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We must not let climate change become the next pandemic

By Chris Diaz | October 29th 2020
Chris Diaz, Conservationist and Trustee of Brand Africa.

2020 has quite been the unexpected year having taken us on twists and turns that would have been deemed preposterous if they were to be predicted a year ago.

Since January, every month has carried with it occurrences likely to change life as we know it whether that was growing diplomatic tensions that threatened to spill to wars, activism on social justice and certainly the Covid-19 pandemic.

The year for instance opened to wildfires that scorched Australia defying weather patterns that were characterised by periods of precipitation.

Once again, the events shone a light on the risks posed by continued spells of climate change and re-engaged calls on global actions to prevent a nearly assured catastrophe.

Nevertheless, the renewed focus on climate change would be softened by the declaration of a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the Covid-19 virus spread its tentacles around the world.

Since then, the pandemic has nearly masked all attention away from climate change as the majority of countries focus all their energies towards containing the virus.

Danger in plain sight

While the global health emergency may have warranted the shift of focus, attention on climate change must not be lost on anyone.

For instance, September was the hottest month on record worldwide while 2020 is in line to be among the top five hottest years on record.

According to a report by the United Nations (UN) published in November last year, and in my many opinion pieces, the world will be unable to prevent catastrophic climate change if there are no steep emission cuts by 2030.

While wild fires in Australia have long died down, 2020 has seen other perils including widespread flooding across continents and a continuation of wild fires in the United States.

For instance, fires in the US which hit out at the expansive State of California have for instance grown by an average 0.6 per cent annually while there has been a 5.7 per cent increase in areas burnt.

The developments have not only caused unfathomable damage to lives and properties around the world but have threatened to send global warming into overdrive.

As the world rightfully deploys the majority of its resources towards ending Covid-19 to include vaccine developments, this is also the time to curb climate change from evolving into the next global headache.

Circular economy

Domestically, Kenya must remain focused on investing in climate change mitigation measures as it makes it the biggest of global warming effects along with its regional and continental peers.

While the country may be operating on a reduced fiscal space characterized by falling tax revenues and a rising stock of public debt, private sector strongly driving the economy, the country must remain steadfast in ensuring a fair share of resources to climate change mitigation financing both from private, public and international sectors.

Moreover, investing in climate-friendly policies has proven not to be necessarily a monetary hustle.

For instance, Kenya has been making notable strides to support the use of cleaner energy sources for the benefit of not just the environment but also the cost of living.

At the heart of the policies has been the support for a circular economy which entails the optimum utilization of all resources including by-products/waste.

The Ministry of Energy has in its parts begun phasing out diesel-powered plants as it seeks to cut out fuel costs charges to customers.

The success of the policy will yield in not only cheaper electricity but a lower carbon footprint in the generation of power.

Other work plans also involve the establishment of a nuclear power plant by 2035 as the country eyes a greater contribution of renewable sources in electricity generation.

According to data from the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA), Kenya’s energy mix has been accelerating towards renewable energy like geothermal and hydro sources now contribute to 45 and 28 per cent of electricity generation by the source as at the end of 2019.

Moreover, proposals such as the establishment of a Sh218 billion, 1050 megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant in Lamu has run cold indicating a realisation of the lasting environmental damage attached to such power project.

Meanwhile, the government is not the only actor in the promotion of ecological sustainability.

In September, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), developed a plastic producer responsibility organisation with the aim of pushing manufacturers into conservation and sustainability programs.

The organisation is anchored on an extended producer responsibility (EPR) mechanism which extends a more solid plastic waste management.

Kenya however, has a long way to go in realising deeper environmental protection. Additional measures to promote care for the environment includes the granting of incentives to promote the uptake of environmentally friendly products and services.

While the government has established some incentives, the reversal of tax exemptions to the supply of items such as clean cooking stoves under the 2020 Finance Act among other actions need to be reviewed for the promotion of climate change mitigation.

In my view, the Government goals to grow national forest cover to 10 per cent, seems most important, but monthly actions to measure the success, milestones, and to support the youth with incentives to grow more trees through institutions and counties need to be measured.

The Paris Agreement

Internationally, the hope for climate change mitigation remains in the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement which presently features 200 countries.

The fruition of this arrangement would see the establishment of 1.5 degrees Celsius as the limit on global warming above pre-industrial levels.

Countries around the world have already begun setting targets with China for instance targeting carbon neutrality by the year 2060.

According to experts China’s carbon neutrality, if achieved, is likely to result in a curb of 0.2 to 0.3 degrees Celsius in global warming by the year 2021.

On its part, the European Union which comprises of 26 Countries has set its sights on net-zero emissions by 2050 and will see drastic steps implemented including a ban on the production of new diesel vehicles.

The success of the global action plan is however seen as one hinged on corporation including the support of the US.

US President Donald Trump may have pulled the plug on the global accord which will see the United States fall off the agreement on November 4.

The exit of the US from the coalition is however now hinged on the results of its next month general elections.

Democratic Presidential aspirant Joe Biden has, for instance, promised to re-join the Paris treaty in January next year if he takes office.

The US go slow on climate change mitigation efforts has drawn anger from peers such as China who accused Washington of having a low record on the environmental field in a report by its Foreign Ministry earlier in October.

At the heart of the divergence are energy and auto industries who have lobbied against regulations costs meant to protect health and the environment.

I salute companies such as Tesla have however proved that industries can transform into a modern carbon-free future without necessarily compromising on quality having built high performing electric powered motor vehicles.

The future is in our hands to take consistent actions and join both national and international programs to make a difference to our environment and for better of the future generation.

The writer is a Conservationist and Trustee of Brand Africa.


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