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Climate activists criticise Kenya's coal mining plans

Thursday March 14 2019


Climate activists in Nairobi - on June 5, 2018 - oppose the government's plan to set up a coal plant in Lamu County. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Kenya is under sharp focus at the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) Assembly over flouting of climate change mitigation policies as it hosts the One Planet Summit in Nairobi today.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron could face protests by civil society groups, which accuse Kenya of double standards in pursuing policies that go against climate change mitigation efforts.

The groups, under the umbrella of Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), a continental coalition of non-governmental organisations, pointed out that while Kenya has been trumpeting its successful ban on single-use plastics, it is at the same time speeding up plans to mine coal in Kitui County and build a coal-fired power plant in Lamu County.


PACJA Executive Director Mithika Mwenda said the projects will have even worse effects on the environment than plastics.

“This is a huge contradiction. Kenya should abandon the coal mining project because that’s not good for a country that wants to be an African example in promoting climate change mitigation,” Mr Mwenda said on Wednesday.


He said Kenya has massive renewable energy sources, including geothermal, wind and solar, and does not need to exploit fossil fuels that are harmful to both humans and the environment.

Speaking at a high-level pre-summit event attended by delegates from more than 120 countries, including representatives from Unep, the African Union, the African Development Bank, universities and business leaders, Mr Mwenda said they will raise their grievances at the main summit.


He said exploiting coal contravenes the UN Sustainable Development goals, the African Union Agenda on energy, multilateral environmental agreements and the Paris Declaration, to which Kenya is a signatory.

As the headquarters of Unep, he said, Kenya must demonstrate commitment to scaling up environmental protection and providing good leadership to other African countries.

“Kenya is the leading African country in geothermal power production and the ninth in the world. It is also blessed with enormous solar and wind power potential. Pursuing coal mining reflects some hypocrisy on part of the government,” he said.

He cited South Africa, which had started abandoning coal mining despite the huge job losses, saying Kenya and other countries must make painful decisions and transition to green energy to save the environment.


The PACJA is the largest alliance of civil society organisations, with more than 1,000 members drawn from 45 countries.

The civil society groups said they will denounce the One Planet Summit, where President Kenyatta will launch the call to action to prevent, halt and reverse the loss of forests in Africa, as a protest to Kenya’s contradictory policies.

Kenya is the first African country to host the One Planet Summit, launched by President Macron in December 2017.

The summit will showcase Africa’s strengths as a vibrant place for climate innovation and investments, with advances in sustainable business models, climate-smart agriculture, green bonds, and renewable energy.


Mr Somorin Olufunso, regional principal officer for the Climate Change and Green Growth Programme at the African Development Bank, said environmental challenges cut across borders, and leaders should formulate common positions to address the challenges.

Mr Jacob Olonde, the director of the Nairobi-based Environment and Climate Change Institute, said the One Planet Summit will not achieve much because it is business-driven since businesses focus more on profits than on environmental conservation.

He said the resolutions made at the summit will be difficult to implement because the need to protect the environment has been eclipsed by the greed for money.

No government officials attended the meeting, but Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko had said earlier that adopting cutting-edge technologies and innovations is key to tackling environmental challenges.