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By Brian Omenyi
Coordinator, Sustainable Energy Access Forum Kenya (SEAF-K)

Access to adequate, reliable and affordable energy remains a major problem across the continent.

Nearly 600 million African people still haven’t got access to electricity and over 900 million don’t have safe cooking facilities, blocking development, job creation and stopping communities adapting to the threats posed by climate change.  A lack of finance and political will are partly to blame but this is changing.  There is a real opportunity to scale up clean energy solutions that are not only friendly to the environment but also essential to improve lives and livelihoods.

The Clean Energy Employment Shift, by 2030

As an increasing number of countries and companies have pledged to reduce emissions, the clean energy transition will, undoubtedly, have a positive impact on employment.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that the transition is expected to generate 10.3 million new jobs globally by 2030. Most of these, are likely to be in energy efficiency, power generation and automotive sectors. Kenya, for instance, intends to have a thriving, green, circular-based economy by 2030 with a host of new employment opportunities as a result.

“job census”  report on the renewable energy sector found that its workforce is already comparable to those of the traditional energy and utility providers and is set to play an even more significant role in Kenya’s future economy.

Clean energy pioneers are already supporting communities across the country to adapt to this changing landscape – creating jobs, raising living standards and tackling inequality.

This work will generate thousands of decent jobs. According to the report, the distributed energy sector in Kenya could employ more than 17,000 employees and 30,000 contract workers. While the mini-grid sector is growing fast, so too are the solar appliance and solar home sectors.

Building Resilience

But this isn’t just about creating thousands of decent jobs. Clean energy solutions can support Kenya’s national climate adaptation and resilience efforts.  However, the relationship between energy access and climate change adaptation is often overlooked in policy and practice.  Energy is essential for key adaptation solutions – such as strengthening agricultural through improved irrigation and cold storage, equipping clinics to deal with new or increased health challenges and connecting people with news and information about climate threats. Energy access is lowest in remote, rural areas and amongst the poorest communities. These people and places are also the most threatened by climate change and in greatest need of adaptation support.

All these factors explain the urgent need to put increased energy access funding at the heart of global adaptation plans, alongside support for those frontline organisations delivering energy access. That is why it is essential for Kenya to build resilience and increase energy access into the Medium-Term Plans (MTPs) and County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs).

Deliberate use of public finance, especially adaptation funding, is needed to close the energy access gap by providing seed capital, encouraging the creation of an enabling environment for investments, developing the much-needed infrastructure for such investment and addressing risks and barriers to attracting private capital.

Power up Campaign Pushing for energy access

It is against this background that the Power Up Campaign is pushing energy access up the climate agenda in the run-up to COP27, as a coalition of expert individuals, frontline organisations, CSOs, NGOs, and sustainable energy access forum,  SEAF-K, who I represent.

We are calling for wealthy nations to greatly increase climate adaptation funding, with a large amount supporting access to clean, affordable energy for those facing climate catastrophe. We believe that this funding should put energy access at the heart of climate and development agendas, unlock private sector investment and support low-income nations to prioritise the issue.

Ambitious national policies needed to drive the energy transition

African leaders are already rallying round the cause of greater funding for climate adaptation at COP27 and beyond – calling for richer nations to raise their ambition and honor existing commitments. However, fulfilling the renewable energy jobs potential will also depend on ambitious national policies to drive the energy transition in coming decades. Kenya is in a prime position to make these reforms and put in place changes now that will enable the country to fully embrace the clean energy transition.

To continue with its quest to champion the green economy, the government should offer tax incentives, such as reducing VAT for cleaner technologies products and should prioritise the development of viable business cases for private sector investment, in order to maximise the capital.  Importantly, the government should enhance access to financing options for communities to purchase energy products to stimulate market demand for the clean energy transition.

In turn, organisations and investors should create synergies with public institutions and advocate for government policies that would enable them to integrate greener operations.

With COP27, only weeks away we have no time to lose. That is why next week, I will be meeting with a dedicated group of Kenyan organizations to discuss this issue, and connected issues such as just energy transition, climate finance, loss and damage, adaptation and mitigation. In order to identify key priorities for Kenya and provide recommendations for the UNFCCC secretariat.  Now is the time for all of us to work together and ensure the negotiations at COP27 deliver good results for Kenya and Africa.