Our embassy in Nairobi is to become climate neutral

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Photo of the embassy building in Nairobi

The embassy building in Nairobi (© FPS Foreign Affairs).

Work has begun to make the entire compound for our embassy in Nairobi climate neutral – a first! With solar panels, water recycling, kitchen waste fermentation and much more besides. Our embassy also supported compatriot Jean-Pascal van Ypersele's campaign to head up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

'Climate neutral' – the term has become a hot topic these days. It means organising your home, business, institution, city or country in such a way that there is no impact on the climate. So you do not emit any greenhouse gases or you remove the inevitable remaining emissions from the atmosphere through nature or certain techniques. The whole world urgently needs to become climate neutral if we want to avoid the climate crisis going off the rails.

But how do you get started with that? The good news is: the techniques exist! In any case, our embassy in Nairobi (Kenya) is rising to the challenge. As early as next February, when the sixth United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) summit in Nairobi goes ahead, our embassy aims to be climate neutral!

Climate-neutral safari camp provides inspiration

Ambassador Peter Maddens tells us more about it. 'When I arrived here in August 2021, I met a Belgian entrepreneur who was running a climate-neutral safari camp. The camp turned out to be very similar to our embassy's compound in terms of personnel, surface area, vehicle fleet and so on. So we had to be able to do the same!'

Meanwhile, the public tender has been completed and the selected company has got started. What adjustments are needed? Maddens: 'There will be solar panels with batteries that should allow us to continue operating for several days, in absolute darkness and without any input from the grid. We will also be collecting rainwater and recycling 80% of our water. The company will also establish a vegetable garden and a herb wall. Our visitors and staff will be able to harvest the herbs freely; scissors and bags will be provided. Rosemary, thyme, whatever you can think of. Those grow luxuriantly here. Finally, kitchen waste will be fermented in a biodigester to produce biogas that we can use for cooking. All things that were inspired by the ecological safari camp.'

Photograph of a stone wall with the words 'Embassy of Belgium' on it. In the background trees and part of a building

View of Karura forest on the edge of the embassy grounds (© FPS Foreign Affairs).

Ideas for the future?

Still, this will not make the compound completely climate neutral. 'We ourselves have two cars, one of which will soon be replaced by an electric car. And our staff still use gasoline cars. To offset the use of those fossil fuels, we are thinking of making deals with the neighbours of the Karura Forest located right next to our compound, for example. The Karura Forest is an urban forest that was protected thanks to the now-deceased Nobel Prize laureate Wangari Maathai. For example, we could connect the forest fence to our self-created electrical grid. We are also toying with the idea of taking over some of the kitchen waste from the restaurant in the urban forest to ferment it here. Because we don't have enough waste ourselves to run our kitchen on biogas. And we are also planting 500 trees.'

What is particularly interesting is that they are all very feasible techniques. Ambassador Maddens is therefore fully confident that he can officially call his compound climate neutral by February 2024! And that will make it the very first fully climate-neutral Belgian embassy and the first climate-neutral embassy in Nairobi.

The efforts to make the Nairobi compound climate neutral are not an isolated initiative. They are part of the relentless commitment by the Central Administration in Brussels – more specifically, the Buildings Abroad Department – to drastically reduce the ecological footprint of our FPS. This includes preparing and analysing specifications and bids, directing the works from Brussels and so on.

Among other things, the service takes a decidedly holistic view here and looks at climate-friendly energy alternatives, water consumption, landscaping adapted to climatological conditions, waste processing and collection, archiving, furniture and artworks, conversion and better use of buildings, ecologically sound paint, etc. Recycling and the circular economy are also central. This has not only an ecological but also an economic impact. Over time, energy bills will drop significantly.

Photo of Jean-Pascal Van Ypersele with Minister Lahbib

Jean-Pascal Van Ypersele with Minister Lahbib at the launch of his candidacy in Brussels (© FPS Foreign Affairs).

Our post in Nairobi supported the campaign by climatologist Jean-Pascal van Ypersele

It may have escaped your notice, but our compatriot Jean-Pascal van Ypersele recently made a bid for the presidency of the International Panel on Climate Change. Unfortunately, he did not win the elections that took place in Nairobi on 26 July. Scotsman Jim Skea was apparently able to convince more countries.

Like all our posts, however, our embassy in Nairobi did its best to support his campaign. For example, it organised several visits during his campaign tour from 1 to 6 June. First, it participated along with Jean-Pascal van Ypersele in a planting campaign of fruit trees at a school in Nyeri (two hours north of Nairobi). This was part of a major action at 500 schools by climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti.

They also visited the Belgian company Hydrobox, which installs small hydropower facilities. With this, villages of a few hundred inhabitants can be electrified without burdening the national grid. The company was once launched with funding from Finexpo, which is part of Foreign Affairs.

Furthermore, the campaign tour was timed to take place in June to coincide with UN-Habitat's second session dedicated to sustainable urban development. Van Ypersele was able to make some contacts at the highest political level there.

Finally, some meetings were scheduled with Ministers and senior officials from Kenya's Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Environment. Our post also provided the necessary accommodation during the last week of July as the elections took place.

Even though our compatriot did not make it in the end, Ambassador Maddens still looks back on the campaign with satisfaction. 'We normally liaise with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Environment. However, the campaign for van Ypersele also put us in touch with the Kenyan counterparts of Belspo (Science Policy) and the Royal Meteorological Institute. These are some new and interesting contacts that can feed into our positioning in the climate debate.'