Consider climate change while setting priorities


A Kenya Forest Service official uses a log-marking hammer to stamp freshly cut pine logs with information validating their purchase and source before they can be transported from a plantation in Sabatia forest in Eldama Ravine town, Baringo County on August 2, 2023. 

Photo credit: Tony Karumba| AFP

Since the Industrial Revolution, the burning of coal and other fossil fuels to power factories and engines has led to voluminous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Consequently, this is one of the primary reasons cited for climate change.

Kenya is contributing to the change too. With the logging ban lifted, there will possibly be an acceleration in the transfer of carbon from forest to the atmosphere and the impacts will not go unnoticed: There are heat waves in three continents: A record heatwave in China, scorching temperatures in parts of Europe and the highest regional temperatures in the United States. Glaciers and icecaps are melting at record levels as floods engulf northern India.

These activities have a human and economic impact. Fuel is a hot topic but the next generation might go to war over water; hence the need for regional and global action to tackle the climate crisis.

Net zero carbon status

Some corporates, such as the airline industry, have pledged to achieve net zero carbon status by 2050. Net zero is a pledge to not increase the carbon in the atmosphere—by decreasing carbon emissions to zero or cancelling them out by purchasing carbon offsets.

Carbon offset is where a corporate must offset every tonne of carbon released into the atmosphere by taking a tonne of carbon out.

But that doesn’t mean companies keep polluting and buying offsets by incentivising the neediest, least-polluting nations to cut carbon emissions as compensation instead of decarbonising. Firms are selling offsets, funding projects such as restoring forests and replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. As more companies and countries make net zero pledges, the demand for offsets is booming.

Carbon credits and carbon trading are terms that are taking centre stage in economic conversations, too. In 2021, the global carbon markets transacted $850 billion. Which raises the question: Do they really work? Are carbon offset registries, which validate carbon savings accountable to anyone?

Reputation laundromat

There are effective offsets. However, the carbon offset market could be turned by major corporates and nations into a reputation laundromat, making climate change even worse by giving an artificial impression of progress whilst robbing us of time. We have an emergency and time is a precious resource.

Africa is doing well where carbon emissions are concerned, accounting for 3.9 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry in 2021. It is time we carefully allocated our financial and natural resources to the most pressing needs.

For Kenya, that would be agriculture. The most pressing needs at the moment are food security, lowering the cost of living, reducing imports and increasing the potential of exports while attracting foreign direct investment to stabilise the shilling.

The climate is the most critical economic parameter. In any other financial game, there are winners and losers; however, this is a game which we clearly are not winning.

Mr Ritesh is a business and financial analyst. [email protected].