As Kenyans battle the environmental effects of climate change, the country's electricity company has signed an historic emission reduction agreement with the World Bank to expand a geo-thermal power plant.
Severe drought is just one of the effects of climate change
Looking down from one of the majestic mountain ranges that lie a few hours drive from Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi, lush valleys spread out for kilometers, and Lake Naivasha glimmers in the distance, teeming with wildlife.
But the reality behind this apparent Garden of Eden is very different. It’s partly the fault of Kenya’s ever growing population, the ensuing man-made pollution, and the speed at which its forests are being felled for fire wood.
But it’s also because the effects of climate change are making themselves felt here.
Nelly Damaris Chepkoskei, a farmer from Kericho District outside of Nairobi, is 50 years. She has clear smooth skin, her crinkly jet black hair is streaked with gray wisps, and a ruby and gold cloth is wrapped elegantly around her head.
As the earth warms, disease-carrying mosquitoes are becoming more wide-spread
She told DW-Radio that her country’s new climate reality has brought longer droughts, unexpected frosts, and mosquitoes.
"I had not seen mosquitoes before and now there are so many" she said. "And when they bite the children and the women, the mothers have go to hospital to nurse the sick children plus work at home."
The sad contradiction of this situation, is that the people who are now being directly affected by and are suffering because of climate change, are not responsible for making it happen.
Africa hit hard by climate change
Responsibility lies firmly in the hands of the world’s rich industrialized countries, that have been pumping green house gases into the atmosphere for decades.
Hans Verolme is the director of WWF’s Global Climate Change Program. He believes the developed world should open their eyes to the hardships that many Africans, like Nelly, are having to deal with.
The countries that are responsible for global warming are not necessarily those who are affected the most
Verolme said these countries should commit to tackling global warming seriously because they are "responsible in a major way for the emissions that are currently in the atmosphere."
"We can not expect Kenya to do the same," he said. "Kenya is an example of a country that needs our help but is otherwise not responsible."
One way that industrialized countries can help reduce green house gas emissions, is through the Clean Development Mechanism or CDM. Under the CDM, which is part of the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries can finance environmentally-friendly energy, infrastructure, agriculture and forestry projects in the developing world.
Electricity in short supply
Unfortunately, accessing energy and electricity in Kenya is very difficult.
According to Eddy Njoroge, the Managing Director of Kenya’s main electricity provider Kenton, only fifteen percent of the population have access to electricity. In the rural areas this drops down to four percent, he says.
The enormous Rift Valley stretches all the way from the Dead Sea in Israel, right down to East Africa. Just a few hours outside of Nairobi is where you’ll find Hell’s Gate National Park.
And right in the center of this park is where the answer to Eddy Njoroge’s problem may lie -- because this is the perfect environment for drawing geo-thermal energy from deep out of the ground.
Green energy from rocks
Kenya's Masai women call for more to be done to tackle climate change
Environmentally-friendly, geo-thermal energy is sourced by pumping hot water 2000 meters from under the ground all the way up to the surface. These it drives turbines and produces "green" electricity. With financial support from the West, two geo-thermal power stations have already been built in this area in the last 30 years. One of these is called Olkaria.
It’s hard to miss the kilometers of piping transporting the geo-thermal energy from the Olkaria power plant, that run right through the heart of this national park. And the amount of hot steam they’re transporting is set to increase further, because just a few weeks ago, KenGen signed an historic Emission Reductions Purchase Agreement with the World Bank.
This means the World Bank will buy emission reductions at Olkaria, giving KenGen the funds to expand the plant and to generate an additional 35 MW over the next two years.
This is the first CDM geo-thermal energy project in Africa. It will save the equivalent of 150,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year from entering the atmosphere.
Small-scale geo-thermal energy
And it’s also encouraging other businesses to make use of green geo-thermal energy -- like the Oserian Flower Farm, just down the road. Osserian is a cut flower grower exporting around 400 million stems a year to Europe. It has to make sure that the thousands of flowers growing in its massive greenhouses have a constantly mild temperature.
Kenya's flower growers need to heat their greenhouses at night
So the farm’s owners decided to make use of the geo-thermal wells drilled during the initial exploration of the Olkaria geothermal field. The wells Oserian uses aren’t suitable for the mass power production KenGen needs, but are perfect for supplying the warmth and carbon dioxide needed for growing roses.
Oserian’s mini geo-thermal power plant produces 1.8 MW of power. This is used to heat and control the humidity in the greenhouses, which in turn protects the flowers from fungal diseases and so reduces the amount of fungicides used.
It also saves the company considerable money.
Oserian has had to invest about 25 million euros into its geo-thermal processes. According to Bruce Knight, Oserian’s chief engineer, there was initially a "lot of cynicism" about the project but it has proved worthwhile.
Oserian is currently the only local business putting geo-thermal energy to use in this way, Knight said.
The variable climate caused by global warming is making is making life difficult for farmers
No matter how small a scale, tying private enterprise to increasing green energy use may be the answer to reducing the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.
A report by the World Bank's former chief economist, Sir Nicholas Stern, called climate change "the greatest and widest ranging market failure ever seen." He said failure to deal with it now, could shrink the world’s economy by 20 percent.
Although progress is slow, steps are being taken to reduce global CO2 emissions. But one problem still remains -- even if emissions were reduced to zero today, nothing can stop the next few decades worth of climate change from happening.