zimbabwe is now considered one of the four most food-insecure countries in the world, alongside Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan. More than 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s 15.6 million people are considered food insecure. Around one in three children under 5 years old suffer from stunted growth as a result of chronic malnutrition. The country has the highest inflation rate in the world at around 800 percent, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects economic contraction of 10.4 percent in 2020, following a 12.8 percent contraction in 2019.

The healthcare system has collapsed, and every day Zimbabwean citizens face persistent fuel shortages and rolling blackouts. The number of Zimbabweans using illegal entry points along the Limpopo River to access medical services and basic commodities has dramatically increased in recent weeks,  heightening the chances of cross-border transmission of COVID-19 in both directions. As many desperate Zimbabweans will make the dangerous journey south, the South African government is poorly prepared to deal with an escalating migrant crisis. The country is wrestling with its own record unemployment levels. Increasingly, regional integration and the flow of people, commodities, knowledge and information means that insecurity anywhere is a threat to security everywhere, challenging the principle of non-interference which has guided foreign relations between southern African states and become institutionalized in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Decades of  non-interference, liberation politics, and ‘quiet diplomacy’ on behalf of the ANC has simply allowed a political and military elite in Zimbabwe to plunder the country’s resources, undermine democracy, and create an economic crisis with implications for the wider Southern African region.

A more urgent and concrete stance is imperative. It is befitting therefore that after what had seemed like another bout of silence, the Government of South Africa, through the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) ‘noted with concern the reports related to human rights violations in the Republic of #Zimbabwe’. However, from the Mbeki to Zuma administrations, this political gesturing is well-worn. Building on #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, a campaign that has attracted resounding regional and international intervention calls from ordinary citizens, celebrities, politicians, diplomats and multi-lateral institutions alike, it is now ‘easier for SA and the SADC to begin a meaningful engagement with all stakeholders’. But will they? South Africa in particular has an opportunity as a strategic arbiter to harness all these voices across multiple platforms that can begin the work of persuading stakeholders to come to the negotiating table. It is time for the South African government to boldly break out of the ‘liberation war-pact’ cocoon and stand with the citizens of Zimbabwe.

DIRCO’s emphasis on government to government engagement, reported to have been initiated through a telephonic call between Dr. Naledi Pandor and her Zimbabwean counterpart Dr. Sibusiso Moyo, seems to thwart any hopes for including citizen voices. Dr. Pandor’s non-committal reference to ‘South Africa’s readiness to assist if requested’ does not imbue confidence of a radical departure from previous administrations. President Mnangagwa’s 4 August speech and Government Spokesperson Nick Mangwana’s press release (two days later) declaring reports of human rights violations as ‘false’ are not a request for assistance. South Africa now needs to build the diplomatic muscle required to crack through Harare’s hardball defence. Through the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign, the Zimbabwean citizens’ request for assistance has been unambiguously echoed and clearly endorsed regionally and globally. As well noted by the Executive Director of Good Governance Africa, Chris Maroleng, ‘…it is incumbent on…especially…government… in South Africa to stand up and basically call on the government of Zimbabwe to cease and desist from such anti-democratic behaviour.’ South Africa has a unique opportunity to get it right this time. Many are ready to assist.

This article originally appeared in Business Day.

 

Sikhululekile Mashingaidze currently serves as Senior Researcher in the Human Security and Climate Change (HSCC) project at Good Governance Africa. Being engaged as a part-time enumerator for Mass Public Opinion Institute’s diversity of research projects during her undergraduate years ushered her into and nurtured her passion for the governance field. She has worked with Habakkuk Trust, Centre for Conflict Resolution(CCR-Kenya), Mercy Corps Zimbabwe and Action Aid International Zimbabwe, respectively. This has, over the years, enriched her grassroots and national level governance projects’ implementation and management experience. Her academic research interests are in the field of genocide studies with a commitment to deepen her understanding of girls and women’s experiences, their agency in reconstituting everyday life and their inclusion in peace-building and transitional justice processes. Socially she has a keen commitment in supporting girls education, women’s economic empowerment and the fulfilment of their equitable and sustainable development in Africa’s underserved, often hard to reach communities. She enjoys writing and telling the stories of navigating everyday life.

Has the time for hydropower passed?

