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By Patrick Tonui  

Head of Policy and Regional Strategy, Global Off-Grid Lighting Alliance (GOGLA)

The Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi has focused minds on the climate threats ahead.

Now it’s vital that funders and politicians show they are serious about helping vulnerable communities prepare for climate dangers. Increased funding and smart new policies are urgently needed.

From rural villages to refugee camps, climate change is a growing threat to families’ hopes for a brighter future. Ironically, while global demand for fossil fuels has caused this crisis, the communities at greatest risk are those with little or access to energy.

The energy poverty faced by more than 600 million people worldwide – including millions in Kenya, despite recent progress – only heightens the challenge ahead.

Clean and affordable power is an important tool to boost harvests, energise health centres, and power the communications equipment that can give families warning of floods and heatwaves. It is an essential foundation for resilience and sustainable development. Kenya and the world must put energy access at the heart our shared response to the climate crisis, if we are to deliver true climate justice.

Those in greatest danger from the crisis include farmers facing shifting weather patterns and a rise in flooding, extreme heat, and other climate threats. Scientists from the Kenya Meteorological Department report that the three-year drought gripping East Africa was made 100 times more likely by climate change. When such disasters become commonplace, rural families working towards a better life are pushed back into poverty.

Clean energy technologies can help these families adapt.

There’s no doubt that proven solutions for off-grid communities already exist. When 1,200 solar water pump owners in Kenya and neighbouring countries were surveyed by energy experts Efficiency for Access, 90% said the device had increased their income, with many able to increase the area of land they could cultivate or the number of harvests they could bring in.

Refugees will also bear the brunt of climate chaos – with their numbers set to grow because of our changing climate. Climate shocks are already forcing people to flee their homes – since 2008, an average of 21.5 million a year have been displaced by hazards, such as floods, storms, wildfires, and heatwaves.

Few people living in refugee camps have access to safe, affordable energy. But refugee entrepreneurs are changing this picture. People like Dysmus Kisulu, whose company Solar Freeze, a Power Up coalition member, is bringing affordable refrigeration to displaced people in Kakuma refugee camp – supporting small businesses and health clinics.

Stronger healthcare will be essential in the years ahead. Globally, climate change has increased the risk posed by nearly 60% of all known diseases, including malaria, Zika and dengue.

But how can we ensure these innovations, and others like them, reach even more communities? First, it is vital that rich countries finally come good on their promise to provide $100 billion a year of climate finance to poorer nations. A large amount of this should support access to clean energy.

But action at a national level is needed too. Proven solutions exist, but the challenge is making them affordable and available where they are needed most. Tax-relief, subsidies for product sellers and buyers, and new public-private partnerships will all help. So too will helping customers get finance to pay for clean energy technologies and services – as well as building the workforce to supply them.

The tools to protect communities already exist, and are profiled in GOGLA’s upcoming report, Powering Climate Adaptation: The Critical Role of Off-Grid Solar Technologies. And to ensure such solutions reach as many families as possible,  GOGLA – along with Solar Freeze and many other organisations – are backing the Power Up campaign.

At a pivotal moment in climate negotiations, Power Up is sparking the spread of clean energy, essential for climate justice in Kenya and beyond.

This article has appeared in Kenya’s Daily Nation.