Kenya says makes climate effort before Copenhagen

NAIROBI Wed Nov 11, 2009 4:48pm EST

Ogiek tribes children stand near tree stamp in Mauche settlement scheme of Mau Forest Complex in the Rift Valley, about 200 km (127 miles) to the south-west of Kenya's capital Nairobi, July 29, 2009. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Ogiek tribes children stand near tree stamp in Mauche settlement scheme of Mau Forest Complex in the Rift Valley, about 200 km (127 miles) to the south-west of Kenya's capital Nairobi, July 29, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

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NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya said on Wednesday it would work to restore tree cover and explore renewable energy options as its contribution to combating climate change ahead of next month's environmental summit in Copenhagen.

Part of the effort will include a plan to save the Mau forest, one of the few remaining in the east African country, Prime Minister Raila Odinga said.

"In Kenya, we are not waiting for Copenhagen for help," he told a conference.

He said forests had covered 12 percent of Kenya 40 years ago, but the figure had been slashed to 1.7 percent.

"Through acts of unbridled greed, irresponsibility, mismanagement of public resources and a severe lack of civic responsibility, we lost most of our forest and our water towers to human encroachment and illegal logging," he said.

"We have embarked on ambitious reforestation programs," he said, adding that, by law, tea plantations and other farms must now plant trees on at least 10 percent of their land.

A major source of controversy in Kenya in recent weeks has been the planned relocation of some 20,000 families from homes in the Mau Forest Complex, the country's biggest closed-canopy forest and a vital water catchment area.

Their 14-day eviction notices expired on Tuesday.

Forestry and Wildlife Minister Noah Wekesa says the evictions will be conducted humanely and without force, and that allowances will be made for students taking national exams and those who had food crops which were not yet ready for harvest.

The Nairobi-based U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) says the Mau Forest complex, which serves as a water tower for an estimated 10 million Kenyans, has lost 24 percent, or 107,000 hectares (264,400 acres), of its trees over the last 20 years due to illegal settlement and subsequent deforestation.

The settlers, many of whom were sold false title deeds, reject the government's position that they have no right to the land and have expressed concern as to where they will live.

Odinga said Kenya was exploring many potential sources of renewable energy -- including its abundant sunshine, good terrain for wind farming and lots of land for growing biofuels.

"It is most important for the developed world and the advanced countries to finance renewable energy and other climate change projects in Africa," the prime minister said.

Kenya's new coalition government set up a task force last year to reverse the Mau destruction, which UNEP says could cost the tourism, tea and energy sectors alone at least $300 million.

Odinga says any land given out illegally must be returned.

"On these (relocation program), we need the support of the world and the cooperation of our citizens, including the leaders," he told the meeting in Nairobi on Wednesday.

(Editing by Daniel Wallis and Michael Roddy)

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