Saturday, June 6, 2009

Renewable energy key in mitigating climate change

By Edmore Zvinonzwa, The Herald

Yesterday, Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in commemorating World Environment Day, whose theme this year was "Your Planet Needs You — Unite to Combat Climate Change". Inherent in the theme is the fact that humans can have incomputable input in the mitigation of the impacts of the worldwide phenomenon of climate change.

As such, concerted efforts by governmental, individual or corporate players remain invaluable in the process of formulating global strategies like the adoption of renewable energy forms to combat the universal phenomenon of climate change..

Speaking at the launch of Green Ribbon Week on June 1, 2009, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Francis Nhema said there was growing evidence of climate extremes in the country.

Admittedly, these inferences are premised on the incessant droughts, floods and cyclones that have hit the country and the southern African region in the past decade.

Memories are still fresh on people’s minds of the trail of destruction left by Cyclone Eline that hit the sub-region at the turn of the century. There were reports of loss of lives and destruction of crops, homes, livestock and infrastructure in Zimbabwe and other countries in the region.

Recent research by the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change has suggested the African sub-region, especially parts of Mozambique, will be hardest hit by effects of climate change.

This presupposes that urgent action needs to be taken towards the mitigation of the impacts of climate change thus avoiding irreversible damage being caused to the planet.

Minister Nhema also bemoaned the perennial and often inevitable struggles by communities to adapt to changing farming seasons that usually impact negatively on agricultural productivity, which compromises food security, which is a paramount socio-economic condition of humanity.

The prevalence of persistent droughts puts societies at the risk of a host of other related woes like reduced surface freshwater availability, loss of biodiversity and the shift in traditional agro-ecological regions.

Most agro-based economies like Zimbabwe’s have had to continuously grapple with changing crop and seed varieties as well as farming methods whose suitability is short-lived.

As a result, very little room is left for long-term planning given that these particular societies are hard-pressed for resources.

This underscores the need for adequate resources to be channelled towards the education of communities on climate change, its possible consequences and their input in attempts to minimise its effects.

Without this, future generations may not have any pride in the legacy that their predecessors would have left them.

Research has shown that human activity, like the generation of thermal power for the energy needs of industry worldwide leaves a substantial trail of carbon emission in the atmosphere.

It goes without say therefore that the adoption of alternative forms of energy becomes an indispensable therapy for climate change.

Among others, the call for communities' adoption of renewable energy like solar power is a meaningful and sustainable strategy.

Trees and other plants contribute significantly towards removing heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the air by storing it in their leaves, wood, roots and soils.

When these are destroyed, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere thereby contributing to climate change.

Deforestation is one of the several instigators of climate change.

As the region experiences more acute power shortages, the demand for alternative energy for domestic heating purposes increases.

More and more people resort to firewood as an option. However, some have been driven into the wanton cutting down of trees for economic reasons as they sell the firewood for survival

The Guaraquecaba Environmental Protection Area in southern Brazil represents a spirited attempt to preserve over 50 000 acres of tropical forest in the South American country.

Its renewable energy programme is one of the largest in the world with 45 percent of its energy requirements coming from renewable energy sources.

The South American country’s production of ethanol fuel is the largest in the world and represents 18 percent of its total automotive fuel needs and three times as much as industrialised countries according to Wikipedia.

Brazil recently achieved self-sufficiency in liquid fuels.

The stimulation of ethanol use in Brazil was achieved through the crafting of a cocktail of policies.

Low interest loans were provided for those who ventured into the construction of ethanol distilleries while there was a guaranteed market for the ethanol in the state-owned oil firm at a reasonable price.

This, together with the competitive retail pricing of clean ethanol vis a vis gasoline-ethanol blend and provision of tax incentives to encourage the purchase of neat ethanol-powered vehicles completed a favourable package for the pro-ethanol campaign.

Zimbabwe’s vast sugar cane estates in the Lowveld and the recently revived ethanol plant at Triangle are factors that thrust the country at an advantage in campaigns to adopt ethanol fuel, which happens to be environment-friendly.

According to the East African Standard, Kenya has been in the forefront on the continent in the use of renewable solar energy.

Even in rural Kenya, small-scale businesses and farms have turned to solar energy to power water pumps and for lighting.

Solar energy is relatively cheap and affordable since no additional monthly charge is levied once the equipment has been installed.

Solar World East Africa, a private firm, has come up with a model US$47 solar kit that can provide adequate power for lighting, charging a mobile phone as well as operate an FM radio.

Another company, Jua Moto Systems has plans to introduce solar-powered cookers and water-heating systems.

However, despite the obvious advantages that solar energy presents, very few countries on the continent and the world at large have taken this environment-friendly source of power as worthy of investing in.

Zimbabwe could also explore the benefits of cheaper and renewable solar energy thus driving the country’s climate change campaign forward.