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“Fighting the Global Coal War”

Background

So much of the world’s growth over the past two hundred years has been due to the discovery and ever-increasing use of affordable energy derived from fossil fuels led by coal, followed by oil, and natural gas. This affordable and predominantly coal-fuelled energy drove industrial expansion, created millions of jobs, and generated wealth for a large portion of the global population.

There is a great deal of discussion led by a largely pseudo-scientific approach to global warming, which has reached almost ‘religion’ status, and the supposed dangers of carbon dioxide gas (CO2) released from fossil fuel combustion around the world, in particular from coal. In 1988, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up to investigate and document the dangers associated with CO2 which is released from fossil fuel combustion, such as coal. Since then, many papers and articles have been written and international meetings held to see if agreements can be made to mitigate this supposed problem for our planet – a problem not fully defined, nor even proven to any level of certainty.

In this context, coal has been set up as the general ‘public enemy’ Number One. Coal is an easy target; by its very nature it’s black, dusty and dirty; with less powerful lobby groups and influencers than other sectors, such as oil and natural gas. These sectors are often much less visible to the public eye and easier to disguise and dismiss as threat or cause.

Targets have been set to reduce CO2 emissions for the near future; and programmes are being introduced in developed countries on how to meet them.  The goal? To shut down all coal burning power stations, followed by the source of the coal, the mines themselves. 

Stress on Developing Continents and Countries

There are still many developing countries, the rising stars of tomorrow’s industrial world that rely on this affordable source of power generation to power their growing industries and are now being forced to comply with western politically driven often unrealistic targets. These countries, many on the African continent, are now driven allocate a significant portion of their fiscus on CO2 mitigation and reduction defined and sold by them – targeting shutting down coal use in any form, while this expenditure could be put to better use and is urgently needed to develop the countries’ infrastructure and large-scale industrial business that can improve these economies and add to job creation, improve the health system and reduce environmental pollution of the air, water and soil by noxious emissions and effluents. 

Until a reliable, new and reasonably priced base-load source of energy is found, coal is required.

Quickly and drastically reducing the use of coal by a large percentage, as has been mandated by some developed economies and their governments, and the Paris Accord, creates a serious problem. It would have negative effects on the social welfare of so many people in the energy industry and related sectors and many millions more people’s lives will be threatened because funds that could be used in infrastructure and other developmental requirements are now being deployed for CO2 mitigation?

In 2016, the five biggest coal importers in the world were India, China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. While the big five made up almost 70% or over 600 million tonnes of global imports, the Southeast Asia (SEA) market accounted for less than 8% or about 70 million tonnes of coal imports during the same period.  However, according to data released by the IEA for the period between 2017 and 2018, the SEA market has doubled in size.

The region’s key coal users and importers include Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Even though Indonesia is the biggest coal exporter, supplying over 80% of the demand for the region, its domestic coal requirements are expected to impact the Asian demand and supply balance significantly in the coming decade by increasing its own demand. While Vietnam already appeared on the map in 2016, Myanmar will also play a bigger role in the near future as coal production rapidly increases.

“Electricity is increasing its share in total energy consumption and coal is increasing its share in power generation”, said Laszlo Varro, head of the gas, coal and power markets division for the International Energy Agency (IEA). The vast majority of the 400 GW in power generation capacity to be added in SEA by 2040 will be coal-fired. That will raise coal’s share of the SEA power market to 50% from roughly 32%, while natural gas declines to 26% from approximately 44%.

About 700 million people now live in SEA and the region is expanding quickly, especially in terms of energy demand and as a result electricity generation. IEA Southeast Asia predicts that population grows modestly to 760 million people by 2040 but urbanization increases from 46% today to 60% until then. The GDP per capita will almost triple until 2040, and this is where energy demand must step in.

As a result of this soaring energy demand, environmental pressures are increasing. At the same time, the carbon foot print of SEA is only a fraction of that of Europe and the USA.

The IEA also reports similar trends and shares of total energy consumption for the African continent which, in population terms roughly approximates SEA. With these similarities in mind, the IEA predicts that 120 million people in Southeast Asia lack electricity, while over 270 million rely on wood and dung for cooking and heating, pollutants in itself. “From 2013 to 2030, the SEA region’s primary energy demand will almost double or increase by at least 80%.” The IEA notes. The “power pie” or electricity demand increases from 790TWh to 2.210TWh from 2013 to 2040. 

