LETTERS: The coal debate should now be revisited


Activists protest against the construction of a coal power plant in Lamu last year. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL

At a recent UK-Africa summit held in London, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his opening speech made a remarkable charm offensive commitment on what he envisages as the role of the UK in shaping the future of energy landscape in Africa.

The British government will no longer provide any new direct official development assistance, investment, export credit or trade promotion for thermal coal mining or coal power plants overseas.

He simply alluded to the fact that no penny of UK taxpayers’ money will be directly invested in digging up coal or burning it for electricity, but instead they are committed to supporting the transition to low and zero-carbon alternatives.

This is a strong message to the proponents of the dirty outdated fossil fuels like coal that are being propagated in Africa. The consequences of such investments are dire and cannot be overstated.

The irony of this commitment however lies in the continuation of the leading British banks who continue to offer financial assistance through corporate loans to coal investor firms.

This support has led to mega-mine expansion and a proliferation of massive coal mines in many countries outside Britain.

The role played in financing these projects is squarely part of the problem in driving the world into the climate emergency currently being experienced.

The global financial system is backing projects that will eventually raise the temperature of the planet to more than 4 degrees, that is far above the limit ambition set in the Paris agreement.

In the recent past, a few financial institutions in Britain have made public commitments to support the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

More needs to be done beyond the declarations and failed promises. They need to report on what they have achieved in reducing greenhouse gas emissions majorly from the clients they finance.

The main decision they ought to implement, as alluded to by the British premier is to cease providing financial support for new coal-fired power plants around the world.

The capital owners need a fresh drive, an elaborate plan they can execute with their clients who have previously benefited from such support.

This new focus should be on supporting more carbon efficient projects as part of the sustainability drive, boosting clean and modern technologies that would be a pathway to achieving the 1.5 degrees commitment under the Paris agreement.

Such an ambition however complex it may sound, is currently supported by new tools and methodologies that would make it easy to achieve through science.

The political leadership exhibited by the British premier in his speech should inspire leaders on the African continent to aspire for a carbon free future.

The controversial proposed Lamu coal-fired power plant is such a bad idea to put our money into or even execute. The world is on an energy transition trajectory and Kenya is one of the leading producers of renewable energy with enormous untapped potential in Geothermal, solar, thermal and wind. We cannot shy away from incentivising the production of renewable energy producers - that is where sustainability and the future lies.

As we head to the COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland this year, all eyes will be on countries commitment to clean up their domestic energy industry as an adherence to the commitments made under the Paris Agreement.

Fredrick Njehu senior policy advisor, Greenpeace Africa.