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POLICY BRIEF: Kenya: A green growth utopia?

With its national long-term development blueprint, the Kenyan state recognises the overall importance of a secure and affordable supply of energy sources for the country’s national development. The central government has formulated ambitious policies to become the forerunner of the East African Community (EAC) concerning climate change objectives.

The timing seems right for Kenya to realise its green energy potential; there is strong international support for national economies to decarbonise and Kenya provides a unique case where government and donor priorities concerning renewable energy projects align. Furthermore, the approval of the new constitution of 2010, the peaceful elections of 2013 and the 2016 Climate Change Act provide a new framework of opportunities for Kenya to boost green growth. However, these developments should be placed against a background of suboptimal government capacity, newly found coal and oil reserves, and low electricity access; Kenya’s development into a renewable energy frontrunner should not too easily be taken for granted.

This policy brief by Clingendael addresses opportunities for green growth and the hurdles that need to be overcome if Kenya is to realise its full potential for renewable energy. It emphasises that access to electricity should be improved to generate more domestic support for green investment choices and for the need to incorporate the private sector in renewable energy development.

Key messages: 

  • Prioritisation of investment in energy infrastructure. As well as increasing production, investment in energy infrastructure and adequate distribution and transmission should be prioritised so as to increase overall energy access and a reliable supply of electricity. This should coincide with realistic and depoliticised planning in the sector in order to match demand, supply and required distribution infrastructure.
  • Linking economic inclusion and green growth: incorporating micro-grid and distributed home solutions in national energy goals. In order to meet the 2020 target of universal energy access, renewable-based micro-grids and distributed solar home systems might be a quicker and more efficient low-carbon way to bring electricity to both populated and isolated off-grid areas than large investments in expansion and refurbishing of the national energy grid.
  • Devolution as a solution. With a well-educated population and high awareness of climate change, constitutional reform and devolution in Kenya could provide important opportunities for green growth and energy security by increasing public participation, accountability of elected representatives and representation of citizens.

Photo: World Bank Photo Collection

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