That tripling in electricity demand will be primarily sourced from coal. Whilst renewables are expanding, their pace of growth is too slow to keep up with faster, more affordable thermal coal-fired power generation. Coal will be the fuel of choice. The material is easily available, the cheapest source of power and also the safest. All major SEA countries are constructing coal-fired power plants at a breath-taking pace.  We predict that with a 40GWe energy shortage already prevalent in Southern Africa, a similar trend will emerge if the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) is ever to gain traction in Africa.

Coal’s share of electricity generation is expected to increase from about one third today to reach 50% by 2040. This means that the SEA will pull up the global average for coal use and significantly contribute to coal continuing to be the power source for the developing world. Again, renewables, including hydro will also grow but the staggering increased power demand cannot be met economically without the use of easily available, low-cost and safe coal.

Renewable Energy Sources

New energy technologies are being funded and developed to counter the reliance on coal and coal-fired power stations. Solar panels, geothermal wells, wind farms and tidal turbines are being installed to produce electricity.  While these solutions are often portrayed as reliant green energy, geothermal and tidal turbines are only considered transient and cannot yet be used for base-load service which is driven mainly by coal; a key factor for a stable power to a city, town or industrial centre.

Solar produces no power at night and windmills only work when there is sufficient wind, while shutting down when the wind speed is too high. Thus, storage and re-distribution of extra power has become the key challenge. Only an advanced storage solution that can be applied on a global scale and is affordable, will allow for large-scale economic use of solar and wind power.  Coal fuelled power is steady, still relatively cheap and runs continuously 24 hours a day. Therefore, there might not be a way around coal fuels for many decades to come.

Key Forces Affecting Climate

The question we need to ask is, are we sure that this costly and drastic move away from coal just to reduce CO2 is urgently needed? What are the key forces that affect the Earth’s climate? Do higher CO2 levels not benefit plant growth and therefore are beneficial to our environment?

To answer this question, let us have a look at the Earth’s climate history over the past 400,000 years and the role of CO2. This contrasts with the typical 150-year time span depicted in global media and which is a major misdirect to garner public support.

The Fallacies of a Carbon Tax

To more rapidly reduce the use of fossil fuels, coal in particular; a $40/ton carbon tax was proposed and given serious consideration in Washington and similarly in other developed nations. This would affect mainly the use of coal and natural gas, oil, which make up 80% of the energy used in those countries. Based on the data available, this could be a big mistake which would force energy companies to close down otherwise productive coal fired power plants too early and increase the cost of power beyond what is economically viable.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) has also been proposed to remove CO2 from coal power plant exhaust, transport it by pipeline and inject and store it in state approved deep underground sites. It is estimated that CCS could double the base cost of electricity production from coal and other fossil fuels. This would be highly prohibitive, and the costs were to fall first on the public who depend on stable energy sources and as explained above, it serves no useful purpose for controlling climate change.

NB: Another key point about CO2 is that all plant life thrives in high CO2 environments and farmers routinely pump CO2 into greenhouses to 1.500 ppm CO2, which greatly increases growth rate. It is the key nutrient for all plant life and when it drops below 150 ppm, very few plants and animals can survive. Plants also handle drought conditions better as CO2 rises as they expire less water in the process of absorbing CO2, their principal food source.

If CO2 in the air were to double, their water needs would drop by 50%. This will be an enormous boon for agriculture everywhere especially in arid regions around the world and would support feeding our growing population. The CO2 content in the air in our homes is also much higher than outside and is safe to breathe. CO2 is not a pollutant but a vital basic building block of all life on Earth, on land and in the oceans.

Conclusion

Reviewing the available data makes clear that no significant global warming from re-radiated solar energy can be created by an increase in CO2 above current levels for which coal gets most of the blame. CO2 is beneficial for our environment and is not a pollutant. It benefits plant life by increasing biomass and thus improves the basis for all human life on Earth.  So, producing and burning coal using state of the art technology can still be a sustainable development solution.

The present warm period has lasted over 8000 years longer than any of the three prior ones, giving the oceans a much longer time to warm up and release more CO2 into the atmosphere, which would also contribute to the current level of 400 ppm.  This means that coal does not carry all the blame as is stated by socio-environmentalist groups and politicians.

According to IEA Climatologists and Oceanographers tripling the present value of CO2  to 1.200 ppm will not result in ocean acidification, as has been proposed by the socio-environmental political movement (most notably Al Gore), and the pH would be about 7,8 which is still a satisfactory alkaline level in which ocean life can flourish – as it did over most of geological history when CO2 levels were several times higher than those today and when no coal was being mined or burned.

