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SUSTAINABILITY & CLIMATE CHANGE

China ‘Trumps’ the West by Pledging Larger Share of IMF Relief to African Nations

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By Chloé Farand

China has “trumped” western countries by pledging to redirect a quarter of its IMF pandemic recovery boost to African countries – more than any other nation.

In his opening speech to the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (Focac) in Senegal, president Xi Jinping pledged to donate 600 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines and redistribute $10 billion worth of rare IMF reserve assets, known as special drawing rights (SDRs), to African countries. China’s allocation of 29bn SDRs is worth about $40bn.

SDRs enable countries to borrow at the cheap rates enjoyed by wealthy nations and have been billed as a powerful tool to finance the clean energy transition.

Together, China and Africa “have written a splendid chapter of mutual assistance amidst complex changes, and set a shining example for building a new type of international relations,” Xi told the meeting.

Analysts agreed that while the details matter, the pledge put pressure on other rich nations to show greater solidarity with the developing world.

“It puts pressure on western donors. It will be difficult for advanced economies to justify that they are not in a position to contribute that share when China is able to do it,” Aldo Caliari, of the Jubilee USA Network, an NGO which advocates for debt relief, told Climate Home News.

The IMF injected $650bn  of SDRs into the global economy in August to help countries recover from Covid-19 by buying vaccines, alleviating debt and investing in sustainable development.

By default, SDRs are allocated to countries proportionally to the size of their economy, which means richer nations receive most of the support.

But a global call by IMF boss Kristalina Georgieva for rich nations to voluntarily redistribute the money to those who need it most has won support from the world’s largest economies.

The G20 agreed on a collective goal to redirect $100bn of the money to poor and vulnerable countries – less than a quarter of what they have received.

Earlier this year, France committed to redirect 20% of its SDRs to African countries. Italy and the UK both pledged to return 20% to their allocation to vulnerable low and middle-income economies.

Meanwhile Joe Biden’s administration has asked the US Congress to approve the donation of $21bn of the $113bn it received – around 18.6% of its share, Caliari said.

Paul Steele, chief economist at the London-based IIED think tank, said China’s commitment was “a big and frankly quite generous offer”.

“It’s impressive that China has trumped OECD countries by coming out with a much larger re-allocation,” he told Climate Home.

He added that the move would put pressure on Japan – China’s close rival – which is yet to announce the share of SDRs it will redistribute, to put a bigger number on the table.

How the money will be distributed and for what purpose is critical.

“To some extent any injection of cash into cash-strapped African economies is going to create some space,” Ronan Palmer, of think tank E3G, told Climate Home.

President Xi named green development and renewable energy as one of four priorities for China-Africa cooperation and committed Beijing to undertake 10 environmental protection and climate action projects to support low-carbon developments and climate adaptation.

This could help African countries build their manufacturing capacity for the clean energy transition – or it could mean they continue to import solar panels and other technology from China. And some of the SDRs could go straight back to China as repayment for outstanding debts.

“That would be a very self-serving way for China to use its SDRs – the question is what mechanism will there be to ensure that it benefits the populations,” Caliari said. “But if this is used well and with proper safeguards it could an example for countries to build upon.”

The IMF is developing a Resilience and Sustainability Trust to redistribute the SDRs from rich to poorer countries along with policy support to manage macro-economic climate risks. But experts were sceptical that China would choose that route.

Caliari said using IMF trusts to channel funds to Africa would be difficult because none of them have a regional component. Instead, eligibility is determined by levels of income.

Other options include using a World Bank fund, the Green Climate Fund, the Adaptation Fund  or even to bilaterally transfer the cash directly to African countries’ central banks.

For Hannah Ryder, the Kenyan CEO of Beijing-based consultancy Development Reimagined, the money should ideally be re-distributed through African-owned institutions such as the African Development Bank or a planned African Monetary Fund.

“It would give African nations the independence to manage it on their own,” she said, adding that going through the IMF should be an option of “last resort” because of fund’s record of imposing onerous conditions.

“$10bn is not massively transformative but it sets a precedent for what other international partners can be doing,” Ryder said.

Courtesy: Climate Change News


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AGRIBUSINESS & AGRICULTURE

Sweet Sorghum offers Solutions in Drought-hit Southern Africa

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By Hamond Motsi

The southern African region is battling with drought at present. This is the result of El Niño, a natural climate cycle characterised by changes in Pacific Ocean temperatures. It has effects on global weather patterns, particularly rainfall and temperature.

The drought has hit the region’s agricultural productivity hard. MalawiZambia and Zimbabwe have declared a state of disaster with respect to their current agricultural outputs. They are seeking humanitarian assistance in the form of food aid to feed their people. The downturn also has economic implications, since over 70% of people residing in the region’s rural areas rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

The dire situation underscores how important it is for the agricultural sector to prevent, avoid or prepare for the impacts of climate change, which will also bring extremes of weather.

