President has chance to show leadership on green energy clamour

This is not a doomsday warning, but the last five years have been the hottest on record on our little planet. CO2 emissions have reached an all time high. David Attenborough said this week at the Global Conference on Climate Action in Katowice, Poland, that climate change is humanity’s greatest threat in a thousand years and if not contained will lead to the collapse of civilisations and much of the natural world. Pope Francis has consistently insisted that ‘climate change is real and the result of human activity.’ 

Climate change is already a matter of life and death and it is the poor who suffer most from the changes. If you doubt just watch the world news and count the number of items concerning drought, hurricanes, bush fires, tsunamis, tornados and flooding. We are living in a unique moment in time as the World Bank boss said this week as the last generation to stop climate change and the first generation to live with it consequences.

Damage to the environment

Pope Francis in June invited the Chief Executives of BP, Mobil Exxon, Eni and many other oil companies to the Vatican and told them frankly that if they wanted to adhere to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and keep the global temperatures from rising to 2*C then they should immediately stop pursuing new oil reserves.

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They insisted that fossil fuels are essential in the war on poverty yet the Pope replied that global warming is as dangerous a threat to the poor as the lack of energy. In a memorable quote, Francis said ‘Civilisation requires energy but energy must not destroy civilisation.’ 

The extractives industries argue that they contribute significantly to the war on poverty but they also must admit that there is a poverty of ideas and creativity in their failure to adopt clean, alternative, green sources of energy.

Many however rightly point out that it is the richer northern part of the globe that has caused the damage to the environment and so the developing nations should be permitted to make their own mistakes as they claw their own way out of poverty. That is a valid enough point as just as many countries discover their resources and invest in infrastructure to utilise those extractives it is unfair to be told to leave them in the ground after others grew rich by extracting theirs. 

However, it is not quite as simple as that. There are new sources of energy that are clean, affordable and renewable. The South can lead in this respect. It is extremely encouraging to read that Mr Kenyatta went to Paris last month and advocated for green energy and a green economy. He repeated the commitment in Naivasha this week saying that by 2020 Kenya, will make the full transition to 100 per cent green, clean and renewable energy. 

Closed down

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This is not a pipe dream as the Lake Turkana Wind Power project which incidentally is Africa’s largest wind farm produces 310MW or 13 per cent of the 2,630MW currently available in the country. The Garissa Solar Plant has just added another 54MW to the national grid and the new geothermal plant in Naivasha will add more renewable and cleaner energy when it is complete. What was most interesting was that Mr Kenyatta announced that thermal energy will be phased out in the next two years also. That is exciting news but is it true?

Few will believe him, however, as long as he still permits the Lamu Coal Power Plant project to continue. By his own admission this project is not necessary as the country can produce enough clean and renewable energy. The China Power Global company, however, appear to have tied this dirty project to the funding of the SGR and have a stranglehold on the Jubilee administration with the promise of further funding and loans to fund the Lapsset project. 

What the Chinese are not saying is that in their country they have closed down hundreds of coal powered plants but are investing in dozens of new ones in this continent. Put another way, it is acceptable and profitable to pollute and endanger the lives of Africans but not their own citizens.

When profit and market forces become the driving and determining forces in decisions on energy and the environment then the life of the planet and its citizens is at great risk. 

Mr Kenyatta has an opportunity to show leadership and set global standards that would give him a great legacy, but Lamu is the litmus test.

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- Gabriel Dolan [email protected] @GabrielDolan1   

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