What coal mining and oil exploration means to Kenya’s climate change efforts

By Anne Macharia

Local and international environmentalists opposed to the government’s plans for building a 1,050 MW coal-fired electricity plant in Lamu have embarked on a national campaign to push the government to shelve the plan.

The Kenyan government says the coal project will bridge the country’s energy gaps but the environmentalists who have since rolled up a campaign dubbed “#deCOALonize Kenya” argue that the country has better energy options.

The campaign aims at providing information to local communities, policy makers, academics and the civil society on alternatives to coal for embracing clean energy in the country.

As a matter of fact, Kenya is sun, wind and geothermally endowed-owing to the fact that it experiences sunshine throughout the year and has so far the continent’s largest geothermal and wind power projects. With these abundant renewable energy options, many do not understand why the government has picked on coal to supplement its energy needs.

Moreover, Kenya’s climate policy focuses on promoting low-carbon development yet, on the other hand, the current government has prioritized mining and oil exploration and is eyeing the petrodollars to grow the economy.

While Kenya is hoping that fossil fuel exploitation will create jobs and wealth commentators point out that the move could reverse the country’s environmental gains. The country currently contributes less than 0.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but could become a big emitter should it proceed with the fossil fuel projects.

Coal has also been found in Kitui, and Oil has been discovered in Turkana-where British company Tullow Oil has sunk seven oil wells – Nyanza region around Lake Victoria among other regions in the country.

The government has gone ahead to enact a mining Bill and dedicated a new ministry to the sector.

Kenya is also one of the cleanest energy countries in the world: geothermal supplies 51 percent of Kenya’s power needs; hydro-electricity, which is slightly unreliable due to drought contributes over 39 per cent; and imported coal, gas, and oil 13 percent while wind power one per cent.

“We have found ourselves in a catch-22 situation, where we have discovered large resources of fossil energy, but at the same time, the global position is that use of fossil fuels must be reduced. So as we go to exploit (them), we are going to find a lot of resistance,” said Wilbur Ottichilo, Emuhaya Constituency legislator and supporter of the climate change Bill.

He noted that the fossil fuel exploitations contradicts the country’s policy of going green. Investments in coal and oil in Kenya has influenced policies in the country that the government has created a ministry in charge of mining and petroleum besides enacting several laws around mining.

“Our policy and law are focusing on low-carbon strategy, meaning we want to go more towards renewable energy rather than fossil fuels for our development,” said the legislator.


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