Kenyan president warns debt clouds Africa climate potential

US President Joe Biden (R) and Kenya's President William Ruto stand as national anthems are played during an official arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC (Mandel NGAN)
US President Joe Biden (R) and Kenya's President William Ruto stand as national anthems are played during an official arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC (Mandel NGAN)

Africa's vast potential in the global fight against climate change is at risk due to the heavy burden of debt and lack of international investment, Kenyan President William Ruto said Thursday.

On a state visit to Washington, Ruto highlighted how Kenya already generates some 90 percent of energy from renewables and said the rest of Africa had "massive" potential in the green economy, both through natural resources -- including forest "sinks" that counteract carbon emissions -- and a young workforce.

"Our continent has the fundamentals to be a major player" in several areas "needed to avert the climate catastrophe," Ruto said in a speech.

But he regretted that Africa was only receiving two percent of global investment in renewable energy and that some countries were spending more on servicing their debts than on health care.

"Africa's role in addressing climate change is not guaranteed and nobody should take it for granted," Ruto said at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

"It is not our business to keep trees. It is not our business to keep forest. It will not materialize if we are so crippled by debt that we cannot educate our youth, if investors deem us too risky to engage," he said.

Ruto pointed to the growing costs of disasters related to climate change, with Africa particularly hard hit, but said that green investment in Africa also made economic sense.

The continent, he said, holds 60 percent of the potential resources for global solar energy.

Ruto was speaking after talks at the White House where he said he had a "candid conversation" with President Joe Biden about how the United States can assist through its clout at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Ruto said he appealed to Biden to double the US contribution to replenishing the International Development Association, a division of the World Bank that assists low-income countries, from $4 billion to $8 billion.

In a joint statement, Ruto and Biden called for "bold action" by the world to assist developing countries, including on their debt.

It called for more international support for countries that "commit to ambitious reforms and high-quality plans" in areas such as climate change.

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