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Why deploying carbon removal technology is a win-win for Kenya

Philip Thigo, Advisor on Technology and Open Government in the Presidency, Government of Kenya, explains how carbon removal fits into Kenya’s broader development strategy

In today’s world, where climate change poses an existential threat, countries across the globe are seeking innovative ways to combat it while also fostering economic growth and technological advancement. Kenya continues to lead on climate action and technological innovation. Our rapid advancement, experimentation, and intention to deploy safe carbon removal technologies is not by chance. Carbon removal is a win-win for Kenya as it our country’s broader development strategy.

H.E President William Ruto’s forward thinking vision has underscored an ambitious target around three critical development objective on climate change: accelerating climate change action, creating employment opportunities and harnessing the power of technology for the nation’s development. Carbon removal addresses all three of these great challenges for the country.

Incidentally, Kenya’s landscape, geology, and demographics offer a unique advantage for safe and durable carbon removal.  Kenya’s Rift Valley boasts the perfect geology to securely store air-captured CO2 for thousands of years. It has an abundance of renewable energy accounting for 92% share of Kenya’s energy mix which ensures the removal process is green and supports the energy-intensive processes required for carbon removal.

Finally, Kenya’s young population, with a median age of 19.7, is brimming with talent and innovation. This dynamic demographic is passionate about solving developmental challenges, making them a valuable component of creating new industries and opportunities around the carbon economy.

Climate change poses an existential threat to our continent and the world. The President, leading the nation has already declared an ambitious target of planting 15 billion trees by 2032 to restore our water towers and bio-diversity. While this target increases our forest cover, the tree by themselves will not sequester enough carbon to meet the requires target of 550 million tons per year by 2030. At CoP28, The Government of Kenya together with IBM and NASA announced the developed of a Large Language Model for Ai[1] application on reforestation and climate resilience, in collaboration with Mohamed Bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence, Government of Kenya and the United Kingdom’s Science and Technology Facilities Council Hartree Centre.  A central part of this collaboration is to measure carbon sequestration of our forests, and still, the math does not add up.

To bridge this gap, the country needs a different approach that is not only durable, effective, and transparent but also inclusive, equitable, and safe. This new approach should provide employment opportunities for our youthful population and facilitate access to and development of technology aligned with our ambitious climate goals.

As a country that leads on technology experimentation, we have adopted a collaborative approach to technology adoption through sandboxes that ensure regulations do not stifle innovation. Kenya is on the brink of pioneering carbon removal projects, in collaboration with leading direct air capture companies such as Climeworks and Great Carbon Valley.[2] Furthermore, OCTAVIA Carbon, a Kenyan-owned and Kenyan-led startup, is actively developing direct air capture technologies and already exporting its prototypes to other countries.[3] These projects will leverage Kenya’s special economic zone and geothermal corridor to propel carbon removal technologies to new heights.

His Excellency the President lends unwavering support to this comprehensive approach, understanding the importance of technology and innovation to drive green industrialization. Countries needs solutions that simultaneously address climate concerns, create job opportunities, and bridge the technology gap. Consequently, Kenya is rapidly moving to showcase the potential of carbon removal as one of those new opportunities to create new industries and jobs for our young population. In this endeavour, the country is leading a global effort in championing a Carbon Removal Pledge by member states to advance safe, effective, durable, transparent, inclusive and equitable carbon removal.

As Kenya emerges as a global player in the carbon removal arena, it offers a compelling example of how countries can address the pressing issue of climate change while advancing their economies and technology sectors. With visionary leadership, natural advantages, and a commitment to technology and innovation, Kenya is paving the way for a more sustainable and prosperous future.