D4GX 2016: How Technology Can Reduce Carbon Emissions in Developing Countries

By Jackson Kimani, Regional Director, Clinton Climate Initiative, Clinton Foundation

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of this century that’s linked to how we live in and interact with the world. The way we produce our food, heat our homes, travel – all affect climate change. Therefore, a holistic approach is critical in addressing climate change in a meaningful and sustainable way.

Given how ill-equipped they are in coping with the effects of climate change, developing countries are hit the hardest. Changing rainfall patterns contribute to more frequent droughts and crop failures in a lot of these countries, which are largely dependent on agriculture as their primary economic activity. As these countries strive to enhance economic performance and lift their people out of poverty, they have struggled to find an approach that sustainably delivers economic and social benefits while also helping tackle the broader challenge of climate change. Underpinning this has been the absence of a system to track the emissions.

While the world has made considerable progress in securing commitments to fight climate change, leading up to the Paris Agreement at COP21, a major hurdle to implementing this agreement remains – namely, a lack of emissions estimation tools, especially in developing countries. The sheer complexity of setting up these systems means that most countries rely on simplistic approaches that simply don’t provide enough accuracy to measure emissions with the confidence required to make decisions and establish clear benchmarks.

The Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) has spent the last five years partnering with the Government of Kenya to overcome this challenge in the land sector, where most emissions are produced and which is one of the most difficult sectors to measure. SLEEK (System for Land-based Emissions Estimation in Kenya) focuses on forestry and land-use change. It captures the emissions that are released when a tree is cut down, a farmer changes their crops or a new tree is planted. This effectively provides visibility to all land uses, providing a basis for integrated land use management and informed decision-making.

Building the SLEEK system has been a monumental effort. The program has brought together scientists from over fifteen government entities who have been in the field conducting trials and taking measurements; coders who have been developing new, cutting edge programs and government officials who have been agreeing on the structures for measuring emissions over the long-term. The program also led to the foundation of moja global, a collaborative project ensuring that tools associated with SLEEK are reliable, well documented and easy to understand.

Bloomberg’s Data for Good Exchange, happening on September 25th 2016 in New York City with the theme of “better governance,” couldn’t be more fitting in helping shine a spotlight on the benefits governments and the public sector can derive from leveraging data for improved decision-making.

Similar to the Data for Good Exchange, the SLEEK program has helped promote a culture of collaboration and data sharing. It has also acted as a bridge to tap into the best science and technology for the Kenyan government through linkages to global centers of excellence and world class experts. Finally, it has built coalitions of support that cut across government, communities and political interests.

moja global looks forward to sharing some of the key lessons we have learned from our experience with the other actors at the Data for Good Exchange. Some of those include:

  • Government is a lynchpin in data projects and can’t just be ignored.
  • When we listen to governments and work with them in a patient, open way, we can make truly incredible things happen that will last over time.
  • It’s critical to start with the government’s agenda, investing in understanding their real needs and then working with them in collaboration. It makes it a partnership of equals.
  • Ensure you have the right people in the room by constantly asking questions and clarifying roles.
  • Finally, there is need to build consensus. This means working within the flow of government, understanding mandates and helping respective institutions achieve their goals.