Protests in Germany over Namibian biomass

04 March 2021 | Energy



Protests flared up last week in Hamburg, Germany, against a project investigating the feasibility of using Namibian bush biomass to power coal-fired plants as part of the city’s coal exit strategy.

The Hamburg environmental authority is planning on using biomass from Namibia at the Tiefstack Power Station instead of coal where the Robin Wood activist group protested.

The ‘Transcontinental Biomass Partnership Namibia-Hamburg’ has been met with sharp criticism, with more than 40 civil society organisations and scientists also opposing the project.

It would be a “blatantly wrong decision” that would go against the goal of a “climate-friendly, socially just energy supply”, the group said in a press release.

“If we burn Namibia's ecosystems for warm living rooms here in Hamburg, it is harmful to the climate, endangers biodiversity and is unfair. Hamburg presents the project as an aid to Namibia. The aim is once again to exploit the resources of the global south in order to satisfy the insatiable hunger for raw materials of rich industrial countries in the north. Has Hamburg learnt nothing from its cruel colonial history?” Robin Wood’s Ute Bertrand asked.

Lack of understanding

The Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) said it is evident that there is a lack of understanding regarding Namibia’s semi-arid ecosystems and the issue of bush encroachment, which substantially differs from that in European countries.

Between 45 and 60 million hectares of land in Namibia is considered bush encroached with densities of up to 6 000 bushes per hectare, according to the foundation.

“The extent of bush thickening in Namibia has considerable adverse impacts on biodiversity, soil, the livelihoods of people and is quite critical for an arid country’s water availability.”

The NNF said these negative impacts largely outweigh potential environmental and economic benefits.

A key target of the Namibian government is the reduction of bush encroachment on 1.9 million hectares by 2040.

However, the biomass sector is still in its infancy and domestic demand at this stage is far from sufficient to absorb the amount of bush.

Currently, harvested biomass in Namibia is mainly used for charcoal production.

“The development of new value chains with strong safeguards and sustainability standards - as required by European markets - is an invaluable opportunity to lead the sector towards positive environmental outcomes,” the NNF said.

It added that NamPower plans to construct a biomass power plant in the next five years; however, their bush offtake will only be a tiny fraction of the that which needs to be thinned to achieve other environmental targets.

‘Not neo-colonialism’

“A partnership with Hamburg would drive the development of Namibia’s own biomass sector and is in no way perceived as a form of neo-colonialism.”

Namibia has a sought-after resource in abundance that is a side product of environmental rehabilitation efforts and is thus driving the partnership and research agenda for the sustainable use of bush resources in the country, the NNF said.

Greenhouse gas studies have been conducted in Namibia, indicating that the fast regrowth of bush minimises the impact of bush harvesting on emissions budgets and that the country remains a net carbon sink, even with the considerable expansion of bush thinning activities.

The Bush Control and Biomass Utilisation project in Namibia is being financed by the German federal ministry for economic cooperation and development.

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