With about one billion people, Africa contributes very little to cause the climate problem but its people are among the most seriously harmed. The US, which accounts for nearly a third of greenhouse gas emissions now causing climate change, should lead efforts to heal the Planet.
As a Kenyan, I was delighted to extend our heartfelt welcome to you on your inaugural visit to Kenya as the President of the United States.
Through your Kenyan father, you share a strong connection with Kenya, and we have watched with pride as you have risen to the highest office in the most powerful nation in the world.
Being a ‘son of Kenya’, Kenyans understandably looked forward to your visit with a carnival spirit.
A Kenyan climate activist myself, I’ve followed closely your efforts in the fight against climate change. I have seen your visit as a great opportunity to usher in a new era of enlightened partnership between Kenya and the US, in which our people’s aspirations can be fully realised.
Mr President, Africa is bearing the burden of the climate challenge, one not of its making. With around a billion people, the whole continent contributes less than four per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions. For their part, Kenyans each year emit less than one tonne per person.
Africa may have contributed very little to cause the climate problem but its people are among those most seriously harmed. We are already seeing the impacts on the economy, livelihoods and crops, as well as water supplies and nature, while scientists warn that worse lies ahead with increased drought.
Yet the US, with only about five per cent of the world’s population, accounts for nearly a third of the historical greenhouse gas emissions now causing climate change. Americans emit around 20 tonnes per person each year - more than 20 times the average Kenyan.
It is these excessive emissions by the US and other rich nations that have caused climate change.
But Kenya is not just sitting on its hands. It is in fact leading in the international response against the problem. It’s investing in renewable energy and demonstrating African countries do not need to be slaves to fossil fuels as they plot their future development out of poverty.
A successful deal in Paris later this year will require all countries to contribute to the global effort to tackle climate change. The Paris agreement is expected to include national contributions by all countries on emissions reductions, adaptation actions and the required support by wealthy countries to poorer developing countries.
The US pledged to cut its emissions by 26-28 per cent below their 2005 levels by 2030. This may sound significant but it is unfortunately a small reduction compared to the levels required by science. Kenya by contrast pledged to reduce its emissions by 30 per cent below its current business as usual trajectory by 2030, subject to international support.
Kenya also announced a detailed programme of action for adaptation to enhance its resilience to climate change impacts. It is arresting that even poorer African countries are putting forward more ambitious pledges.
Fortunately, Kenya is committed to doing its part. We - and the rest of Africa - have an abundance of renewable energy resources below our feet and above our heads, including geothermal, wind, solar and hydro energy. But we need financial and technological support from richer countries so we can leapfrog a dirty energy development path and become low-carbon leaders.
Given that the impacts of climate change are already being experienced to a degree that is beyond Kenya’s capacity to respond effectively on its own, we call on the US and other developed countries to commit to provide the support we need to address the inevitable impacts on our people.
It’s worth bearing in mind that at present, the energy consumption of the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa, is roughly equivalent to that of New York State. It is therefore critical that the US joins hands with the good people of Kenya and helps to deliver the actions that Kenya has pledged to fight this menace.
Mr President, we recognise your efforts in helping to shift the US to make the required steps in the domestic arena, albeit small ones. We encourage you to go further and help safeguard Kenya and the continent of Africa by building a partnership for a green and prosperous future.
Kenya has committed to playing its part in this fight. The US must do its fair share and embrace Kenya’s efforts to help create a better world for us all.
Senior Climate Change Advisor