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Time for Africa to act decisively to stem climate change threats

Rusted wash trough and taps. [iStockphoto]

As the world gears up for the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), we are alive to the layered crises that the planet is facing, necessitating urgent, grand action. Nowhere in the world is this more apparent than in Africa. 

In this continent and Kenya, to be specific, the climate crisis is manifesting itself in myriad interconnected ways. We are witnesses to failure of rains, threatening our food security and accentuating our energy fragility. This layers on an economy emerging from the ravages of Covid-19, and effects of historical development deficit in many Global South countries.

Significantly, there is growing realisation that the world must act quickly, with resolve and in quantum to avert irreversible damage to itself and humanity. This reality was pronounced loudly in Glasgow at COP26 and sparked a global discourse on energy transition.

Since then, a number of energy security and transition conferences have been held in major capitals of the world, including the recently concluded Sustainable Energy Conference convened by Kenya’s Ministry of Energy and Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen). Happening in the midst of a raging war between Ukraine and Russia, these discussions, unfortunately, take a certain accent that does not reflect the African reality in its totality. 

According to the International Energy Agency, more than 800 million Africans, 75 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, have no access to electricity. In some countries, this translates to less than 5 per cent connectivity.  Furthermore, few countries have developed their renewable resources. 

Fortunately, Kenya has made great strides in the past few years. The government has made significant progress over the last decade in transitioning to renewable energy sources for electricity generation.  As a leader in renewable energy today, we stand at more than 75 per cent of green installed capacity, with a 92 per cent daily green dispatch.

Our national target is to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy use by 2030. In spite of this progress, we must not lose sight of how far our commitment must go to meet the needs of all Kenyans. It is this realisation that is guiding our efforts to maintain this leadership, and to offer lessons to other countries in this regard.

As a country, we made a deliberate decision to diversify our sources of electricity, starting with sustained investment in geothermal energy 40 years ago. This complements our hydros, and more recently expanding wind, in providing a base load of clean, reliable and dependable sources of electricity, that is set to power our nation into the next face of industrialisation and global competitiveness.  

Our goal remains universal access to electricity for all Kenyans. Towards this ambition, we have expanded access from below 30 per cent to 75 per cent in just under 10 years, underscoring our commitment to investing in energy solutions that benefit all Kenyans. Notably, the number of households connected to electricity increased from 2.3 million in 2013 to 8.6 million in 2022. The government remains committed to ensuring that every home and business has access to low cost electricity.

The completion of KenGen’s 86MW Olkaria I AU 6 geothermal plant further adds to our already commanding power generation output. Geothermal represents a big component in Kenya’s progress towards 100 per cent utilisation of renewable energy by the year 2030 – a target that will be met if we continue this development trajectory. Geothermal is a big win for Kenya on climate action as it is a renewable source of energy. It is also consistent with our country’s Least Cost Power Development Plan (LCPDP), focused on sustainable supply of renewable energy in support of the Government’s Big Four Agenda.

Considering that the world is facing an unprecedented climate crisis, we need to take bold action now if we are to tackle it successfully. We cannot afford to delay further because time is running out.

The scale of action envisaged is huge and the urgency of time is upon us. It is, therefore, critical that the African voice finds space, not only in Africa, but everywhere in the world to articulate the challenges as perceived from our end.

The transition is different for each country and these specificities must guide discussions, policy decisions and programmes. As a commitment to our leadership in this regard, the Ministry of Energy will mount the Sustainable Energy Conference as an annual signature event to review the state of play for Kenya and Africa, in the global context.

-Ms Juma is the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Energy. [email protected]