Hydroelectricity: for and against

Africa has vast untapped sources of hydroelectricity but climate change, particularly droughts, raises questions about sustainability

An aerial view shows the Kariba Dam and the Kariba lake in Kariba on January 20, 2020. From the Zambian side the plant is managed by ZESCO, a state-owned power company. – In the absence of sufficient rain, the Kariba dam, the main source of electricity for Zambia and Zimbabwe, is expected to operate at only 25% of its capacity in 2020. (Photo by Guillem Sartorio / AFP)

Hydroelectricity has an attractive appeal for Africa. It can provide a baseload – a reliable source of electricity – not easily attainable from other clean energy sources, and it also allows grid stabilisation tointegrate more green power. Only about 11% of the continent’s hydropower potential has been tapped but regional plans to more than double hydro production by 2030 exist. Yet, future weather changes such as droughts put power generation at risk.

Ambitions for universal access to power by 2025 mean connecting 200 million households, nearly doubling grid generation, according to a 2018 African Development Bank (AfDB) report. Despite being home to 17% of the world’s population, Africa accounts for just 4% of global power. The continent does, however, have the highest percentage of untapped technical hydropower potential in the world, says Cristina Diez Santos, International Hydropower Association (IHA) Africa analyst.  With energy demand growing twice as fast as the global average, she notes, Africa has the opportunity to use its vast untapped hydropower resources to become the first continent to develop its economy using renewable energy.

Africa has a total installed capacity exceeding 37 MW, accounting for 15% of the total electricity share in the region, but that still leaves 600 million people – about half of the continent’s population – without electricity. For many African nations, hydroelectricity could address this energy gap. The AfDB, through the New Deal on Energy for Africa strategy, a partnership between the bank, governments and other stakeholders that launched in 2016, has backed power projects contributing around 2.78 GW of additional generation capacity, out of which about 755 MW, or less than 30% is from hydropower.

“The sustainable development of Africa’s significant, yet largely untapped hydropower potential, will aid the achievement of the continent’s ambitions in terms of energy access and increased generation capacity to underpin economic development,” Daniel-Alexander Schroth, the acting director for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency at the AfDB told Africa in Fact. “We are [also] cognisant that the complex nature of hydropower projects requires extensive planning, continued partnership, cooperation and learning, especially in the face of climate change challenges.”

Over the past 15 years, the AfDB has invested $560 million in some 20 hydropower projects with a total capacity of over 1.8 GW, out of which around 570 MW are already installed, and the remaining 1.2 GW are yet to be commissioned. The operations supported by the bank’s funding range from small-scale hydro plants such as Sahanivotry in Madagascar (15 MW) and Buseruka in Uganda (9 MW), to large-scale hydro projects like Itezhi-Tezhi in Zambia (120 MW) and Bujagali in Uganda (250 MW). “The threat of climate change will not stop hydropower continuing to be a large part of Africa’s energy mix,” says Malama Chileshe, energy economist at the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in Lusaka, Zambia.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has Africa’s largest hydropower potential, estimated to be 100,000 megawatts – that is, almost half of the current installed generation capacity on the entire continent, says Chileshe. An estimated $14 billion is required to complete the Inga III hydroelectric mega- dam in the DRC, according to an October 2019 report by the NGO Resource Matters and the Congo Study Group. On completion, the Inga III will become the largest hydropower plant in sub-Saharan Africa. But the DRC, Namibia, Zambia, Ethiopia, Togo, and Sudan are the only African nations that get more than 90% of their power from hydro. “[Hydropower] is barely touched,” says Chileshe.

“It therefore makes sense that efforts should be made to develop the available resource, especially
considering the fact that currently the bulk of power production comes from thermal sources considered environmentally unfriendly.” However, in Africa, the impact of climate change on the power sector and the energy-water nexus cannot  be ignored. Any African countries that are dependent on hydro power will be hard-hit in times of drought. For example, as they had in 2015, in 2019 Zambia and Zimbabwe both experienced erratic rainfall patterns, which resulted in low water levels at the Kariba dam; this led to a loss of more than 70% of electricity production from the dam’s hydro power plants.

In Kenya, a drought between 1999 and 2002 drastically affected hydropower generation, including a 25% reduction in capacity in 2000, Chileshe says. Kariba dam, a double-curvature concrete arch dam in the Kariba Gorge of the Zambezi river basin between Zambia and Zimbabwe, was designed to produce 1,200 megawatts on the basis of 50 years of records of the Zambezi river’s flow. In the past 60 years of its operations, Kariba has spilled five times – illustrating that the original calculations were sound, according to Eddie Cross, a Bulawayo-based Zimbabwean economist. Zambia and Zimbabwe have now doubled generation demand, which has proved to be beyond the dam’s capacity, with water for generation purposes almost running out in 2019, Cross says.

