Environmental activists demonstrate in Nairobi on June 12, 2019 against the construction of a coal power plant in Lamu.

| File | Nation Media Group

Kenya’s coal dreams in limbo as the world shifts to clean energy

What you need to know:

  • Kenya is expected post-Glasgow to join the global push for a just transition to clean energy.
  • President Uhuru Kenyatta has made the commitment to lead the campaign.

In Glasgow

Five of the world’s top 20 coal power-using countries were yesterday among 23 countries that made new commitments to phase out coal power, in a fresh development that could end Kenya’s ambitions to exploit its coal potential.

Energy ministers attending the COP26 summit here were joined by banks and organisations in a spirited effort led by the COP26 President Alok Sharma to move away from the single biggest contributor to climate change.

Ms Monica Juma, the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, attended discussions at the Energy Day of COP26, but it was not immediately clear whether she had committed Kenya to the global transition.

Kenya has harboured dreams to exploit its huge coal potential, especially at the Mui Basin in Kitui, and has in recent years attracted the wrath of environmental campaigners for embarking on plans to build a coal power plant in the coastal archipelago of Lamu.

Plans for the 981MW plant were backed by a Chinese-led consortium before judges sitting in an environmental court put the project in limbo in 2019 after ruling that the National Environment Management Authority and Amu Power had not carried out an adequate environmental impact assessment.

Since then, China has announced plans to end overseas coal financing, which now means all significant public international financing by Beijing for coal power has effectively ended.

While Kenya does not have a single coal power plant, it is expected post-Glasgow to join the global push for a just transition to clean energy. President Uhuru Kenyatta has made the commitment to lead the campaign, and on Tuesday told world leaders gathered here that “the energy sector accounts for three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions”, and that the critical challenge “is how to reduce carbon emissions from the energy sector while ensuring that all people have access to clean energy”.

Transition to clean energy

At least 23 nations made new commitments yesterday to phase out coal power, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Poland, South Korea, Egypt, Spain, Nepal, Singapore, Chile and Ukraine. This follows a collapse in the financing of coal, as developed nations have pledged new support to help developing countries make the transition to clean energy. 

At the same time, a group of 25 countries, including Italy, Canada, the United States and Denmark, together with public finance institutions, yesterday committed to end international public support for the fossil fuel energy sector by the end of 2022, and instead prioritise support for clean energy transition.

Among the financial institutions was the East African Development Bank, which is headquartered in Kampala, Uganda but has strategic interests across the region.

This is an important announcement for Kenyan investors and innovators in the clean energy sector as it could shift an estimated Sh1.9 trillion a year in public support out of fossil fuels and into the clean energy transition. Developing countries, including Ethiopia, Fiji and the Marshall Islands offered their support, signalling growing unity.

A statement from the United Nations hailed this as a “historic step”, noting that this was the first time a COP presidency had “put a bold end date on international fossil fuel finance”.

There has been a 76 per cent drop in the number of new coal plants planned globally over the last six years since the Paris Agreement was adopted, which means that the world has, since Paris, cancelled the equivalent of more than 1000GW of new coal plants.

Mr Sharma, the COP26 president, said: “From the start of the UK’s Presidency, we have been clear that COP26 must be the COP that consigns coal to history. With these ambitious commitments we are seeing today, the end of coal power is now within sight.”