One measure the sector can take is to cultivate biofuel crops. These are crops rich in starch, sugar or oils that can be converted into bioethanol directly or through a fermentation process. Bioethanol, a type of ethanol produced from biological or plant based sources, emits fewer greenhouse gases compared to fossil fuels like petroleum, natural gas and coal. Commonly used biofuel crops include sugarcane, maize, grain sorghum, sugar beet, rapeseeds and sunflower.

These conventional biofuel crops do have drawbacks, however. They are highly susceptible to extreme weather events. They require high upfront investment for fertilisers, chemicals and irrigation. And they compete with food production – if they’re grown as biofuels they can’t also be used as food because of how they have to be processed.

So, researchers are always on the lookout for crops that might be good biofuels without those problems. Sweet sorghum, which is indigenous to the African continent, is one such crop. Unlike the better-known sorghum, it has sweet juice in its stems. In a recent study, I reviewed scientific literature to analyse the potential significance of sweet sorghum to African farmers because of its multipurpose nature and ability to adapt under harsh climatic conditions.

Multiple uses

Sweet sorghum has many uses. It can produce grains, animal feed and sugary juice, making it unique among crops. The grains from sweet sorghum are prepared as steamed bread or porridge malt for traditional beer, as well as in commercial beer production across the continent.

They’re nutritionally rich, with high energy values (342 calories/100 g), proteins (10g/100 grains), carbohydrates (72.7g/100 grains), and fibre (2.2g/100 grains) as well as essential minerals such as potassium (44mg/100 grains), calcium (22mg/100 grains), sodium (8mg/100 grains) and iron (3.8mg/100 grains).

The nutritional value of maize is fairly similar: proteins (8.84g/100 grains), carbohydrates (71.88g/100 grains), fibre (2.1g/100 grains), potassium (286mg/100 grains), calcium (10mg/100 grains), sodium (15.9mg/100 grains) and iron (2.3mg/100 grains).

What sets sweet sorghum apart from a crop like maize is that it’s also resilient in arid climates and has multiple other uses. For instance, it produces a lot of plant material (biomass) as it grows, which is left over after harvest. That’s why it’s useful as animal feed too.

Animal feed is made from what remains once the sweet sorghum crop has been harvested and its grains and stem juice stripped off. The residue is high in nutritional content, which can improve the quality of diets of animals, including cattle. The grains can also be used for animal feed.

The sweet juice in the crop’s stalks is what’s used to create bioethanol. Sweet sorghum contains sucrose, glucose and fructose, which are essential for bioethanol production. Of the conventional biofuel crops I’ve mentioned, only sugarcane yields more ethanol. Studies in the United States have shown that sweet sorghum far outstrips maize when it comes to bioethanol production: it yields 8,102 litres per hectare planted, while maize yields just 4,209 litres per hectare.

Resilient

Perhaps most importantly given the southern African region’s current drought struggles, sweet sorghum is well-suited for cultivation in the sorts of adverse conditions that are typically challenging for conventional biofuel crops.

One of the key characteristics of sweet sorghum varieties is their drought resistance. It allows them to enter a dormant state during extended periods of dryness and resume growth afterwards. Research has shown that, under intense water scarcity conditions, sweet sorghum makes use of its stalk juice to supplement its plant needs.

Sweet sorghum’s ability to withstand low water and nitrogen inputs, as well as its tolerance for salinity and drought stress, makes it an ideal crop for farmers in arid regions. This is why it’s widely used in other parts of the world, including the USBrazil and China.

Investing in sweet sorghum

The continent’s current agriculture value chain is dominated by major crops like maize, wheat and rice, which all originate from outside Africa. Not enough attention is given to crops of African origin, like sweet sorghum, even though it is a multipurpose, hardy crop with great potential for farmers. People are more familiar with sorghum, not the sweet variety, and it is also under-researched.

Governments should be using their agriculture extension services to raise awareness among farmers and consumers about the benefits and practical applications of sweet sorghum in people’s diets.

Developing recipes and secondary or industrial products can enhance the feasibility and awareness of sweet sorghum farming. By investing in research and development, the full potential of sweet sorghum cultivation can be unlocked through governments and the private sector.

Hamond Motsi is a PhD Student in Agriscience, Stellenbosch University

Courtesy: The Conversation


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SUSTAINABILITY & CLIMATE CHANGE

Lithium Boom: Zimbabwe Looks to China to Secure a Place in the EV Battery Supply Chain

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Chinese investors have flocked to Zimbabwe to secure lithium supplies, promising local development. But analysts warn Zimbabwe needs more robust governance for communities to reap the benefits. Reports Andrew Mambondiyani

Wonder Mushove stared blankly at plumes of red dust billowing into the sky as more than 30 trucks carrying loads of lithium ore rumbled past his newly-built house in Buhera, in eastern Zimbabwe.

The trucks drive by Mukwasi village on the dirt road linking the Chinese-owned Sabi Star lithium mine to the tarred highway. They travel through the border town of Mutare to the port of Beira in neighbouring Mozambique. From there, the lithium-containing minerals are loaded onto ships and exported to China – the world’s largest manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries.

The dust hung in the air after the trucks’ passage. Mushove and his family were among dozens of households displaced by the $130million-mining project, which began operating in May. They were relocated to new houses built by the mining company about a kilometre from their old homes.

