Kenya’s plan for a coal plant contradicts its promise on climate change and the global agenda on divesting from fossil fuels

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Massive air pollution from a coal plant. Residents of Lamu County and environmental conservationists are opposing a proposed coal plant in Lamu. PHOTO/PEXELS

By PATRICK MAYOYO

newsdesk@reporter.co.ke

James Harrison placed his drink on the table and surveyed the expansive azure blue Indian Ocean from the balcony of Palace Hotel, in Lamu, on Kenya’s north coast. He watched as fishing and passenger boats cruised towards the jetty loaded with both tourists and fresh fish.

This is a sight he had made an annual ritual for the past 14 years since he started visiting the Lamu Archipelago that is home to idyllic holiday destinations, pristine and sandy beaches.

His first visit to Lamu island that is famed for its hospitality, a rich culture and a fabled past was in 2003 after it was declared a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) world heritage site.

But now various thoughts raced through his mind after learning that the Kenyan government was planning to construct a coal plant a few kilometers away from this magnificent coastal town that had attracted residents from all corners of the world.

Harrison, a Norwegian, with a holiday home in Lamu wondered what rationale was being used to invest in a coal plant and not a solar farm at a time when countries are divesting from fossil fuels and investing in renewable energy solutions that include solar, geothermal and wind as part of global efforts to limit global temperature rise below the internationally agreed danger threshold of 2C due to effects of climate change.

Coal like oil or natural gas is a fossil fuel which it produces carbon dioxide and other Greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Greenhouse gas emissions result in climate change which is blamed for causing droughts, floods, diseases, food shortages and water scarcity among other environmental and health complications.

According to, Dr John Musingi, a senior lecturer in the Department of Geography & Environmental Studies, University of Nairobi, the Lamu coal project goes against the National Climate Change Action Plan-a creature of Climate Change Act, 2016 – where the government pledges for low carbon development pathway.

Lamu residents protest against the planned coal plant. PHOTO/COURTESY

“The project will raise the carbon level by a massive 8.8 million tonnes instantly from only one source!” he states adding that this is happening yet the Kenya government promised in the Paris Climate Agreement to maintain a low emission development pathway.

According to, Dr David Obura, a marine biologist, the coal project in Lamu will spell doom on the Unesco World Heritage town of Lamu and its residents and have a huge negative impact on residents, the surrounding land, vegetation and marine life.

“This is not just any project, this project will be Kenya’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, and may be Kenya’s single largest emitter of toxic substances to the environment, ” Dr Obura notes.

The Paris Agreement The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016. The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

According to, Mr Irungu Houghton, an Associate Director with the Society for International Development, the Sh 200 billion coal plant envisaged to generate 1050 megawatts of energy for the country is a ticking environmental disaster.

“In 2017, coal is a declining source of energy globally. Solar, hydro and wind based power or renewable energy, is already the second largest source of global energy.

Renewable energy is set to overtake coal as the primary source of global energy by 2030. Investing in coal production today is like putting money into the production of facsimile machines. The future will be fueled by the sun, wind and water,” Mr Houghton argues.  

In the heart of Lamu County lies Kwasasi village, which is about 21 kilometres away from Lamu town. This where the planned coal plant is to be based.

The proposed $2.1 billion (ksh210 billion) Amu Power Company coal plant, is a consortium of Kenya’s Centum Investments, Amu Power Company and China Power Global.

It is interesting that Chinese companies are behind the Lamu coal plant at a time China has cancelled plans to build more than 100 coal-fired power plants, as part of plans to move the country away from one of the dirtiest forms of electricity generation.

In March 2017, Beijing shut down its last coal-fired power plant as part of efforts to clean air in the city as electricity generated from coal is the biggest source of air pollution and Greenhouse gases that lead to global warming.

Plans by the Chinese to invest in a coal plant in Lamu come at a time the Chinese government says it will invest 2.5 trillion yuan (£300 billion) into the renewable energy sector.

The Lamu coal plant is being opposed by environmental coalitions that include Save Lamu, UNESCO, Lamu JUU, the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, Greenpeace and members of local communities.

UNESCO world heritage sites under threat from coal projects and climate change

Lamu is among UNESCO world heritage sites across the globe facing threats from coal projects and climate change.

UNESCO is the organization that is responsible for protecting the cultural and natural heritage of the world and places it considers too valuable to sacrifice for the sake of profit.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter and others witness the signing of an agreement deal between Amu Power and China Power Global. PHOTO/PSCU

Lamu Old Town is the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa, retaining its traditional functions and is a site of 700 years of cultural exchange.

The proposed coal plant in Lamu poses an immediate threat to this historic town and one of the world’s greatest natural and cultural sites as it contradicts the Paris Climate Agreement ratified by Kenya.

A stop to investments in fossil fuels is part of global efforts to achieve a state of zero greenhouse gas emissions by the end of this century in order to hold the global average temperature rise to a maximum 2° Celsius.

Health and environmental concerns of the Lamu coal plant

Dr Musingi says that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and the Environmental Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) done on the Lamu coal plant has serious flaws.

He adds it is inconsistent with the legal framework governing such processes namely the Kenya constitution, Environmental Management Coordination Act (EMCA) – EIA and Environment Act (EA) regulations, 2003.

The environment lecturer says the planned coal plant, violates Chapter 5 of the constitution on the rights of citizens to clean environment as the flue gases that will be emitted from the plant stack will contain toxic gases. Common of these being carbon dioxide, sulphur, mercury, arsenic and nitrous oxide gases among others.

Dr Musingi says the Lamu coal plant will emit carbon dioxide, sulphur, mercury, arsenic and nitrous oxide gases among others which will have both health and environmental impacts. PHOTO/COURTESY

 “The effects of these gases will be felt away from the plant site when they descend from the 210m stack down to ground surface. The known health impacts of flue gases are eye damage, breathing problems, renal problems, effects on nervous system, pulmonary effects, cardio-vascular diseases and potential for cancer,” he notes.

Social Costs of the proposed Lamu coal plant

According to, Mr Ernest G. Niemi, a US based economist and president of Natural Resource Economics Inc, says that  the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report done by Nema does not contain an estimate of the project’s social costs, nor does it provide sufficient data to support a detailed estimate.

“Nonetheless, the estimates strongly indicate that, if NEMA were to conduct a detailed analysis, it would conclude that the Lamu project’s total social costs would exceed its economic benefits, as measured by the value of the project’s electricity output,” he said.

Mr Ernest G. Niemi, a US based economist and president of Natural Resource Economics Inc. PHOTO/COURTESY

Climate-related social costs of the coal plant

Mr Niemi adds NEMA’s failure to detail and estimate the social costs means the EIA report contains less than one-half of the Lamu Project’s potential impacts on human well-being.

A former chairman of the Energy Regulatory Commission, Mr Hindpal Jabbal, says Kenyan taxpayers will pay about Kshs 36 billion per year as capacity charges for the Lamu coal-fired power plant whether they use the electricity or not.

Dr Obura says coal and its combustible products (ash, smoke, etc), contain many toxic substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), trace metals such as mercury and arsenic, and various suspended particulate fractions (dust) and how these are handled is essential.

Dr David Obura, a marine biologist. PHOTO/COURTESY

“There is grossly insufficient detail in the ESIA about both their release and dispersal into the atmosphere, rain and groundwater, and seawater, and of their toxic effects on biota and people,” he says.

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