In the face of climate change, developing economies are confronted with two major challenges: 1) Providing a conducive environment for their citizenry to achieve a quality life and 2) Dealing with the impacts of climate change and maintaining the functionality of systems. Energy is a major driver in providing a conducive environment for growth. It cuts across all spheres of our lives, greatly influencing the human development index of a country’s citizens and its GDP. It is also the main driver of climate change, through the energy sources used to create a conducive environment for growth and wealth creation. These have been mainly burning fossil fuels resulting to the warming of the planet due to the greenhouse effect.
The consequences of these changes are posing existential threats forcing parties to action. This is for instance through the 2015 Paris Agreement to reduce or stop GHGs emissions, and maintain global temperatures to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. These efforts and a warming globe are causing a shift from familiar development pathways whereby countries used their natural resources such as oil and coal to generate wealth. This dilemma was clearly reflected in the Kenya’s 2020 updated nationally determined contributions (NDC) of choosing between the exploitation of her fossil fuel resources to realise development objectives, with reference to proposals to build to coal power plants, and foregoing this to avoid GHGs emissions. NDC are a non-binding requirement of the Paris agreement communicating a country’s plans to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. This dilemma begs a question, how can developing economies achieve a quality life for their citizens in the face of climate change? In pursuit of an answer, we look to a systems thinking approach to sustainable and climate resilient development.
Sustainable development was defined in the 1987 Brundtland report as meeting our current needs without affecting the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In part this touches on resource use whereby, for instance when fish stocks are depleted or increased biodiversity loss is threatening food security, would mean the current generation is threatening the future’s generation food security. Sustainability in itself encompasses three main pillars namely economic, social and environmental pillars. When applied to our day to day activities, it is referred to as the triple bottom line approach. The fundamentals of these concepts is that for instance, as a business, the main aim should not only be creating wealth or profit for the shareholders but efforts should endeavour to have a positive social and environmental impact. This is true for all other ventures be it governmental or non-governmental, whereby in creating social and environmental impact, opportunities for individuals to create wealth or earn income to lead a quality life should form part of the activities. Sustainable development offers an opportunity for developing economies to achieve a quality life for their citizen while maintaining the integrity of the resources and nature. However, these efforts are gravely threatened by climate change impacts.
Climate Change Impacts
In Kenya, the major threats of climate change are flooding, droughts, sea and lake level rising, increased temperatures and ocean acidification. These impacts are threatening lives, livelihoods, property such as livestock and infrastructure. It is estimated the country is loosing 3 -5% of annual GDP as a result, with the Kenyan government having spent KES. 75 billion in 2018 on flooding impacts. While these physical risks are evident, there are emerging transnational risks to a low-carbon future that pose threats to the country’s economy. A study by Standard Charted showed that 78% of multinational companies will remove suppliers endangering their carbon transition plans to net zero by 2025. For Kenya, this would mean a loss of USD 3.9 billion annual export revenue from soft commodities. This calls for innovations and changes in production and the supply chain especially in transportation towards net or negative emissions.
Systems Thinking Approach to Sustainable Development
As at 2019 Kenya’s electrification rate stood at 69.7% and yet only 0.9% of the households use electricity for cooking, with 74.5% using either firewood, charcoal or paraffin. A systems thinking approach to sustainable energy access would include looking at energy services and at the energy supply as part of the whole. The former entails providing energy access in a manner that meets the three levels of energy services demands as described by the Multi-Tier Framework (MTF). These levels start with energy services to meet basic human needs such as lighting, cooking and education; productive used aimed at improving productivity such as in agriculture or manufacturing; and modern society needs such as running ICT. Such an approach to energy access would simultaneously address lighting, clean cooking, deforestation, health impacts such as respiratory diseases and increase opportunities to leading a quality life.
The latter, seeing energy supply as part of a whole, entails energy provision as part of the ecosystem of meeting needs. Here energy is produced from waste and renewable energy sources. Biogas energy including cooking gas, heat and electric energy, and recently BioLPG is produced from agricultural, human and animal waste sources. Biogas creates a new product which is organic fertilizer used to grow the food that will produce the waste to extract the energy from. These waste to energy approaches help to cap the leading source of emissions in the country which are agriculture, deforestation and energy at 78 percent. Such approaches to development ensure in meeting our needs we are maintaining the integrity of the environment and having a positive social and economic impact on people’s lives.
In all these processes, resilience should be at the core. Building climate resilience comes from understanding how climate change will affect the country or the region. Thereafter developing strategies and mechanisms of how the systems can continue to function despite these changes. For instance, energy generation from our main source of hydropower will be affected by the erratic rainfalls and drought. Hence resilience in our energy systems would entail diversification of our sources of energy. This however calls for development of climate information centres that can provide reliable information to inform planning and mitigation. Another key aspect is building communal resilience by disseminating this knowledge of climate change impacts, and sustainable and climate resilience approaches to the citizenry. This provides an opportunity for the society to protect itself, foster innovation and development strategies to deal with the impacts of climate change and explore opportunities in sustainable development.