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Balance climate talks with commitments

Wednesday November 03 2021
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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during the opening ceremony of the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland on Monday. PHOTO | AFP

By GEORGE WACHIRA

COP26 Glasgow Summit is now in full swing with some doubts that it will deliver definitive actions to reduce carbon emissions to levels that are significant enough to slow down global warming. Assembled there are various stakeholders who include government leaders, energy producers and investors, energy capital providers, and above all, lobbyists concerned about the slow pace of halting climate change impacts.

While all have varying roles to play to achieve desired carbon targets and timelines, not all have aligned vested interests

I have closely followed climate debates since the Kyoto Protocols of the early 2000s, and my assessment is that we have come a long way in defining and accepting what exactly needs to be done to achieve carbon targets. However, political commitment by many nations to commit action and resources has remained the weakest link. National economic and political interests have often taken precedent.

It is important to acknowledge that over the past 20 years, remarkable achievement has been achieved in research, development and commercialisation of renewable energy supply and use technologies. This is however an effort that remains work in progress until critical mass is achieved to drive down renewable unit costs to achieve sustainability and affordability.

Statistics should guide the Forum where efforts should be directed to provide the most impactful climate solutions. The 2020 BP statistics indicate oil holding 31.2 percent energy mix share; coal at 27.2percent; natural gas 24.7percent and renewable energy 5.7percent.

Decisions reached at the Climate Forum should directionally, and within reasonable time, move as much energy towards renewable energy, or towards lower-carbon natural gas in case of oil coal and oil.

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Each one of these fossil fuels has vested interests in the form of producing and consuming countries, and investors. Balancing the political and economic interests of each player is what will generate debate and heat in the Forum, with each party trying to preserve economic value in their niche areas. Unless governments commit by way of policies, laws, and fiscal interventions, it becomes difficult to achieve desired carbon reductions.

Focusing on oil, statistics indicate that about 66 percent of oil goes into various modes of transportation with about 28 percent going into industrial uses. The main debate in respect of oil should therefore focus on the conversion of transportation from oil to renewable energy. The energy transition has wrongly over-emphasized the oil supply side (producing countries and companies ) while not sufficiently focusing on how to reduce oil demands through the uptake of renewable energy applications.

Countries should therefore focus on conversion of transportation ( road, railway, marine and air) energy demands from oil to renewable energy. This includes using electricity from renewable sources; hydrogen from low carbon technologies and biofuels certified for low carbon footprints. Specifically for transportation electrification, governments have a key role to play through policies, renewable energy supply infrastructure, public transport options, railway electrification, and fiscal incentives on renewable energy.

Achieving critical mass in renewable energy use in aviation and marine sectors will take much longer but technologies are already quite advanced in development. Specifically for marine, LNG ( liquefied natural gas ) is already replacing higher carbon fuel oil. The use of low carbon biofuels in aviation, and even electric batteries are works in progress.

Coming back to Kenya, our energy mix is already an exemplary high of about 70 percent renewable, with expectations of a higher mix when thermal generation PPAs are reviewed; and geothermal, wind and solar generation is increased. This is why our stellar energy mix can accommodate Kitui coal to replace imported fossil fuels ( coal and fuel oil ) currently used for industrial heating in heavy industries.

Electrification of road transport in Kenya will eventually happen as our vehicle import sources shift to electric vehicles. The government should therefore be ready to support the transition with facilitative policies and infrastructure. Further, it Is not too late to consider electrifying SGR to maximise the use of renewable electricity we have in plenty.

Finally, the COP26 Forum shall be judged successful by how many actionable climate plans are sufficiently funded.