Clean energy will power up communities facing climate disaster

clean energy

The energy poverty faced by more than 600 million people worldwide–including millions in Kenya

Photo credit: Shutterstock

From rural villages to refugee camps, climate change is a growing threat to families’ hopes for a brighter future. Ironically, while global demand for fossil fuels has caused this crisis, the communities at greatest risk are those with little or no access to energy.

The energy poverty faced by more than 600 million people worldwide–including millions in Kenya, despite recent progress–only heightens the challenge ahead.

Clean and affordable power is an important tool to boost harvests, energise health centres and power the communications equipment that can give families warning of floods and heatwaves. It is an essential foundation for resilience and sustainable development. Kenya and the world must, therefore, put energy access at the heart of our shared response to the climate crisis if we are to deliver true climate justice.

Those in greatest danger from the crisis include farmers facing shifting weather patterns and a rise in flooding, extreme heat and other climate threats. Scientists from the Kenya Meteorological Department report that the three-year drought gripping East Africa was made 100 times more likely by climate change. When such disasters become common, rural families working towards a better life are pushed back into poverty.

Clean energy technologies can help these families adapt.

There’s no doubt that proven solutions for off-grid communities already exist. When 1,200 solar water pump owners in Kenya and neighbouring countries were surveyed by energy experts Efficiency for Access, 90 per cent said the device had increased their income with many able to increase the area of land they could cultivate or the number of harvests they could bring in.

Refugees will also bear the brunt of climate chaos–with their numbers set to grow due to changing climate. Climate shocks are already forcing people to flee their homes: Since 2008, an average of 21.5 million a year have been displaced by hazards such as floods, storms, wildfires and heatwaves.

Few people living in refugee camps have access to safe affordable energy. But refugee entrepreneurs are changing this picture, bringing affordable refrigeration to displaced people in refugee camps, hence supporting small businesses and health clinics. Stronger healthcare will be essential in the years ahead. Globally, climate change has increased the risk posed by nearly 60 per cent of all known diseases, including malaria, Zika and dengue.

But how can we ensure these innovations, and others like them, reach even more communities? First, it is vital that rich countries finally come good on their promise to provide $100 billion a year of climate finance to poorer nations. A large amount of this should support access to clean energy.

But action at a national level is needed too. Proven solutions exist but the challenge is making them affordable and available where they are needed most. Tax relief, subsidies for product sellers and buyers and new public-private partnerships will all help. So, too, will help customers to get finance to pay for clean energy technologies and services–as well as building the workforce to supply them.

The Africa Climate Summit that was held in Nairobi recently has focused minds on the climate threats ahead. Now it is vital that funders and politicians show they are serious about helping vulnerable communities to prepare for climate dangers. Increased funding and smart new policies are urgently needed.

The tools to protect communities already exist, and are profiled in Gogla’s upcoming report, “Powering Climate Adaptation: The Critical Role of Off-Grid Solar Technologies''. And to ensure such solutions reach as many families as possible, Gogla–along with Solar Freeze and many other organisations–are backing Power Up, a campaign supporting energy access for those in greatest danger from the climate crisis.

At a pivotal moment in climate negotiations, that is sparking the spread of clean energy, which is essential for climate justice in Kenya and beyond.

Mr Tonui is the head of policy and regional strategy at Global Off-Grid Lighting Alliance (Gogla). @tonuipk