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Remarks by Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, to Green Electricity Conference

Nairobi, 23 November 2009 - The Right Honorable Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya;

Her Excellency Elisabeth Barbier, the Ambassador of France;

Honorable John Michuki, Minister of Environment of Kenya;

Honorable Kiraitu Murungi, Minister for Energy;

Mr Jean-Michel Debrat, Deputy Director General of the Agence Francaise de Development (AFD).

Delegates, ladies and gentlemen

Let me say how delighted I am to be here today and that UNEP is a partner in this conference.

In the past three years, since taking up the post of Executive Director of UNEP, one has witnessed the green spark of a potential green electricity revolution ignite.

One that holds the promise of delivering clean and green power to the majority of Kenya's citizens who are still without access to that electricity so necessary for development.

I think it is to the great credit of the Government of Kenya and of the entrepreneurs and private investors-locally and globally-that together you have seen the bright light, and seen that it can be green.

Kenya is not blessed with coal and while there may be oil and gas either on or off-shore, this remains more hypothetical rather than reality as we meet.

But this country is blessed with an abundance of 'natural' fuels-from the hot rocks of the Great Rift Valley to wind and solar.

Perhaps one day Kenya's coastal waters may also be a source of green electricity as a result of new technologies-some of which are being tested in various parts of the globe-that can harness the currents and the tides.

Ladies and gentlemen,

That Kenya's renewable energy sources are now beginning to be harvested is in large part due to the urgency of climate change.

The carbon markets of the UN's emission reduction treaty-the Kyoto Protocol-have over recent years accelerated investment into the green electricity sector in developing economies.

The urgency of climate change has also accelerated the up take in developed economies too, such that the price of electricity generated from such sources has been falling sharply across the world.

Wind is now as cost-effective as fossil fuels-indeed more cost-effective and cheaper when oil prices climb sharply.

Many of the big solar power companies claim they will be Grid-competitive in two or three years-and already are for many off-Grid uses.

Geothermal is extremely competitive and is likely to become more so as new technologies, able to generate the equivalent megawatts at lower temperatures, come on stream.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This global green electricity revolution, of which Kenya is part, is unlikely to be fashion or fad-or a blip that will pass sometime soon.

The urgency of combating climate change, matched by the urgency to deliver electricity to the two billion people in the world without access to it, are not issues that are going to go away.

Neither are other realities-such as the oil price whose unpredictability is now a feature of the modern 21st century world.

Nor the fact that over two million people, many in the developing world and many in Africa, die each ear from in-door and out-door air pollution linked with the burning of fossil fuels.

Nor the fact that developing clean technologies can play an important role in diversifying the economy and generating new kinds of decent employment.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Many of those realties will merge in only a few weeks time in Copenhagen, Denmark when over 190 countries and many heads of state meet for the crucial UN climate convention meeting.

There has been a lot of talk about Copenhagen and a great deal of speculation on what can and cannot be achieved.

Let me say that I remain fully optimistic that a decisive deal can be done-one that may not be fully shaped, but one that is shaped enough to begin dealing with the urgency of climate change in the context too of development.

There is a great deal at stake for Africa and for Kenya-certainty in the global carbon markets will also spell greater certainty that this country's green electricity revolution continues apace.

A 'politically-binding' agreement in Denmark, swiftly followed by a legally-binding one as soon as possible in 2010- and backed serious and sufficient funding to assist countries like Kenya adapt to the climate change underway- is decidedly do-able.

The central role of this meeting here this week is how that global action is translated into national, transformative policies to maximize the effect.

Kenya has begun that transition and is positioning itself to seize the opportunities that are fast approaching.

Accessing the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol and attracting projects requires skill and planning-the fact that Kenya has 14 such projects registered or in the pipeline, shows that capacity is there.

Kenya's various new laws including the feed-in tariff are also part of that green spark.

As are various initiatives including a nation-wide scheme to replace old, inefficient light-bulbs with longer lasting, more efficient, compact fluorescent ones.

So the building blocks are coming into place, globally and nationally and the renewable resources are here in abundance.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing the country is whether the growth in renewable energy will be accompanied by investment not just in the energy systems, but also in the manufacturing.

There are many reasons why renewable technology companies may or may not wish to establish plants in Kenya-perhaps it is time to address those hurdles.

There is also a question of economies of scale-but there are also new geopolitical realities happening in East Africa that might just be the catalyst if the economic and trading partnerships unfolding are given real wings.

Who knows where this might end-by some estimates Kenya may have enough renewable resources to not only transit to a zero-emission economy, but one able to generate exporting-levels of green electricity to neighboring countries.

Before too many smiles of incredulity beam back at me, reflect on one fact.

UNEP's Sustainable Energy Finance Initiative estimated that in 2008 more was invested globally in renewable energy than in new fossil fuel generation-the first time.

If you had asked the experts 20, 10 perhaps even five years ago if that would happen, they would have laughed mightily and recommended a hot towel and a few hours rest.

It was a similar story when Brazil decided decades ago to invest in an ethanol economy-so do not be trapped by the vendors of old technologies and become the prisoners of the status quo.

There were those that said a man would never walk on the Moon.

Those who said the Berlin Wall would never fall.

And there will be those who think we won't combat climate or that a green electricity Kenya is a pipedream-I believe they will be proved wrong too.

Vision 2030 will shape Kenya's future. But so will Copenhagen in only a few weeks time.

Given the opportunities for Green Electricity here, perhaps at least in one area we might talk of Vision 2020-the date when the world needs to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by up to 40 per cent.

A date when Kenya could also be the green powerhouse of East Africa.

Thank you for your time




Further Resources

UN Carbon Markets Powering Green Energy Growth in Africa

UNEP: Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE) - Energy Branch

UNEP: Green Economy Initiative


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