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Can Coal Mining Save Mozambique?

President Obama has stalled the Keystone XL pipeline; the developed world mulls over carbon treaties; and greens continue to hunt for energy unicorns. Meanwhile, dirty sources of energy like coal mines continue to pop up across the developing world, bringing growth to poverty-stricken lands.

As the Financial Times‘ Andrew England reports from Mozambique, huge coal reserves in the poverty stricken African country offer hope of new energy wealth in a country where many people live on less than fifty cents a day. Energy hungry India and China want that coal; foreign investors are rushing in to build the mines and develop the infrastructure that can get the coal to the ports.

Mozambique’s energy story isn’t just about coal. There are gas and oil possibilities as well. But Mozambique demonstrates just how utopian the green dream of a global carbon treaty really is. Mozambique isn’t going to stop selling coal, and China and India won’t stop buying it, and none of these countries will sign a treaty that blocks what they think of as their inalienable right to grow.

The greens tried to get around this in the dying rounds of climate diplomacy by holding out a $100 billion annual payout from the taxpayers of rich countries to compensate countries like Mozambique for the costs of a lower carbon development approach — but this is a fool’s hope. $100 billion is much too much to get American and other rich country taxpayers to fork out (think of trying to get two thirds of the Senate to vote for the biggest foreign aid commitment in the history of the Milky Way) and it is not nearly enough to compensate Mozambique and others for the loss of income that shutting down the coalfields would represent.

Mozambique’s new energy reserves may not be pretty or clean, but they have two advantages that trump everything else: they are lucrative, and, unlike the unicorns that the global climate movement insists will descend from the Misty Mountains any minute and solve all our problems while saving us money, they are real.

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  • Tom

    The metaphor at the end is even more apt when you realize that there are no unicorns in Middle-Earth.

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