But this year has seen exceptional rains in the Kariba’s catchment areas. At between 55 to 60 billion cubic metres of water inflow, the river’s flow is four times that of 2019, and it is expected that the dam will reach full capacity. “What we are now doing is moving towards using the dam as storage and generating significant solar energy from the sun, and running the Kariba generators at night,” he says. “The whole system needs to be managed,” he cautions. “We have to investigate barrages and river flow technologies below large dams.” Cross argues that hydro is still the best choice for Africa – “it’s cheap and clean” – but he advocates using a mix of technologies.

Wind, hydro and solar are also possible, while coal is still critical for baseload, but should beminimised. While Africa produces just 2% of the world’s energy-related CO2 emissions, climate-related effects
are disproportionately higher in the region, which highlights the importance of a diverse power mix and regional interconnections, Santos says. “Hydropower is a clean power source, which helps to offset the impacts of fossil fuels. Hydropower infrastructure also provides essential adaptation services to reduce the impacts of climate change such as floods and drought,” she told Africa in Fact.

Chileshe says that while developing the hydro potential in places where the rain patterns are still good is important, there is a need for long-term thinking on how Africa will manage the energy- water nexus. Apart from adapting to climate change through diversifying the energy mix to include solar, wind, and geothermal, the continent has to be more interconnected, he argues. “Renewable energies such as solar and wind are associated with issues of variability, due to the constantly changing nature of weather patterns,” Chileshe told Africa in Fact.

These sources of energy need to be coupled with sources that are more reliable, such as hydro, where flowing water is available. Regional integration can also play a role by enabling nations to exchange electricity from regions of plenty to regions of scarcity, he says. For example, when its dry in one  region, it may be raining in another. Endeavours to interconnect the power systems of Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia such as the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), begun in 1995, and the Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP), begun in 2005, facilitate this type of trade, Chileshe adds. Pairing hydro and renewable sources of power could also help manage the effects of climate change, he suggests.

In Scandinavia, for example, Norway has plenty of hydropower plants, while a neighbouring country, Denmark, has wind. Each of these countries can switch off its own form of generation and rely on electricity from the other’s source, depending on environmental and other conditions. “The hydro potential in the African region could be managed in the same way,” Chileshe says. The AfDB also works with regional power pools to ensure that the sustainable development of hydropower resources is underpinned by strong policy, regulatory frameworks, developed regional power markets, sustainable financial and operational performance in the face of climate change challenges, says Schroth.

Santos agrees, saying that if not managed effectively, climate risks associated with dependency on precipitation can lead to shortcomings in terms of a plant’s technical and operational performance. In May 2019, IHA launched a guideline on hydropower climate resilience, which helps decision makers to make effective choices when planning, developing and operating a hydropower project. But, though “cheap and clean”, not everybody thinks hydropower is the right path for Africa. “It is not feasible,” says Siziwe Mota, Africa programme campaigner for International Rivers, which has been assisting dam-affected communities worldwide since 1985, as well as working to protect rivers and the people who depend on them.

“As large dams continue being constructed on the continent, the destruction of river ecosystems and displacement of communities, destruction of livelihoods, and an increase in countries’ debt burden is experienced,” she says. Dams, she adds, also fall short of achieving their intended purpose, especially in the face of climate change and increasingly erratic rainfall, which can reduce energy and water benefits from dams and increase the risks. In March last year, for example, power supply from the Cahora Bassa dam was cut when Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, highlighting yet another climate-induced disaster that makes big dams vulnerable.

“Dams and reservoirs are significant sources of carbon dioxide and methane, which are greenhouse gases and should by no means be considered ‘green’,” she told Africa in Fact. International Rivers has worked to ensure that dam developers do not gain access to climate finance, such as the Green Climate Fund, for dam projects. Unfortunately, Mota says, African countries are using funds that could be invested in clean, sustainable, renewable, decentralised, alternative sources of energy to either construct, rehabilitate or expand dam projects, leaving little room for investment in clean technologies such as wind, solar or micro- hydropower.

