It is common knowledge that Africa contributes the least to climate change yet suffers the most from the lip service the world is paying to environmental issues. From prolonged droughts to heavy rainfall characterized by floods to deadly cyclones that begun hitting Africa more recently – Africa continues to suffer the wrath of mother nature and it doesn’t help that the continent is ravaged by poverty so much so that when these calamities leave a devastating scene in its wake. There’s now enough evidence and research to prove that the coal industry is the single most responsible industry for global warming resulting in climate change. More recently 11 scientists warned that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency. Never mind that this warning is coming four years after the world came together in France and signed the Paris accord to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Africa and Kenya for that matter don’t have to follow the path developed nations took over 130 years ago to power their economies through coal plants. We already leapfrogged the telecommunications industry with cellphones without having to invest too much in landline cables. We did the same with banks – Safaricom’s M=Pesa was the first mobile banking technology that allowed financial inclusion for the unbanked mostly rural folks.
Mobile banking has since disrupted the banking sector so much that banks are not keen on building new physical branches anymore. Not to mention that every serious bank in Kenya now allows customers to transact via mobile money services.
There are enough examples that show we can leapfrog over-reliance on coal plants as a source of energy if we dare to think differently and to do this, we need the political buy-in. It’s the only reason we’re seeing impressive transition in Europe especially where governments are taking it upon themselves to transition to renewable energy.
To that end, countries that developed on the back of the coal industry are now shutting these coal plants. Germany is on its way to shutting down at least 38 coal power plants in the next two decades. Britain plans on shutting down all of its coal power plants by 2025.
Sweden just shuttered it’s last remaining coal plant two years ahead of their target joining the ranks of Belgium and Austria – the latter shutting its last coal plant in April this year and transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy. Even China and India that have been on the receiving end for being the world’s biggest polluters have begun impressive renewable energy programs. And despite President Trump’s administration’s support for the coal industry in the United States the fact is coal power plants are closing fast. Understandably, there are people in majority African governments who feel that these countries that are transitioning to renewable energy developed using coal power plants and that time is ripe for African nations including Kenya to use coal plants as a “cheaper” way of powering the continent.
Either out of ignorance or malice those who are keen to build new coal plants on the continent argue that if it will take Germany two decades to shut down their coal plants we might as well put up our own and run it for 20years then shut it when they do.
This school of thinking is also backed by that argument that we harm the earth the least anyway, so why not build our economies on coal?
Firstly, this reasoning ignores the fact that whether we are the least producers of greenhouse gases (GHG), we are suffering heavily for it in terms of extreme weather conditions.
Secondly, those having this kind of thinking forget that Africa and indeed Kenya has the majority of its population living in poverty and therefore suffer more compared to people in richer nations facing similar or even worse weather conditions. Never mind that the mantra that coal is cheap has been debunked already but I digress. People in government with this kind of thinking undermine our ability to leapfrog.
Instead of calling communities that want sustainable development anti-development, they should push developed countries that are still using coal power plants to consider investing in renewable energy projects that will help mitigate climate change and protect our poor communities from the distressing impacts of climate change.
Abiud Onyach Natural Justice Communications Officer, via email.