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Zela red flags Rio thermal project

RIO Energy Limited’s US$3 billion thermal power plant in Zimbabwe is a “stranded asset” given that coal is a finite resource facing a complete ban for contributing towards climate change, a recent report by lobby groups has shown. BY MTHANDAZO NYONI Rio Energy Ltd, a subsidiary of the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed RioZim plans to build a 2 100-megawatt thermal power plant in partnership with China Gezhouba Group Corp in northern Zimbabwe at a projected cost of US$3 billion. The plant will be fired from RioZim’s coalfields in Sengwa with proven ore reserves in excess of 525 million tonnes, enough to “support a 10 000-megawatt plant,” according to Caleb Dengu, chairman of Rio Energy. RioZim, through Rio Energy Ltd, owns coal mining claims at Sengwa in Gokwe. However, according to a joint special report compiled by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association and Centre for Natural Resources Governance on the Sengwa coal plant project, the multi-billion-dollar project is doomed. “Despite its efforts to support climate energy issues, the country continues to expand fossil fuel projects and this is an indication of a regression in terms of addressing climate change. Given that coal is a finite resource and the need for the country to fully embrace renewable energy by 2040, there is an outright risk that Zimbabwe is investing in a stranded asset,” reads the report titled “Political-economy of the project and its likely impacts on social and environment rights.” While the investment has a potential to bring relief to Zimbabwe’s energy security albeit relying on coal-fired fuel, the report notes that its social and environmental impacts will likely be devastating to both the Sengwa community and the country at large. “There is also a huge concern that the Sengwa project will negate the progress that the country has made towards addressing climate change. Already the investment is coming at a time when the world is moving towards renewable energy and battling to control global warming,” it reads. The report also says Zimbabwe “is now intensifying coal exploitation against a growing global campaign to decarbonise the energy sector” and “coal is quickly becoming an obsolete mineral and Zimbabwe is now under pressure to exploit this resource before it is completely banned. Zimbabwe has about 26 billion coal reserves with a potential to last over 100 years and the southern African nation is reportedly under pressure to exploit it before it is completely banned. Coal is a dirty fossil fuel whose continued use has been receiving global condemnation as one of the chief drivers of global warming. The mineral is one of the largest contributors to Global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions such as carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury. The GHGs produced during the combustion of coal are heat trapping gases that further contribute to global warming. Through the Paris Agreement, countries agreed to cut their dependence on the use of fossil fuels and to make concerted efforts to reduce global temperatures. Zimbabwe

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