US President-elect Joe Biden's entry into the White House signals a major shift in the country's global role in combating climate change.
Biden has promised to revoke US’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change, which President Donald Trump signed last year. The US joined Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries that have not adopted the global accord.
This left the rest of the world to devise ways of effectively addressing climate change, one of the most pressing challenges of this century.
Trump's predecessor Barack Obama joined 190 other world leaders, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, in ratifying the agreement on December 12, 2015 in France.
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The agreement, which was signed during the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) – parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – is aimed at combating climate change and accelerate the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future.
Biden's entry now signals a shift of how the US, one of the top five leading polluters in the world, will deal with climate change. The US and China, the world’s two largest carbon emitters, have recently been leading negotiations of the Paris “rule book” that outlines transparency and reporting rules.
Kenya and Africa stand to benefit from the incoming US president because being a developing country, it has demonstrated leadership on climate action, both at the international, national and sub-national levels. Kenya was the first country in Africa to enact a robust climate change law, in addition to a raft of other policies to transform the economy to be low-carbon and climate-resilient.
It has submitted an ambitious Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), a blueprint of how it intends to tackle climate change as its contribution to the Paris Agreement. The blueprint includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 and building the resilience of crucial industries such as agriculture to cope with climate change impacts such as droughts.
Kenya also has impressive capacity to generate electricity from clean and renewable technologies such as wind in Lake Turkana wind power plant, the largest in Africa, geothermal in Olkaria, also the largest in Africa, and Garissa solar power plant.
All the 47 counties have also developed innovative initiatives such as the County Adaptation Fund to strengthen resilience to climate impacts such as drought insurance schemes and climate-smart agriculture.
But experts say these opportunities can be harnessed through research, innovation and visionary leadership.
Richard Munang, United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) Africa climate change coordinator, says there is an interconnection between environmental factors, climate change and the locust invasion in Kenya.
“During quiet periods, known as recession, desert locusts are usually restricted to the semi-arid and arid deserts of Africa, the Near East and South-West Asia that receive less than 200mm of rain annually. In normal conditions, locust numbers decrease either by natural mortality or through migration,” Munang says.
Mithika Mwenda, executive director of Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), says the US’ participation in the Paris Agreement and in leading the global effort to address the climate crisis was vital.
“At the top of the list is the US’ historical responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions, which are the main drivers of global warming. The US is a significant player in the push back against catastrophic climate change and must take leadership in emission reductions,” says Mwenda.
As Obama’s vice president, Biden oversaw the Recovery Act, the largest single investment in clean energy in US history. The Obama-Biden administration placed historic limits on carbon pollution, doubled fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, unleashed the potential of renewable, clean energy, and rallied the world to achieve the groundbreaking Paris climate accord.
Once sworn in as president on January 20, Biden has outlined a bold plan called Clean Energy Revolution to address this grave threat and lead the world in addressing the climate emergency.
Biden has launched a framework dubbed the Green New Deal aimed at meeting the climate challenges facing the world.
The plan says the US urgently needs to embrace greater ambition on an epic scale to meet the scope of climate change, noting that this is important as the environment and economy are completely and totally connected.
“We can lead America to become the world’s clean energy superpower. We can export our clean-energy technology across the globe and create high-quality, middle-class jobs here at home,” Biden said.