Proposed Future Energy Development Plan

Of course, coal and fossil fuel sources have a limited useful time span and technological advancement will ensure that we will no longer rely on coal, possibly latest by 2200, 180 years away. We need to develop a well-planned economic, environmental and social introduction of viable and affordable new energy sources. We need to gradually change our social infrastructures and improve the lives of people and futures of whole towns, cities and regions in every country around the world. And the reason for this is not the CO2 that coal used as a fuel emits, but because there will be more efficient and fewer polluting ways of producing energy developed in the next two centuries.

It is recognised that there are real issues related to coal and other fossil fuels that need to be addressed such as groundwater contamination and smog from release of smoke particles, and corrosive gases containing sulphur, as well as safer storage of fly ash from coal combustion. That’s where our resources should be spent, and our ingenuity used to improve existing conditions.

The billions of dollars to be spent or better wasted on CO2 mitigation could – if employed elsewhere – truly make a difference to provide cheap clean coal technology driven energy sources of base load magnitude and thus improve the health of our planet and our populations economic development.

Alan M. Clegg Pr.Eng Pr.CPM PMP FSAIMM FIOQ F.Inst.D

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Business

Choppies back to profitability

21st September 2021
Choppies CEO - RamachandaranOttapathu

Choppies Holdings Limited, Botswana’s largest Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) retail group, is back to its glory days of profitability.

On Wednesday, Choppies signalled its shareholders in a circular published on the Botswana Stock Exchange website that a massive comeback is in the offing. The retail giant, which trades on both Botswana and Johannesburg Stock Exchange, notified its investors that it is currently finalising its financial results for the 12 months ended 30 June 2021 (FY2021).

As per the Listings Requirements of the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange Limited (JSE), that requires companies to publish a trading statement as soon as they become reasonably certain that the financial results for the period to be reported on next will differ by more than 10% (in the case of the BSE) or more than 20% (in the case of the JSE) from the financial results reported for the previous corresponding period, Choppies notified the market about the expected financials.

In the circular, Choppies said it expects the consolidated Profit after Tax, including discontinued operations for the period FY2021, to be between 106% to 126% better than the Loss after Tax of BWP 370.6 million reported for the period FY2020, representing a Profit after Tax of between BWP 22.6 million and BWP 96.7 million.

The Profit before Tax for FY2021 is expected to be between 1% and 21% higher (BWP 105.7 million and BWP 126.7million) than the Profit before Tax of BWP 105.0 million reported for the period FY2020. The Choppies come back is against the backdrop of a devastating past three(3) financial years where the company endured some of the worst headwinds ever since its establishment over two decades ago.

Following reports of internal boardroom wars, the crisis exploded to fireworks. The retail giant was suspended on both Botswana and Johannesburg Stock Exchange for failing to publish its audited financials as per the regulatory requirement for all publicly listed companies. Following suspension from trading, Choppies’s value deteriorated to record low levels, triggering massive governance restructuring before reconfiguring its portfolio, divesting and exiting some markets, retreating to regroup in its spiritual home ground of Botswana.

In the process, the retailer stayed on news headlines for all the wrong reasons, boardroom infighting, shareholder tussles and disagreements between founders and back to back conflicts with its external auditors. At some point, Choppies founder, Chief Executive Officer and talisman, Ramachandran Ottapathu, was suspended and later reinstated in a dramatic turn of events. Furthermore, the fallout saw the longest-serving Chairperson, former President Dr Festus Mogae, resign as board chair.

The delayed 2018 year-end financial results, released a year and a half later in December 2019, delivered a shock to shareholders, with many pundits announcing Choppies’s funeral. Choppies registered a whooping BWP 445 million loss for the full year ended June 2018. Another shocking loss of BWP170 million for 2017 was initially reported as a BWP 74. 6 million profit when KPMG was still the auditor.

The Choppies loss-making crusade spilt over to 2019, registering in loss BWO 428 million before drowning again into a loss of BWP 370.6 million for the full financial year ended June 2020. In July this year, Choppies biggest individual shareholders Ramachandran Ottapathu and Farouk Ismail, revealed they would be levelling a lawsuit against former Choppies auditors Price Water Coopers (PWC).

The duo blames the auditors for alleged lapses, incompetence, and deliberate sabotage that led to the company’s regulatory non-compliance and subsequent suspension from the Botswana Stock Exchange in 2018 and a massive deterioration in value. In the Annual Report for the financial year ended June 2020, released in November that year, newly appointed Board Chair Uttun Corea announced that Choppies had appointed new auditors, Mazars, regarding FY19 and FY20.

