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Cop26 and Zimbabwe: Dirty politics or the politics of dirt?

The last time I wrote about the climate crisis regarding Zimbabwe which you can find here, I made a concerted effort to explain why it was in Zimbabwe’s interests to take this climate crisis seriously because of our never ending lack of electricity. I return to this topic to shed a different light on it, highlighting the politics that is surrounding climate change on a global level, and Zimbabwe’s (tiny) role in it, and more importantly, I’d like to make an argument as to why the issue of climate change is political, which being necessitated by the changing international landscape, also has consequences in the corridors of power in the nation.

The gathering of world leaders in Glasgow for the Conference of Parties (COP26) is a United Nations-led conference that occurs every two years with the goal being to bring the world political leaders together to make critical decisions regarding the climate crisis which has been getting progressively worse since the Industrial Revolution. The gathering of state leaders is important because it usually presents an opportunity for serious face-to-face agreements to be made.

As one can imagine, whenever there is a coming together of politicians, there is a significant amount of pictures and grandstanding that takes place. Most leaders come to these events with different agendas. For example, President Mnangagwa seems to have taken it as an opportunity to grandstand arguing that the re-engagement efforts with the Western countries are working even though, technically speaking, he was invited by the UN and not Boris Johnson. It just so happened that COP26 was in the United Kingdom. He is not the only one with ulterior motives. US President, Joe Biden, besides having a deep interest in the climate crisis, went to Glasgow to garner moral strength as he fights to get a climate bill passed in the USA. Ironically, not coming to COP26 can be as significant as coming. The Chinese Premier, Xi Jinping, decided not to attend COP26 much to ire of world leaders since China by volume is the biggest polluting nation in the world.

The different agendas that land on the table of COP26 proves how critical these conversations are, not only for the politicians but the future of the planet, earth. Since the late 80s, the climate crisis as a political issue has risen to prominence especially in the US and the EU. The reason being changing course on the climate crisis comes with significant, genuine alterations in the manner in which the world functions. The change in policies will lead to some people losing power, jobs, livelihoods, identity.

Recently, China made a significant policy shift by announcing prior to COP26 that China would stop financing coal projects outside of their borders. This affects Zimbabwe considerably because the majority (if not all) of financing for new coal projects in Zimbabwe was coming from China. This puts into jeopardy a key economic policy of the ZANU-PF government which was to have a $12 billion mining economy by 2023. Of course, there are other forms of minerals that are mined but the Zimbabwean industry and mines are heavily reliant on coal to power their growth. Essentially, China is pulling the financing rug from underneath the mining policy of Zimbabwe.

Another key sector of the economy that is going to be severely affected is that of agriculture. When the climate crisis and agriculture are put in the same sentence, the usual focus is on how there are going to be increased droughts due to the climate crisis in Zimbabwe, which is very true. However, there is another effect that is occurring which will have significant ramifications in the way we farm. The European Union has plans which are going to be legally binding to be carbon neutral by 2050. The push for carbon neutrality in the EU will most likely include organic foods being the norm rather than the exception. Organic food production calls for the eradication of the use of synthetic fertilizers in food production. This is extremely problematic for Zimbabwe because most farmers in the nation are addicted to farming with synthetic fertilizers. Furthermore, government regularly donates synthetic fertilizers to rural communities. If this carries on, a weighty amount of the produce grown will not be exportable to the EU, which is a key agricultural market for the nation. Production of organic fertilizer which can be done at an individual level can free rural communities from their reliance on state support which is then used to buy their loyalty.

The most important sector that needs an overhaul regarding the climate crisis and Zimbabwe is our relationship with oil and gas. Fuel is a very strong political hot potato that has grown in influence from a monetary, economic, and political point of view. As a nation which doesn’t produce its own oil, it goes without saying that the person (or people) who do own the fuel supply chain have significant control over the nation. The control in an oligopoly form was maintained when ethanol petrol was introduced into the market. This then begs the question, what would happen if most Zimbabwean transport became electric vehicles that ran on solar power? This would bring about an opportunity to systematically break down an oligopoly and democratize a key resource in the nation because no one owns or can own the sun.

As recently reported by government, the three sectors of mining, farming and energy are some of the main sources of emissions in the nation. Working towards reducing those emissions will come with serious political ramifications because political power in Zimbabwe relies on keeping the climate crisis afoot by ensuring that mining dirty coal, distributing synthetic fertilizers, keeping the economy reliant on petrol and diesel for transportation continues unabated. Any movements towards ending the climate crisis will inherently challenge the stranglehold of the authoritarian regime of the nation. This realization is important to also understand why Zimbabwe has not made as much progress as it could have made regarding making our nation carbon neutral.

Moreover, a carbon-neutral Zimbabwe is being necessitated by the changing international landscape, our failure to make the necessary adjustments will leave us poorer and more vulnerable to the climate crisis than we already are. As President Mnangagwa walks in the Scottish Highlands, he faces the difficult balancing act of analyzing how he can maintain control and power in the nation while going green. A favorite (which is justifiable) tactic is to blame the Global North nations for the climate crisis. This has progressively become a scapegoat tactic rather than a genuine reason not to make the necessary changes to the economic structure of the nation.

The climate crisis and its effects have highlighted how the planet over the last century has been used as a political tool to gain and control power. The crisis is now toppling that structure. Powers are shifting from petrostates to nations that are determined to bring renewable energy to the fore. Dirty energy, industrial agriculture and industrial mining are being upended in a manner that calls for more democratic solutions that can leave the nations such as Zimbabwe with a citizenry that is not only demanding increased democratic control over their lives but also a climate-friendly nation.

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