How Kenya became an industrial decarbonization leader

Kenya will be the first sub-Saharan African country to release an industrial decarbonization roadmap – and with its energy mix already heavily tipped toward renewables and the strides being taken on green hydrogen, the country is squaring up for success

Kenya is on the frontline of the climate crisis. Droughts, floods and heatwaves are increasing, costing lives and reeking devastation and taking a toll on the country’s economy, costing an estimated 2.5% of GDP each year.

The Kenyan Government is making significant efforts to address its contribution to climate change and has committed to reduce greenhouse emissions by around a third by 2030. Kenya’s industries make a vital contribution to the country’s economy, while accounting for around 7% of overall CO2 emissions in Kenya.

“As a country we have agreed targets to reach carbon neutrality,” says a representative of the Ministry of Investments, Trade and Industry (MITI). “The Kenyan Industrial Decarbonization roadmap [which charts a path to fully decarbonizing industry by 2050] is one of the ways that we will get there, as it aligns industry with the provisions agreed at COP28 on carbon zero.”

The four pillars of decarbonization

Kenya has already made impressive progress on renewables: 90% of its electricity generation now comes from renewable sources. The country also has potential for green hydrogen production and is working to develop this industry. These considerable strengths will be of great assistance to Kenyan industries as they move to decarbonize. But some of its most energy-intensive sectors, such as cement production, still rely on coal meaning the path ahead is far from easy.

“Kenya is a leader [on decarbonization],” says Rasha Abdrabu, Project Coordinator at UNIDO. “Its electricity generation is one of the lowest emission power systems in the region. It is also one of the first countries in the Global South to announce a project on CCUS [carbon capture, utilization and storage], and it has a robust green hydrogen strategy. What this roadmap does is to connect industries to these other strategies, focusing on four pillars: renewable energy, green hydrogen, CCUS and energy efficiency.”

Targeting high-emitting industrial sectors

Initially, the roadmap will focus on cement manufacturing, the biggest emitter of industrial greenhouse gases in Kenya. Growing demand from the Kenyan industrial sector has seen coal consumption nearly quadruple in the last decade, and coal-related emissions are rising. Charcoal production, the second largest contributor, is another focus and holds significant potential for decarbonization. The growing sectors of iron, steel and chemicals (including agricultural fertilizers) are also included.

To develop the roadmap, UNIDO and MITI convened influential industry and government actors, including the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Forestry, the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, the National Environment Management Authority, the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute, the Institute of Energy Studies and Research, and SNV Kenya which represents farmers. This group was tasked with identifying the biggest decarbonization bottlenecks that Kenya’s key industrial sectors are facing, and the support they need to reach short-term (up to 2030), medium-term (up to 2040) and long-term goals (2050).

The MITI representative says: “One of the main barriers is the cost of investment. When you tell an investor to put their money into something, and say after five-ten years they have not recouped their investment, they will not take that technology so fast. Another big barrier is the fear of the unknown… We have a job to create awareness, so that everybody is brought on board and sees the sense in investing in the proposals that have been put in place.”

Industry-specific decarbonization strategies

Based on the group’s findings, and an analysis of Kenya’s current policy and regulatory environment, the roadmap presents a series of industry-specific technologies, plus policy recommendations, development instruments and regulations that will enable key sectors to use the four pillars to decarbonize.

Energy efficiency, one of the pillars, will be pivotal and the roadmap presents strategies tailored to each industry, such as switching to high efficiency kilns for both the cement and charcoal production and widespread adoption of ISO 50001 energy management systems. This will be supported by a mix of government and private sector initiatives, including an energy efficiency programme run by Kenya Association of Manufacturers, the leading trade body in the country, which has been instrumental in developing the roadmap.

Building on the already high proportion of renewables in the country’s energy mix, Kenya has committed to power all of its industries with renewables by 2040. Through the Accelerated Partnership for Renewables in Africa, Kenya is spearheading efforts to mobilize finance, provide technical assistance and engage the private sector in renewable energy development, and the roadmap will help to strengthen industry connections to this initiative.

The roadmap will also support industry to take advantage of Kenya’s developing green hydrogen market. The MITI representative says they are confident the roadmap will accelerate action in this area by driving government impetus around policies and regulations: “We are not yet using green hydrogen, but a few initiatives have been put in place. For them to go through we’ll need a policy framework that will be conducive, including coming up with regulations on how to do it.”

The same goes for CCUS technology, which is still in the early stages of development. The landmark 2023 Climate Change (Amendment) Act is expected to provide the legal certainty needed to develop CCUS hubs, to the benefit of energy-intensive sectors like cement.

Gaining the investments needed for the widespread adoption of recommended technologies will be challenging, but the roadmap will play an important role in connecting industries to the green financing on offer.

“The roadmap serves as a baseline, as a way to highlight the gaps. UNIDO and partners can then support in closing these gaps by developing pipeline projects, which then lead to pilots that will target different grants and investments and financial mechanisms,” explains Rasha.

Next steps in the process is a validation workshop in February 2024. Here, representatives from all eight of Kenya’s cement companies, plus other major industrial players, will review the preliminary roadmap before it is finalised and shared across industry.

“I’m positive about it [the success of the roadmap],” says the MITI representative. “But we have a role to play in sensitization, particularly for those who won’t invest until they are sure of the end results and can comprehend the advantages of using whatever technology we are suggesting. There’s a small hill to climb but I believe we are equal to the task.”