There is a Need for Faster Transition to Clean Energy in Kenya

By Treezer Michelle Atieno

It’s another morning in Auma’s village in Western Kenya. The dawn breaks with the familiar crackle of burning charcoal and firewood. In her modest home, nestled amidst verdant fields and towering trees, these traditional fuels are the heartbeat of daily life, providing warmth, sustenance, and a sense of familiarity for her family.

As Auma opens her eyes to the soft glow of dawn filtering through the thatched roof, she is greeted by the scent of smoke lingering in the air, a scent that has become as much a part of her morning routine. Yet, beneath the surface of this familiar scene lies a silent struggle, a burden that weighs heavily on her young shoulders.

With her schoolbooks tucked under her arm, and her mind filled with dreams of a brighter future, Auma sets off on the dusty path to school. Each step shows her resilience, a refusal to be defined by the challenges surrounding her. But as she walks, she can’t shake the nagging worry at the back of her mind for her classmates, family, and herself.

In the cramped confines of her classroom, Auma’s classmates cough and wheeze, their faces drawn and weary from the toll traditional fuels take on their health. She, too, has felt the sting of smoke in her lungs, the sharp ache accompanying each breath, a harsh reminder of the invisible threat that lurks in the air they breathe.

Despite the challenges associated with traditional fuels, Auma finds solace in the discussions at the ongoing Sixth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-6) meeting in Nairobi. Representatives from around the world are gathered to address the urgent need for a transition to clean energy, and to confront the devastating impact of traditional fuels on human health and the environment.

There is hope, however. This hope is accompanied by a lingering sorrow, a memory that weighs heavily on her heart. Auma’s youngest brother fell ill with pneumonia, a respiratory illness exacerbated by the constant exposure to smoke from their cooking fires. Despite their efforts to nurse him back to health, his condition deteriorated rapidly, and he passed away, leaving a void in their family that could never be filled.

According to the 2022 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (2022 KDHS), About 70 per cent of Kenyans depend on biomass fuel for primary energy- most non-renewable. This leads to indoor air pollution, deforestation, and greenhouse gas emissions. Indoor air pollution causes over three million deaths globally per year. The World Health Organization estimates this affects women and children, given they are more exposed to the cooking area. Having a larger population using dirty cooking means that the rate of deaths related to household air pollution is high, and thus, there is a need to transition to clean cooking.

However, the transition has not been smooth, given the recent rise in Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) prices that hinder people from fully transitioning to cleaner cooking sources. As a result, the shift towards sustainable cooking, facilitated by accessible LPG pricing, opens avenues for technological advancement, leading to substantial reductions in energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and improved health outcomes, especially for women and children.

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