“Hydropower’s time has passed, even though Africa has developed only about 11% percent of its potential,” says David Zarembka, the former coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative, who lives in Lumakanda, a small town in western Kenya. “Those [projects] that are only in the discussing, planning, and financing stages should be dropped. I think that some of the dams now under construction will never be completed.” Zarembka argues that dams take too long to build, usually a decade or more for a large dam. They can also be hazardous if they breach, as happened recently with a dam in Kenya. “Solar, wind, geothermal, and storage are becoming much cheaper than hydro and can usually be built in a year or two rather than a decade or more,” he says.

The amount of hydropower under construction or in the planning stages in sub-Saharan Africa far exceeds its needs for the next decade or two, he argues. Some of those under construction, such as the Grand Renaissance dam in Ethiopia, will become white elephants, he told Africa in Fact. Facing the future should involve energy policy planning that is inclusive of communities and addresses their water and energy needs, while addressing broader social, economic and environmental concerns, observes Mota. “The key challenge for Africa is not merely to increase energy consumption, but to also ensure equitable access to cleaner energy sources, guided by good energy planning,” she adds.

 

Munyaradzi Makoni is a journalist based in Cape Town, South Africa. He writes mostly on agriculture, climate change, environment, health, higher education, sustainable development and science in general. Some of his work has appeared in Hakai magazine, Intellectual Property Watch, IPS, Mongabay, Nature, Nature Index, Physics World, Science, SciDev.net, The Lancet, Thomson Reuters Foundation, and University World News, among others.

Can carbon trading work in Africa?

Carbon emissions: room to grow

There’s big potential for Africa to participate in international carbon markets given its ability to contribute to greenhouse gas mitigation

Women work at a clothing factory funded through the sale of carbon credits in Maungu, near Nairobi, Kenya, 2011 Photo: Tony Karumba / AFP

Carbon emissions trading is a market-based mechanism for trading pollution credits among countries. It includes a range of policy instruments aimed at assisting industrialised countries to achieve
their emissions targets by allowing reductions to take place where they cost the least.
The trade works in several ways: International Emissions Trading (IET), the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and Joint Implementation (JI). The IET system involves a scheme called “cap and trade” in which governments or intergovernmental bodies such as the European Commission (EC) hand out licences to pollute (or “carbon permits”) to major polluting industries within their boundaries.

Industries can then trade these permits with one another to meet their emissions reduction targets.
Cap-and-trade schemes are the most popular way to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) and other emissions. The scheme’s governing body begins by setting a cap on allowable emissions. It then distributes or auctions off emissions allowances that total the cap. Member companies that do not have enough allowances to cover their emissions must either make reductions or buy another company’s spare credits. Members with extra allowances can sell them or bank them for future use. Cap- and-trade schemes can be either mandatory or voluntary.

Africa accounts for only 2% of the trading in the global carbon market. Of that 2%, South Africa and North Africa enjoy the largest portion of the projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the main carbon market resulting from the Kyoto Protocol, with the rest of Africa contributing a paltry 0.6%. According to Oscar Reyes, a researcher with Carbon Trade Watch, these figures render Africa marginal to the carbon market, and the trade has been irrelevant to the continent’s efforts to tackle climate change. According to the World Bank, China has dominated the CDM market since its inception, accounting for about 66% of all contracted CDM supply between 2002 and 2008, and 72% of the market in 2009.

India and Brazil rank second and third on the list of sellers in terms of volumes transacted. One reason why the African carbon market is less attractive relates to how electricity is generated. Access to electricity is a major challenge across much of Africa, with less than 25% – and, in some countries, as little as 5% – of the population enjoying access to grid electricity. Thus, the World Bank has calculated that the 47 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with a combined population of 800 million people, generate as much power as Spain, with a population of 45 million.

The lack of carbon-reduction investment opportunities in the power sector and the limited number of carbon-intensive industries outside northern Africa and South Africa implies that the rest of the continent is not well positioned to influence the direction of the debate around carbon trading. The types of projects that could deliver livelihood benefits to Africans, such as renewable and other small- scale energy projects, are not “cheap” options of carbon abatement, and are therefore less likely to attract the big investors. Given the limited opportunities for expanding the carbon market in Africa through the CDM, attention has shifted to projects that can be delivered through the voluntary market.