The new board further announced a massive reconfiguration strategy to return the company to glory. The Board Investment Committee recommended disposal of loss-making operations in South Africa and the closure of operations in Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania, which according to Mr Corea, helped return the Group to profitability.

“Our other markets also proved economically challenging with a struggling and volatile Zimbabwean economy, currency devaluation in Zambia, and a lack of economies of scale in Namibia. However, we believe a focused approach in these regions and the numerous opportunities for growth in Botswana present the Group with solid prospects.

This conditions, together with the favourable conditions following the introduction of funds by the founding shareholders, together with additional security, and given the renegotiation of our banking facilities which will see our monthly payments lower, put the Group on a firm going concern footing,” the board Chair said last year.

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Business

Cresta Marakanelo exits Zambia market 

21st September 2021
Cresta Marakanelo

Cresta Marakanelo Limited (CML), Botswana’s most prominent hotels and hospitality group, has decided to exit the Zambian market, the company announced on Wednesday. 

CML, a Botswana version of the larger Southern African Cresta Hotels Group, revealed in a circular to its shareholders on Wednesday that “it will not be renewing the lease agreement with Golfview Hotels Limited for the rental of Cresta Golfview Hotel in Lusaka, Zambia.” The Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) listed hotels group explained it would be withdrawing from the Cresta Golfview Hotel operations on 30 September 2021.

CML explained in the circular that for continuity of operations, the landlord, Golfview Hotels Limited, will be taking over the management of the hotel and will endeavour to absorb the majority of the staff.

“The consideration to not renew the lease came after a review of the financial viability of continuing with the lease agreement. The decision to exit the lease is therefore in the best interests of CML shareholders,” Cresta Marakanelo Board explained on Wednesday.

For the year ended 31 December 2020, Cresta Golfview Hotel accounted for 5% of the CML Group’s revenue and 2% of the Group’s loss before tax. The company said it would continue to operate the 11 hotels in Botswana.

The Board of Directors of Cresta Marakanelo went on express gratitude to its dedicated staff at Cresta Golfview Hotel, “The men and women who personified our Cresta brand essence; Where One Smile Starts Another and lived our Cresta mantra of Hospitality with African Heart and Soul consistently over the years.” The Board further thanked its business partners in Zambia: the valued guests, suppliers, stakeholders, and the Zambian community at large during the time CML has operated in Lusaka.

“We look forward to welcoming you to our other properties under the CML portfolio,” the statement said. Early this year, Cresta Marakanelo attempted to expand its Botswana footprint, nearly taking in Phakalane Golf Estate & Hotels Property under its wing. In January 2021, Cresta Marakanelo announced that it had signed a 10-year lease agreement for the hotel and the golf course, located in the Gaborone high-end suburbs, with an option to renew for a further ten year period.

In addition, Cresta had planned to pay Phakalane P10.7 million as a once-off for moveable assets, including furniture, fittings and equipment, with the amount payable over 24 months. Two months later, CML directors told shareholders that the conditions necessary to finalise the deal had not been fulfilled, and as a result, the transaction could not materialise.

Cresta Marakanelo is the operating company for, until this Zambia exit, the 12 Cresta Hotels in Botswana and Zambia. The company was formed in 1987 with an initial portfolio of fewer than 290 rooms, and until this September end exit, Cresta Marakanelo has been managing over 1000 rooms in Botswana and Zambia.

Since its establishment, Cresta Marakanelo Limited (CML) has maintained its position as the largest hotel group in Botswana. The company was established in 1987 when Cresta Hospitality was awarded the Management contract for the Marakanelo Hotels in Botswana by the Botswana Development Corporation.

Cresta Marakanelo was listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange in 2010. Its largest shareholders are the Botswana Government, through the Botswana Development Company, at 30 percent and Cresta Holdings Botswana at around 29 percent, with other shareholders being Motor Vehicles Accident Fund Botswana, Botswana Insurance Company, amongst others.

Established in 1970, the Botswana Development Company is the investment arm of the Botswana Government. BDC’s main aim is to be the country’s principal agency for commercial and industrial development. The Government of Botswana owns 100 percent of the issued share capital of the Corporation. BDC has interests in industry, property development and management, agribusiness and services.

Cresta Holdings Botswana is ultimately owned by Masawara Plc, a Jersey Registered Company listed on the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market, with an investment portfolio that extends from Botswana to Zambia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The Group’s portfolio spans the Hospitality, Insurance, Investment Management and Agrochemical sectors.

