BY MIRIAM MANNAK

Mining and sustainability don’t often appear in the same sentence. Things are slightly different when looking at Zambia, one of the key suppliers of copper to the global clean energy sector. The country’s position on the global and regional green economy stage doesn’t stop here, however. 

Tucked away between Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, Zambia is internationally renowned for the splendour of the Victoria Falls, its beautiful game reserves, its abundant wildlife, as well as its enormous copper deposits. Zambia harbours some 35 million metric tons of this metal, an amount of which the value is estimated at $228 billion. This makes the country the second largest producer of the orangey-brownish semiprecious metal in the world    

Despite these and other natural endowments, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Zambia. The 2008 and 2009 global financial crisis, for instance, pushed the copper demand and price to all-time lows, resulting in hundreds of thousands of lost jobs and poor economic growth results.

Spark for clean energy

The tides are turning, a trend which is driven by a growing renewable and clean energy sector. “The real spark for copper has been the demand for renewables,” said Jacqui McGill, asset president for BHP’s Olympic Dam copper mine, in a recent interview with Bloomberg. Renewable energy projects need a lot of copper, she explained. “It is one of the best conductors for transmitting solar energy and wind energy.”

Statistics by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) show a substantial growth of the adoption of renewables. Globally, solar photovoltaic installed capacity has for instance jumped from 39GW in 2010 to 219GW in 2015. This could be as much as 1760GW in 2030, the organisation says, adding that Africa – a continent where 75% of the population doesn’t have access to energy – may very well be one of the key drivers.

A growing demand for electric vehicles will also push up the appetite for copper: the global number of electric cars and buses is expected to shoot up from 1 million in 2016 to 140 million twenty years from now. The production of these vehicles is said to require around 8.5 million extra tonnes of copper compared to the manufacturing of conventional cars.

Exploring renewables

Besides supplying copper to the global renewable energy sector, Zambia is exploring its own solar and wind potential. The main triggers are climate change and El Nino, of which both have led to drought-induced electricity shortages and chronic blackouts. Zambia, after all, predominantly relies on hydro power.

Independent power producers are expected to play a fundamental role in Zambia’s green energy ambitions: last year, First Solar Inc and Neoen SAS were shortlisted as the developers of a 45MW solar PV plant, whilst Enel SA has been appointed as the developer of a 28MW solar PV pant.

Tapping into renewable energy sources is a good thing, says Clement Chilwele, Chief Engineer at Zambia’s Department of Energy. “Zambia can’t continue to rely on one single energy source, in this case hydro, particularly if that particular source is weather dependent,” he told AGE. “Zambia’s hydro potential has an estimated capacity of 6000MW, but we have more energy sources than that.”

Tucked away between Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, Zambia is internationally renowned for the splendour of the Victoria Falls, its beautiful game reserves, its abundant wildlife, as well as its enormous copper deposits. Zambia harbours some 35 million metric tons of this metal, an amount of which the value is estimated at $228 billion. This makes the country the second largest producer of the orangey-brownish semiprecious metal in the world Despite these and other natural endowments, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Zambia. The 2008 and 2009 global financial crisis, for instance, pushed the copper demand and price to all-time lows, resulting in hundreds of thousands of lost jobs and poor economic growth results.

Tobias Becker, Senior Vice President and Africa Director of the power and automation technology company ABB, agrees. “Africa needs to use every available source to keep up with the growing demand, including the abundance of renewables,” he said. “We should embrace that and go for a rapid adoption.” Palace Group’s executive chairman

Peace Parks

There is more to Zambia’s role in a more sustainable world. The country’s responsible tourism sector is thriving, and it encompasses dozens of ecolodges and hotels across the country. Key draw cards are undoubtedly its 19 national parks and its participation in two Peace Parks. Shared by more than one African country, the conservancies have the objective of establishing transnational ecosystems in which animals can roam freely whilst involving local communities in nature conservation efforts, supporting sustainable economic development, promoting conservation of biodiversity, and fostering regional peace and stability.

The first Peace Park Zambia got involved in, is the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. Situated in the Okavango and Zambezi River basins – and shared with Angola, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe – it is the world’s largest transfrontier conservation area. It spans a whooping 520.000 km2, which is roughly twice the size of Gabon, and comprises 36 national parks, game reserves, community conservancies and game management areas. These include the Okavango Delta and the Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The second Peace Park, the Malawi-Zambia Transfrontier Conservation Area, was founded in 2015 and comprises, among other things, Zambia’s North Luangwa National Park as well as the Lundazi Protected Forest Area in the east and the Musalangu Game Management Area.

Zambia’s objective of participating in the Peace Park initiative is to boost the protection of its natural heritage. In that light, the authorities issued a statement earlier this year around the need to better conserve the Luangwa Valley, which harbours the renown South Luangwa National Park. Its forests are particularly being threatened due to deforestation, unsustainable charcoal production, illegal timber harvesting, poaching, and encroachment.

We have also seen the Mphomwa Forest being destroyed – leaving the mountains bare. We cannot afford to sit back and watch,” Eastern Province Permanent Secretary Chanda Kasolo told the media at a round table meeting held in Lusaka in January this year. He added that the Lundazi National Forest acts as a buffer to the South Luangwa National Park, North Luangwa, and Luembe National Park, and is important in terms of tourism.

Anti-poaching efforts

Public and private wildlife conservation efforts have been stepped up too over the past few years. The focus, however, goes beyond rhinos, elephants, lions and other wildlife icons.

Take vultures, for instance. Per a coalition of nature conservation organisations, which includes the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the number of southern African vultures has declined by 50% to 60% in the past 30 years. The main culprits are poaching and poisoning. Some farmers revert to poisoning of deceased livestock to kill predators such as cheetahs. “In the process, they end up accidentally poisoning vultures because they feed off these carcasses,” raptor expert Becky Garbett explains, adding that poachers are poisoning carcasses of their preys to deliberately kill vultures. “Vultures in the sky could signal rangers.”

Zambia is not exempt from this. That is why Birdwatch Zambia, in a bid to secure Zambia’s Chisamba Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) as a safe haven for endangered vultures, has embarked on a drive to educate farmers, farm managers, workers and other stakeholders about the role of vultures in the eco-system and what it means when the birds get extinct.

The good news is that farmers in Africa tend to be approachable when it comes to vulture affairs. “They tend to like the vultures,” Garbett says. “The birds clean up dead animals, hereby preventing the spread of diseases such as anthrax and rabies, to which they are immune to and could kill more livestock. Vultures play an important role in the eco system.”