In the just concluded Africa Energy Leader Summit on Climate Change, Energy and Energy Finance in Ethiopia, there were rigorous discussions from delegates on why Africa needs to put emphasis on a just energy transition.
What is a just transition? A just transition is a guide that sets out how investors can pursue the goal to create a better, safer, more sustainable future. This mechanism ensures that workers and community rights are safeguarded as they rise to meet the climate challenge. The ambition of a just transition was included as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement in which Kenya and many African governments are signatory to.
The rationale of embedding a just transition in our energy plans is a big responsibility of both the African governments and the corporations to actualise. For governments and the political leadership, a just transition presents an opportunity to solve complex challenges at once: the climate emergency, the ever growing inequality and social exclusion.
For investors and corporations, a just transition needs to be made a core part of their business models. Their investment plans should have a deliberate exposure to critical social and environmental dimensions such as employment impacts, sustainability and ecological considerations.
Social justice being at the core of the just transition, corporations could consider pursuing dialogues with workers and other key stakeholders as part of this journey. Integrating their voices remains an important aspect of their beliefs and policies.
But there are potential threats to the just transition ambition: The ongoing contradiction between the plans to explore and expand fossil fuels sources such as coal, oil and gas, with the globally agreed climate targets that we have set of limiting global warming to less than 1.5 degrees celsius.
Scientific evidence has consistently called for a halt to the fossil fuel proliferation due to debilitating impacts they have on the climate, livelihoods, public health and the environment. The ambition is to ensure that countries become carbon neutral by phasing out fossil fuels.
Countries have committed throught the nationally determined contribution (NDC) in order to set the right momentum for this to be realised. This is the time for all the environmental ministers in African countries to scale up this ambition and take action.
This has to be deliberate in the sense that deep conversations with stakeholders has to be undertaken, consesus built and resources mobilised to actualise this. Legislations have to be drafted, policies made and executed in a timely manner but most importantly, leadership and political will must be upheld to actualise this.
Globally, most countries are phasing out coal projects. This is based on the consensus that coal is carbon intensive and a major contributor to the current climate crisis. Coal-fired power plants are being replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind and solar in order to considerably reduce the green house gas emissions. Countries have drafted a phase-out plans to achieve this and have shut down numerous coal-fired power plants.
Africa has a unique opportunity to create its own path for a greener and healthier environment and society. It is regressive for Kenya to be thinking of investing in a coal power plant in Lamu and coal mining activities in Kitui at a time when the world is transitioning to cleaner, just and better energy systems. Kenya needs to halt such ambitions. This will play a bigger part in meeting the Paris Agreement targets.
Without a doubt, the potential for renewable energy exists in Kenya and across the African continent. What is needed is to incentivise its production, implement renewable energy laws, policies and regulations and decentralise the energy systems to address the energy poverty.
This forms part of the just transition. This comes with numerous benefits especially protecting the citizens and the environment against adverse climate impacts. Investing in renewable energy potential will help challenge the existing injustices perpetuated by fossil fuel industries..
Since Kenya is among the largest producers of renewable energy in the continent, notably from wind, geothermal and solar,it bears the responsibility to lead from the front in setting up an action plan for a just transition. Practically and as part of the just transition journey, governments should establish just transition funds.
Such resources are important in order to support activities that address the climate action and related employment risks from decarbonisation, and cushions workers, vulnerable communities, regions and industry sectors.
However, the government cannot do this alone. Relevant multilateral, regional organisations and financial institutions should phase out their support of fossil fuels and invest more of their resources in clean, sustainable renewable energy sources. Such a transition should not leave the communities, workers and citizens behind.
Njehu is Senior Political Advisor, Greenpeace Africa