Aiming for Zero

As 2018 comes to a close, it will go on record as the fourth hottest year in history, beaten only by the years 2016 (the hottest on record), 2015, and 2017. Do you see a trend here?

According to experts, the rising temperatures are a clear indication of climate change, which is being experienced in the form of devastating wildfires, drought and flooding around the globe.

Closer to home, November, traditionally the start of the short rains season, was uncharacteristically dry. The weatherman announced that this year, the rains would only begin to fall in the first week of December, therefore disrupting the planting season and with it, affecting the availability (and affordability) of food.

Edward Mungai, Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Climate Innovation Centre (KCIC), has been studying the effects of climate change and says it is no longer an abstract idea.

“Why are we not using the same seeds we used 20 years? Are the climatic seasons programmed the way they were? How many instances have they (farmers) suffered crop failure due to lack of rainfall, or too much heat? Rivers are drying up, why are they drying up?”

In 2017, for example, there was a significant reduction in the production of two major food crops, maize and wheat, and a dramatic drop in the production of sugarcane, a major cash crop for some parts of Kenya.

The Economic Survey 2018 recorded the production of maize at 35.4 million bags in 2017 compared to 37.8 million bags in 2016, and that of wheat at 165,200 tonnes in 2017 against 214,700 tonnes in 2016. Sugarcane suffered the biggest drop – 4.8 million tonnes in 2017 compared to 7.2 million tonnes in 2016.

The reduction was attributed to the combined effects of drought, pests such as the fall armyworm, which wreaked havoc most of 2017, and diseases.

But Mungai is of a different opinion.

All this, he says, is directly related to climate change, which is caused by the trapping of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere.

It’s a phenomenon that has been made worse by rapid industrialization, which has led to the increased production of greenhouse gases and therefore, a rise in global temperatures as more heat is trapped in oceans and on land.

While the government and civil society groups push policies and drives to increase awareness of climate change, says Mungai, there is great potential for the private sector to play a bigger role in stemming the effects of climate change.

“One of the things we need to do is localize that narrative, and create awareness among Kenyans so that they can understand what climate change is, what causes it and what role they can play in terms of helping Kenya become more resilient,” says Mungai.

The Kenya Climate Change Act contains specifics of what the private sector can – and should – do to combat the effects of climate change. But over and above that, Mungai believes that the private sector needs to begin by embedding green policies within companies’ business strategies, and provider greener products.

It’s a rallying call to action that Safaricom began to heed in line with its commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which has seen the company commit to SDGs 7 (affordable and clean energy), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure) and 12 (responsible consumption and production), among others.

According to the company’s annual Sustainable Business Report, 155 network sites are already powered by solar/wind hybrid renewable energy solutions, part of a plan to meet its net zero carbon target by 2050.

“We are depending more on solar, wind and other renewable sources of energy. Diesel is the biggest culprit in the production of carbon so our objective in the short and long term is to cut the use of diesel by 50 per cent,” says Dennis Chepkwony, Senior Manager – Power, in the SME, Regional Network Implementation & Operations Department.

The resident expert on energy matters adds that the company is also leveraging the power of technology to monitor and account for every litre of diesel delivered to network sites, an investment that has so far seen Safaricom record a 44 per cent reduction in diesel use.

“Chepkwony says the cost of switching to renewable energy is huge, so alongside other initiatives, Safaricom has engaged its wide network of partners to build momentum towards reliance on renewable energy,” says Chepkwony.

“Our activities involve planting trees, because for us to be net zero we have to cut the volume of carbon we release to the environment by 74 per cent by 2050,” he says.

Achieving net zero status is a big commitment that takes a lot of time and resources, which small companies often do not have, says Mungai, but there are small ways these companies can mitigate the effects of climate change.

“Big companies like Safaricom are endowed with resources and it is widely believed that they are the only ones supposed to work on climate change. That’s the wrong narrative. We need to sensitize small and medium enterprises. Companies like Safaricom and KCB are sensitizing their suppliers to start plugging into the climate change conversation and push it forward,” says Mungai.

So what can smaller companies do?

“(These companies need to ask themselves:) if they have vehicles, are they electric or do they use diesel? How are they managing their operations; are they using fossil fuels or renewable sources of energy? How are they managing their waste; is it e-waste or paper waste? How are they also managing food waste? What is their consumption of energy?” asks Mungai.

These are some of the questions that if considered carefully, Mungai says, will lead companies and individuals to get more involved in the push to achieve net zero status. It’s not just good for the environment, it’s good for people, and ultimately good for sustainable business.

“In future, only sustainable companies will survive in the sense of people, planet and profit,” he says, alluding to the global push for more businesses to consider the impact of their operations not just on their bottom line, but on the livelihoods of the communities they operate in, and the environment.

“The future is only for sustainable and responsible companies because customers are becoming sensitive to how companies are producing and consuming energy. In essence, they need companies to safeguard the environment for future generations,” he adds.

And with Africa, already the hottest continent, more vulnerable to climate change compared to other continents, individuals should take keener interest in the roles they can play towards halting its effects.

This includes paying more attention to waste management, the adoption of simple habits such as reduce, reuse and recycle, and the use of clean energy such as solar.

Maybe then, we could halt the threat that threatens to wipe out the very existence of humankind.

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