These include improved stove and tree planting projects, which have been controversial for a variety of reasons, including the difficulties involved in verifying the offsets. According to ecologist Thomas Crowther and colleagues at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university, a tree can remove seven tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during its life. If so, some five billion trees would need to be planted per year to counter current emission levels globally. Moreover, planting trees to soak up carbon can have detrimental knock on effects. As Robert Jackson argued in a December 2005 presentation at Duke University in North Carolina, growing plantations of fast-growing trees uses a lot of water.

This can reduce “the water available for drinking and irrigation, and harm local aquatic ecosystems”, according to the journal Nature (December 2005). Moreover, “forest soils are saltier and more acidic, compared with other types of plant cover such as crops or grasslands”, Jackson and his colleagues found. Developing  countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), remain marginalised in global carbon markets despite significant mitigation opportunities in agriculture and  forestry.  However, Africa has significant potential for renewable energy, a key driver of the carbon emissions reduction.

Yet Africa’s share of the carbon markets remains low, as already mentioned. It is puzzling, therefore, that the proponents of carbon trading continue to tout the benefits it offers to the poor in Africa,
in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. For instance, a project in the Bukaleba Forestry Reserve in Uganda, intended to offset the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) of a coal-fired power plant to be built in Norway, clearly illustrates the conflict of interests of the offset company, host countries, and the needs of local communities.

The Ugandan government received a meagre once-off fee of $410 and an annual rent of about $4,10 for each hectare of plantation – an absurdly low lease price, given the huge carbon credits the Norwegian company (Tree Farms) was aiming to sell. The project was also responsible for evicting 8,000 people living on the land from 13 villages, depriving them of their livelihoods, and probably driving them to clear land elsewhere. Africa’s share of voluntary carbon markets is also still small, then, as compared to the rest of the world. It’s a huge shortfall considering the potential benefits of carbon offset revenue for sustainable development on the continent.

However, many African countries, including Kenya, Ghana, Mozambique, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have seen a surge in international demand for offset projects in the voluntary carbon markets such as delivering clean cook stoves and water purification devices, which are likely to increase participation in these markets (Bloomberg Energy, 2013). There are several reasons why Africa has failed in the carbon markets. Some scholars have blamed this on uncoordinated marketing efforts, as well as regulatory and policy challenges. They argue that the implementation thereof and global connections can make it a challenge for carbon trading to work.

There have also been circumstances under which baseline-and-credit CDM schemes have resulted in the maltreatment of indigenous peoples and their environment. Other scholars argue that cases of trade fraud and accounting discrepancies have hindered the development of these markets in Africa, with constraints ranging from the structure of the carbon markets themselves to the continent’s own unique situation; the perennial challenges of doing business in Africa have also affected its access to international carbon markets.

Yacob Mulugeta from the University of Surrey’s Centre of Environment and Sustainability says adequate legal and institutional frameworks are lacking, or are weak, and barriers to trade and investment, which may inhibit access to new technologies, and the high investment risks in some African countries, have also resulted in potentially lower prices for CERs. Another barrier to trade, he says, is the overall policy framework in potential host countries, which may include policies not conducive to CDM, for example high levels of taxation, high interest rates, a lack of support for foreign direct investment and uncertainties around fiscal policies.

Financing has also been cited as a major barrier to renewable energy and energy efficiency (RE/EE) projects, which deliver carbon emission reductions and sustainable development benefits to low-developed countries in Africa. But Africa’s potential to participate in international carbon markets is large, given its ability to contribute to greenhouse gases mitigation. Its potential for renewable energy generation, climate smart agriculture and extensive forestry sector all provide huge GHG mitigation potential. There are also vast areas of low productivity land where management could be altered to increase carbon stocks and create credits.

Overcoming the challenges that hinder their exploitation could see Africa increase its ability to tap into the international carbon markets. If Africa is to benefit in the carbon market, it will need to start leveraging other sources of finance, increasing its investments in renewable energy, catalysing the continent’s carbon markets by putting in place regulatory systems, and increasing public funding for seed capital for carbon reduction projects. Africa will need to develop and implement its own climate and carbon finance strategy, built on the recognition that the continent can contribute most effectively to mitigating climate change by promoting sustainable land-use practices.

 

Tom Mboya is a Kenyan journalist working with an INGO in Nairobi. He was the 2009 Joel Belz International Media Fellow and the 2017 Coaching and Leadership Fellow, which is a programme offered by The Media Project and the Poynter Institute. His works have been published around the world.