Its hospitality arm, Cresta Hospitality Holdings, is one of Southern Africa’s largest hotel management groups, managing or operating hotels in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.  Cresta Hospitality started hotel operations as far back as 1958. Cresta Holdings is a hotel management company registered in Botswana.

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Business

ABSA posts improved results  

21st September 2021
Keabetswe Pheko-Moshagane

Absa Bank Botswana released their condensed consolidated interim financial statements for the period ended 30 June 2021. Profit before tax grew significantly by 125% against the previous year, a material recovery from the June 2020 position.

According to the company directors, the performance was driven mainly by the positive performance of the impairment line together with the positive momentum on cost lines. Pre-provision profit has also grown year on year by 9%.

Consequently, the bank’s Return on Equity (ROE) went up to 19%. Total revenue declined 1% year-on-year. Net interest income fell 8% due to margin compression driven by interest rate cuts in 2020. However, the sales and transactional banking franchise realised impressive recovery rates with volumes going up to almost pre-COVID-19 levels, and fee revenue grew 20% year on year.

Absa boasted that their operating costs remain well contained, on a reducing trend compared to the prior year. On a statutory basis, operating expenses totalled P460 million, representing a 7% decrease year-on-year. This was achieved by an overall reduction in spending as the bank continues to leverage on a leaner, rotational and digitally-led operating model.

Costs in the current year have benefited from the absence of the Voluntary Staff Separation exercise that happened in the first half of 2020, together with a significant reduction in separation expenses as the rebranding exercise has been completed. Cost-to- income ratio declined 4% and ended at 58% for the period under review. On a year-on-year basis, our credit losses decreased materially by 74%.

This significant drop was driven primarily by the better-than-expected performance of the macroeconomic variables, predominantly GDP, which carries a higher weighting in the bank risk models. With improved and stable portfolio performance, the loan loss rate improved to less than 1% for the period ended 30 June 2021.

Absa balance sheet continued on its growth trajectory with an overall growth of 14%. Customer loans and deposits remained key. components of the balance sheet and the key drivers of balance sheet growth. The balance sheet position remains solid at a total financial position of P21.5 billion. Customer loans grew by 9% year-on-year to P14.8 billion.

“We have seen increased momentum in our loan conversion rates, especially in RBB where growth was driven by scheme loans, mortgage loans and Enterprise Supply-chain Development (ESD) loans,” the bank said in a commentary that accompanied the financials.

Directors explained that growth is in line with their strategy to continue to lend a hand to the bank customers who need support during this period and support the initiatives around citizen economic empowerment and economic diversification. Customer deposits have registered good momentum growing 15% compared to last year, reaching P16 billion as of 30 June 2021.

“Although we have seen tightening liquidity in the market, our client penetration, acquisition and retention strategy has borne much fruit, especially in our CIB segment. We have noted a stable upward trend in our deposit book, a momentum which is expected to last into the rest of the months of 2021,” Directors observed.

Directors further noted that the solid balance sheet position and recovery in profitability had further strengthened the bank’s capital position, which stands at P2.9 billion and represents a capital adequacy ratio of 18% against a regulatory requirement of 12.5%. The liquid assets ratio stood at 14.6%, well above a regulatory limit of 10%.

Zooming deep into segmental performances, corporate and Investment Banking (CIB)closed off the first half of 2021 with a year-on-year decline of 3% on total income; this is on the back of the slow recovery in economic activity felt in crucial economic sectors which have previously contributed positively to revenue.

Business sentiment and confidence remain subdued even in 2021 as uncertainty continues due to the impact of COVID-19. However, the profitability of CIB is on the move, on an upward trajectory with 36% growth year-on-year. This performance was supported by the non-funded income lines’ resilience and the impairment lines’ performance.

For the Retail Banking segment the first half of the year, both loans and advances and deposits due to customers grew by 14% and 16% year-on-year, respectively. Overall revenue has remained flat year-on-year. Growth was realised from non-interest income. This is in line with the bank’s strategy to become the go-to transactional and digitally-led bank.

In the future, Absa directors noted the volatile, unpredictable environment that continues to prevail due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which comes with new waves of infections and variants, restricted movement and trade.

” However, we remain resolute in executing our refreshed strategy and focus on offering our employees and customers support in collaboration with the various stakeholders that we have partnered with.

As part of our strategy to provide customer-centric transactional banking solutions, we will continue to roll out enhancements to our existing digital platforms and develop new solutions that offer our customers convenience and safety.” For the period, Absa Bank Botswana Limited Board approved an interim dividend of 9.74 thebe per share, amounting to a total dividend of P83 million.

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