We must walk the talk on climate change or perish

President William Ruto

President William Ruto briefs the media after holding Bilateral talks with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at State House on May 18, 2023.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

Last year, in Berlin, Kenyan athletics great Eliud Kipchoge broke the World Marathon Record by clocking two hours, one minute and nine seconds, improving his previous best time by 30 seconds.

Kipchoge’s immense success, handing him legendary status not only in Kenya but globally, is a useful lesson for us involved in the climate challenge. It’s a winning strategy rooted in the science of running; rooted in 120 miles of hard work every week.

This may yet be another year when we break less positive records as temperatures keep on rising and emissions soar. But we are determined that, together with partners and other governments, we will run faster to tackle the climate crisis. That means respect for the latest science and a joint effort of all governments and citizens to act on the implications. 

In March, the world’s top climate experts and governments signed off the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change, and the message was blunt. Humans have permanently changed the planet. Warming is killing people, destroying nature and making us poorer. 

African countries are among those bearing the brunt of the damage yet they have contributed the least to its creation. The International Energy Agency (IEA) shows Africa accounts for less than three per cent of the world’s energy-related carbon dioxide. And an outrageous number of 600 million Africans still do not have access to electricity.

The global community needs to, together, find solutions to the climate challenge that we all face with varying degrees of impact.

On his recent visit to Kenya, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany Olaf Scholz and I held talks on ways to address the climate crisis. Through the German-Kenya Climate and Energy Partnership, our two countries have committed to deepening collaboration in climate-resilient development and renewable energy, including the production of green hydrogen and sustainable agriculture.

Short of limiting warming

We are far short of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius or even 2 degrees Celsius—the goal of the Paris Agreement. The climate crisis will not solve itself. We need to peak global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at the latest before 2025 and reduce them by not less than 43 per cent by 2030. This must be the year for that transformation and COP28, the moment to accelerate the energy transition, supercharge the growth of renewables and commit to phasing out all fossil fuels, starting with coal. 

Kenya is on track to deliver this with 92 per cent of its power now from clean sources and a commitment to a 100 per cent clean electricity network by 2030.

In Germany, renewables produced 46 per cent of electricity last year and the government is committed to raising that to 80 per cent by 2030. Critically, these commitments will not only ensure clean power and a safer environment but also create jobs, attract investment and make economies more secure, and protected from volatile oil and gas prices.

But it’s important that we run this race as a team—not alone. The IEA says the ratio of clean-to-dirty energy investments must shift from 1.5:1 today to 9:1 by 2030. With strong partnerships between Africa, Europe and the global community at large, the abundant resources of Kenya and our continent can make a significant contribution to decarbonisation and the road to Net Zero. We can unlock climate finance and investment that can harness our potential for green economic growth.

But to do this we need to fix the international financial system, which is inadequate in dealing fairly with multifaceted global crises, including recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, the climate emergency and the debt crisis in the Global South.

The Paris summit in June, on a new global financial pact, provides an opportunity for Europe to galvanise support towards reforms of the international financial system. This system must recognise our potential and ensure a win-win outcome, providing access to affordable, adequate and sustainable financing that is delivered in a timely manner.

Just as we slow emissions, so we need to prepare our people, housing, agriculture and food systems for rising temperatures and extreme weather events. Meeting the 2021 COP26 commitment to double global adaptation finance by 2025 remains fundamental to protecting people and nature. The IPCC Synthesis report is clear: Climate change and insufficient adaptation and mitigation efforts are eating up development gains and economic stability.

And yet, adaptation to climate change has clear limits. The consequences already threaten millions of lives. But as the IPCC clearly states, if we reduce GHG emissions by 43 per cent this decade and stabilise global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, this gives us the best chance to keep climate impacts at a scale humans can still handle. 

Kenya's climate summit in September will provide a key opportunity to showcase the continent's commitment, potential and opportunities to deal with the climate crisis.

We need all governments to step up and agree to phase out unabated fossil fuels. We need financial reforms which make our financial institutions and systems fit for purpose. And we need to take climate action seriously. 

In the words of Eliud Kipchoge, we need to “walk your talk”.

Dr Ruto, PhD, is the President of the Republic of Kenya.