7 July 2009: Kenyan school innovating on biogas

The International Climate Challenge brings together young people from around the world for online discussions and exchanges of information about how to control climate change. There are also actual meetings and, last week, I attended one in London. There were impressive stands from schools in England together with many knowledgeable and determined young people. There was also a stand on the climate work of Nakuru Boys High School. The pupils and teacher (Erick Ngok) have designed, and are now promoting, a cooker that is fuelled by cow dung, of which Kenya has no shortage.

Kenya has no fossil fuels. Most of its energy comes from biomass (see Kenya – climate and energy statistics), but this very often comes from cutting down trees, which is not good for the climate or for the future of Kenya. Over half its installed electricity generating capacity is large-scale hydro, with another third coming from oil. In addition, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is supporting the use of geothermal energy in the Rift Valley and this already produces 14% of Kenya’s electricity.

However, Kenya does not get any electricity from solar technologies, despite being right on the equator. The reason is essentially the cost of installation. Sunlight is free and, in Africa, is certainly plentiful. However, solar photovoltaic panels or Concentrated Solar Power plants (which use mirrors to boil water and then use the steam to generate electricity) are not yet cheap, although the costs are falling. Therefore, developed nations must pay for developing countries to install renewable technologies – for humanitarian as well as climate reasons. And we must urgently reduce our own emissions. If we don’t, millions of people in Africa and other developing countries will face more hunger, more extreme weather and more disease. As a recent Oxfam report says (see Millions face climate-related hunger as seasons shift and change), failure by developed nations to reduce their emissions could reverse the progress of the last 50 years in tackling poverty.

When they meet in Italy tomorrow, the G8 leaders must make substantial progress on this, not least to meet past promises and commitments on aid. Barack Obama is chairing a discussion on climate change and Gordon Brown, despite his failings on climate policy in the UK, has a good record on Africa and developmental issues. Let’s hope that the other G8 members follow the Obama lead on climate and the Brown lead on development.

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