Today I stand here to express my solidarity with the Lamu community, and to pour my heart on the visible yet ignored disaster Kenya, as a country, is about to plunge into.
It has all to do with the Lamu Coal Project, which, apparently, slowly but surely, is turning into another source of the current government’s controversial investment choices.
The ability to generate more energy from to supplement our main source, hydropower, would be a plus for Kenya. Having sufficient energy would definitely spur the country’s economy. And we all want an economically stable Kenya, with sustainable energy so that more industries can be started and our jobless youth get employed.
Yet, even as we focus on the economic gains of whatever source of energy, we must not forget the importance of a sound ecology, as well as sustainability and affordability.
The intention to have a coal power plant in Lamu is both economically and ecologically disastrous.
Kenya is one of the 196 signatories to the Paris Agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that vowed in 2015 to mitigate greenhouse gas emission, and transition to low-carbon, climate-resilient, green economic development pathways. Coal, as one of the fossil fuel-based energy source, is enemy number of any signatory to the Paris Agreement.
It would be pretentious of Kenya to sign the international agreement with one hand, and erase it with the other, turn a blind eye to the mess the country is about to be exposed to both economically and otherwise, despite knowing very well that coal is one of the highest emitters of carbon gas to the atmosphere, locally, and worldwide. Even if we were to go clean on coal, as some climate-denier countries and corporations want to convince us, we would not dodge carbon emission.
But why would Kenya commit to an international agreement only to return home to do the opposite? The purpose of being part of the Treaty was to contribute to the overall reduction in poisonous emission for the benefit of those at the frontline of the cimate crisis, including smallholder farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, forest communities in Kenya and world over, whose livelihoods have been turned upside down due to the climate-inspired weather events caused by unsustainable development choices.
The idea of having a three-unit, 981-megawatt (MW) coal power plant in Lamu for purposes of injecting to the national grid must be supported with facts, and the realities surrounding it laid bare.
Kenyans must not let a few individuals kill both our economy and ecology as they strive to get rich quick.
Already a report released by the American Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) paints a grim picture of the Lamu Project that is yet to start, expressly calling for its disbandment.
According to the report, the deal signed between the Kenyan Government and several local and international firms to play different roles in the acquisition of coal powered energy, is bound to sink the country deeper into debts of at least Sh900 million ($9 billion).
And whether Kenya gets the required energy from the Sh200 billion ($2 billion) plant or not, the nature of the contract has it that the country would be locked in a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) in which it would be the loser.
Coal sourced energy should always be cheaper than all other energy sources, not a rip-off. Not when Kenya is grappling with debts, both domestic and foreign, running into trillions of shillings, and corruption scandals hitting our headlines everyday.
But why put the country through all that trouble when many other countries are opting for cleaner and more renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar? Kenya has a huge Geothermal, solar and wind supply that focusing on the same would be more sustainable than knowingly contributing to global warming through coal mining.
We must tell the people that renewability is a forgotten issue when it comes to coal powered energy, coal will be a stranded asset very soon, and that is not what we promised in the UNFCCC Agreement.
Kenyans and the Government must know that continuing with the Lamu Project would not only expose populations to more debts for a non-renewable source of energy, but also adversely negatively affect the fragile ecosystem of Lamu, a UNESCO Heritage site of immense importance to our tourism and local culture.
Good health for the people living nearest to the coal plant, and the many workers that would be involved, is not guaranteed, with dust and smoke causing several respiratory and other ailments, including asthma and cancer. And where does one dispose of the coal ash from the mines?
The possibility of having acid rain following mixture of rain water with gas emitted from the mines will mess our rivers and eventually the Indian Ocean and the more than 60 archipelagos Lamu boasts of, which would be dangerous for aquatic creatures, plants, humans and our tourism sector.
How does an economy grow when you kill its pillars like the people and their mainstay, which is fishing and tourism?
We must not forget that coal mining will introduce mercury and other harmful metal into our systems.
Who will help the poor people of Lamu and the Kenyans and foreigners that will be affected by the project if we do not talk?
Who will pay the debts the country is exposing us to if we do not stop this now.
I call upon the Government of Kenya to give this Lamu Project another look and face the reality. According to the IEEFA report, even the gains expected from the Lamu Project have been overtaken by events, and there will be no value for money if the Government insists on going on with it.
Action must be taken. The Lamu project must be stopped. We thank the investors, and particularly the African Development Bank, who have turned down the request from the Kenyan Government to fund this poisonous Project. We warn others, especially the Chinese, to read the signs of time and give up.
We have no other lives. Let’s save and protect lives.
The Lamu Coal is rendering the communities around and the county at large inhabitable, or just fall into a death trap.
Just stop it. Coal mining is not cool.
Pan African Climate Justice Alliance