Chibeze Ezekiel, the activist who blocked a coal power plant in Ghana

Chibeze Ezekiel, winner of the 2020 Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa, is fighting to guide new generations towards a renewable future.

“We were a small group of students, without an office and without resources, but passionate and focused on the goal”. Chibeze Ezekiel, 41, with degrees in Psychology and Sociology, tells the story of the emergence of the small group of activists who after months of struggles forced the Ghanaian government to retrace its steps, abandoning the construction of a 1.5 billion dollar coal plant. A victory that led the young Ghanaian to win the 2020 edition of the Goldman Environmental Prize, the “Nobel Prize for the environment” that annually recognises the efforts of activists from all over the world. “The award came as a very big surprise,” Ezekiel tells LifeGate. “I was on the phone when I found out and for two minutes I didn’t say a word. It was a mixture of both excitement and surprise”.

The power plant can’t be built

Like many other African countries, Ghana suffers from a lack of adequate power infrastructure as well as energy production capacity, as continuous blackouts and a lack of electricity for rural communities demonstrate. Only in 2015, 159 blackouts were registered throughout the country. Over the years the Ghanaian government has invested in hydroelectricity in an effort to contain the problem, but the severe and prolonged drought that has hit the country has brought electricity production to its knees.

Chibeze Ezekiel with his group of activists © Gep
Chibeze Ezekiel with his group of activists © Goldman Environmental Prize

For this reason, in 2013 the central government proposed the construction of a 700-megawatt coal-fired power plant and a new port adjacent to Aboano, a coastal fishing community in the Ekumfi district.

The Ghanian government has signed the Paris Agreement, so this was a major contradiction.

Chibeze Ezekiel

The proposal was encouraged and subsidised by China. A 1.5 billion dollar loan from the China African Development Fund would have led to the construction of the power plant and port, to be used to import 2 million tonnes of South African coal per year.

Chibeze Ezekiel, Goldman Environmental Prize
Chibeze Ezekiel in a meeting with local community leaders © Goldman Environmental Prize

Chibeze Ezekiel blocks the coal power plant 

“The Ghanian government has signed the Paris Agreement, so this project was a major contradiction (with respects to the politics of emission reduction),” the Ghanian activist states in a video. Deploying the hashtag #coalkill, together with a group of activists he launched a campaign to counter the government’s message that energy from coal would be clean. The group began to work closely with local communities living near the site of the future plant, explaining the enormous health and environmental impacts that the structure would entail. It has provided small communities with alternative solutions, such as solar power kits, to bring electricity to the most remote villages.

We were a small group of students, without an office and without resources, but passionate and focused on the goal.

Chibeze Ezekiel

The pressure from public opinion and local communities grew and in 2016 the Ministry of the Environment announced the coal plant wouldn’t be built.

Aboano in Ghana
Fisherpeople in Aboano, where the coal plant was planned to be built @ Goldman Environmental Prize

A renewable future for Ghana 

After the cancellation of the project, the government launched the Ghana Renewable Energy Masterplan, which aims to increase energy generated from renewable sources from 42.5 megawatts (the 2015 output) to about 1.4 gigawatts by 2030. This means reducing dependence on biomass as the primary fuel for thermal power plants and providing decentralised electrification systems based on renewable energy to a thousand off-grid communities.

But Ezekiel’s work hasn’t stopped. With the Strategic Youth Network for Development he works alongside a new generation of young people to educate them on renewable energy, climate change and on future challenges. “At the Youth Strategy Network we are working on climate action,” he tells us. “A project to involve young people in a significant way on climate change,” therefore focusing on the adults of tomorrow.

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