And yet, Mushove is hopeful the mine could “uplift the area and put it on the world map,” he told Climate Home News. For decades, the vast, hard-rock lithium deposits buried under his home were of little interest to foreign investors. Now, Chinese companies are paying a high price to access Zimbabwe’s reserves – the largest in Africa and among the largest in the world.

A lightweight metal with the ability to store lots of energy, lithium is critical for the manufacture of batteries for electric cars. Global efforts to move away from combustion-engine vehicles have pushed demand for the silvery metal, also known as “white gold”, to soar.

Chinese companies have flocked to Zimbabwe’s untapped reserves of high-grade lithium to shore up the country’s supplies, benefiting from the Southern African nation’s cheap labour and deregulated mining sector. In the past two years, Chinese companies invested over $1.4 billion acquiring lithium projects in Zimbabwe.

And more money is on its way. Last year, Chinese companies were awarded licenses that could see $2.79 billion in investment flow into the country, mostly in the mining and energy sectors. These investments could turn Zimbabwe into a key player in the global lithium-ion battery supply chain. Chinese battery manufacturing giant BYD could source some of its lithium from Zimbabwe, after buying a stake in the Chinese owners of the Sabi Star mine.

But Zimbabwe’s poor progress on establishing robust resource governance threatens to keep communities like Mushove’s from seeing any of the benefits, analysts told Climate Home.

While endowed with vast mineral wealth, Zimbabwe has so far failed to turn its underground riches, including diamonds and gold, into revenues for development. Regulatory gapshuman rights abusesillegal trade, and alleged corruption have all been barriers.

recent investigation by NGO Global Witness in Zimbabwe, Namibia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo found that there is a danger of history repeating itself with lithium mining without rigorous screening for corruption and social and environmental harms.

But Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa is betting on the lithium rush to catapult the country into an upper-middle-income economy by 2030. To achieve this, Mnangagwa aspires to turn Zimbabwe into a battery manufacturing hub.

China’s lithium rush

China towers over the lithium-ion battery supply chain. But its own lithium resources are limited and it has sought to secure access to deposits overseas.

Isolated by the West and slapped with 20 years of sanctions because of human rights violations, Zimbabwe has turned towards China, now the country’s largest foreign investor.

Since the 1950s, China’s foreign policy has been guided by “five principles of peaceful co-existence“, including a commitment not to interfere in another country’s internal affairs. This principle, which encapsulates China’s approach, has set it apart from western investors.

Zimbabwe’s “opacity and disregard for human rights has made it cheap for the Chinese to exploit minerals” in the country, said James Mupfumi, director of the Centre for Research and Development, a local NGO advocating for accountability in the natural resource sector.

Zimbabwean law vests all mineral rights to the president. With no requirements to disclose the beneficial owners of mining projects, “there is no due diligence and parliamentary oversight on Chinese investments,” Mupfumi explained.

“Above all, Zimbabwe requires a government that prioritises public accountability of mineral wealth, not the self-enrichment of a few political elites,” he added.

The ministry of mines did not respond to a request for comment.


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SUSTAINABILITY & CLIMATE CHANGE

EARTH DAY 2024: Packaging Is the Biggest Driver of Global Plastics Use

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Earth Day, celebrated annually on April 22, marks a global commitment to environmental protection and sustainability. The first Earth Day took place in 1970, ignited by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, who aimed to raise awareness about environmental issues and mobilize action to address them. Since then, Earth Day has evolved into a worldwide movement, engaging millions of people across the globe in activities such as tree planting, clean-up campaigns and advocacy for environmental policies. Its organizer is EARTHDAY.ORG, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting environmental conservation and mobilizing communities to take action for a healthier planet.

The theme of this year’s Earth Day is “Planet vs. Plastics” – a theme chosen to raise awareness of the damage done by plastic to humans, animals and the planet and to promote policies aiming to reduce global plastic production by 60 percent by 2040.

As our chart shows, global plastics use has increased rapidly over the past few decades, growing 250 percent since 1990 to reach 460 million tonnes in 2019, according to the OECD’s Global Plastics Outlook, which projects another 67-percent increase in global plastics use by 2040 and for the world’s annual plastic use to exceed one billion tonnes by 2052. As our chart shows, packaging is the largest driver of global plastics use, which is why a rapid phasing out of all single use plastics by 2030 is one of the policy measures proposed under EARTHDAY.ORG’s 60X40 framework.

Other major applications of plastics include building and construction, transportation as well as textiles, with the fast fashion industry particularly guilty of adding to the world’s plastic footprint. “The fast fashion industry annually produces over 100 billion garments,” the Earth Day organizers write. “Overproduction and overconsumption have transformed the industry, leading to the disposability of fashion. People now buy 60 percent more clothing than 15 years ago, but each item is kept for only half as long.” Most importantly, the organization points out that 85 percent of disposed garments end up in landfills or incinerators, while just 1 percent are being recycled.

  1. Infographic: Packaging Is the Biggest Driver of Global Plastics Use | Statista

Felix Richter is a Data Journalist


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