Kenya must learn from SA’s mistakes and spurn the coal

Ideas

Kenya must learn from SA’s mistakes and spurn the coal

Here at home we have done all the wrong things when it comes to energy security. The East Africans can still choose paradise

Executive editor: opinions and analysis

The island town of a Lamu, on the northeastern coast of Kenya, is something out of a storybook with its quaint white buildings that have been preserved for more than 500 years. Coconut and mango plantations decorate the white sandy beaches. Its medieval stone town is home to museums and forts that are two centuries old and about three dozen mosques. Those lucky enough to have visited the Unesco World Heritage site describe Lamu as a hypnotic step back in time, where the donkey is the dominant mode of transport and customs are preserved.

So when the Kenyan government, acting in concert with Chinese investors, decided to build a $2bn coal-fired power plant in the Lamu archipelago, it sparked global outrage. DeCOALonize, a pressure group, took the Kenyan National Environment Management Authority to court to stop the construction. It argued that a coal-fired plant would have an adverse impact on the environment, and destroy farmland and the local fishing industry. A judicial tribunal agreed, finding that the environmental authority had failed to inform the public about the likely health effects of the effluence emitted from a coal-fired power plant, which it said could trigger breathing difficulties, premature deaths and result in acid rain that could poison the soil and kill fish. It ordered that a new environmental impact assessment be undertaken and that there be adequate public participation in that process.

What is strange in this story is that Kenya does not need a coal-fired power station. The east African nation produces surplus electrical power, 36% of which is obtained from hydroelectric schemes, 31% from diesel and 29% geothermal, plus a bit of wind-generated power. In a continent where constant, reliable power is a luxury reserved for the privileged few, why would a country that produces clean energy in abundance opt to risk the environmental sanctity of a World Heritage site for a vanity project that would have increased its greenhouse gas emissions by 700%?..

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