Environmentalism and Development – Alternative, sustainable pathways for Eswatini

By: Mandla Reissmann (MA: Foresight. Scenarios) ECCo Contributor
Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/mandla-reissmann-508025

The aim of this article is to increase public awareness on the pressing issue of the proposed coal thermal power plant in eSwatini. This coal project is problematic in a global sense as renewable energy takes center stage in development activities. We are well into the era of sustainable development, “Within the last two decades, concern about environment and sustainable development in the Third World has become a central feature of development policies and thinking.” (Nygren 1998).

This subject goes far deeper than a power plant. We need to discuss a national cultural narrative for eSwatini that is centered on progress and environmentalism, redefining what development means. This narrative begins from a belief that the nation wants a better life for all through development efforts such as the well known, but poorly understood, Vision 2022 framework in eSwatini (Marope 2010). There is a fundamental flaw in the way we have understood Vision 2022 and development as a concept, since the prevailing image of development is based on a failing “first world” model.

Pioneers of Development
We need new role models for our collective image of development, I suggest looking at Costa Rica as an example of a country that chartered their own course for development, avoiding stereotypical post colonial pathways. Much of the first world has generated electricity from non-renewable power such as the proposed Lubhuku coal thermal plant, but emerging economies such as eSwatini should be better informed in the present day. Countries that are seen as “developed” are the main culprits of global warming CO2 emissions, something that they must work hard to reverse in their own economies and something that eSwatini can bypass to some extent and possibly fast track her development. It seems ridiculous to think that eSwatini is considering building a coal thermal power plant when it is clear that the world is moving away from this type of development.

Costa Rica
Costa Rica is well known for being a leader in sustainable development having joined the elite group of countries that can run almost entirely on renewable energy (Laezman 2015). Costa Rica’s program of payments for environmental services (PSA) is the most recent winner of the Champions of Earth award, the UN Environment Programme’s highest environmental honour.

Started in 2005 the award is for policy leadership; inspiration and action; entrepreneurial vision as well as science and innovation. It is awarded to individuals, groups and institutions taking bold action for our world and who encourage others to join them and defend a cleaner future. (“UN Environment Programme Champions of Earth.”2020) Costa Rican policy makers have achieved this by directing investment towards generating renewable energy as well as other efforts for environmentalism. The World Economic Forum reported that “For more than 250 days of 2016, Costa Rica ran entirely on renewables.” (McKenna 2017)

Costa Rica (Laezman 2015)

PSA and other successful Costa Rican conservation policies, including those prior to the PSA program, may explain the reduction in deforestation rates. Biodiversity is being restored in the rainforests of Costa Rica through these types of initiatives that recover wild rainforest ecosystems. “The PSA program is a major advance in the global institutionalization of ecosystem investments because few, if any, other countries have such a conservation history ー much can be learned from Costa Rica’s experiences.” (Sanchez‐Azofeifa et al. 2007)

Figure 1 – “International finance received for clean energy, 2000 to 2016.” 2020

It is shocking to see the statistics on foreign investment put into clean energy for eSwatini compared to Costa Rica, numbers as well as trends are hugely contrasted. From 2016 reports from  Our World in Data (data in Figure. 1 above) show that eSwatini has done little to acquire international finance for efforts in clean energy.

Environmentalism in Development & Culture
The discourse of sustainable development shapes how it comes to life because it is a social and political process. The way we perceive it is important for eSwatini to be successful in decarbonising and developing simultaneously. Environmentalism itself is complex because there are ideologies to choose from such as; environmentalism for nature, environmentalism for profit, environmentalism for the people or alternative environmentalism (Nygren 1998). The way to succeed in the long term future will be based on our ability to make environmentalism part of our culture and way of life.

eSwatini has the vehicles and social structure to create a united front for sustainable development and better standard of living. The change will be gradual but reaching first world status in this way would put eSwatini ahead of established economies that are trying to decarbonise, our new industries and developments must be geared to this effort as a matter of global solidarity with nature. eSwatini policy makers should focus on “development institutions and ideologies that promote social interventions in the name of sustainable development, and on those social processes and economic relations on which the discursive formation of environment and sustainability is articulated”. (Nygren 1998, 201)

Figure 2 – Greenhouse Gas Warming Scenarios (Ritchie and Roser 2017)

One of the main tools in practicing foresight is scenario thinking – Figure. 2 (above) shows global greenhouse gas emissions and warming scenarios looking ahead to the year 2100 (80 years from now). Out of five scenarios the top three are not adequate to avoid catastrophic climate change events. It is fortunate and important for humanity to have understood all these possibilities moving forward. The pledges and targets made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are not adequate even if they are all realised, action is still needed to reach the desired 1.5 degree global warming pathway to the year 2100.

At this moment in eSwatini the necessary action is to oppose the construction of the coal thermal power plant. Let us look to countries like Costa Rica (and Gambia, Tasmania, Denmark, etc.) for inspiration and knowledge about our relationship with the earth’s ecosystems and ways of interacting with them. Let us think of ways to make our lives better while making our planet better, instead of at the cost of our planet and its biodiversity. We need to reinvent development and change what development entails by orienting it with sustainability and environmentalism. A developed world is not destructive to itself, it is balanced and can continue indefinitely in a wide and wonderful array of scenarios.

Further reading on the EPI (Environmental Performance Index), using 32 performance indicators across 11 issue categories, the EPI ranks 180 countries on environmental health and ecosystem vitality: https://epi.yale.edu/

(Noisette 2019) 

Works Cited

“UN Environment Programme Champions of Earth.” 2020. Web. Nov, 2020 <https://www.unenvironment.org/championsofearth/&gt;.

Laezman, Rick. “Costa Rica Goes 100 Percent Renewable.” 2015. Web. Nov, 2020 <https://www.ecmag.com/section/your-business/costa-rica-goes-100-percent-renewable&gt;.

Marope, Mmantsetsa. “The Education System in Swaziland: Training and Skills Development for Shared Growth and Competitiveness.” World Bank Publications (2010)Web.

McKenna, John. “For more than 250 days of 2016, Costa Rica ran entirely on renewables.” 2017. Web. Nov, 2020 <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/04/costa-rica-ran-entirely-on-renewable-energy-for-more-than-250-days-last-year&gt;.

Noisette, Edouard. The Farm at the End of the World. 2019. , DevianArt.com.

Nygren, Anja. “Environment as Discourse: Searching for Sustainable Development in Costa Rica.” Environmental values 7.2 (1998): 201-22. Web.

OceanRailroader. Coal Powered Car Someone has to Shovel. 2019. , DevianArt.com.

Sanchez‐Azofeifa, G. Arturo, et al. “Costa Rica’s Payment for Environmental Services Program: Intention, Implementation, and Impact.” Conservation Biology 21.5 (2007): 1165-73. Web.