Kenya is making progress on climate change faster than expected

By Tindi Sitati and Ruchi Soni

The National Climate Change Response Strategy 2010 in Kenya provides a framework for integrating climate change into development priorities. Kenya’s ban on plastic bags, its commitment to restore 5.1 million hectares of land and growth projections in the renewable energy sector are some of the crucial aspects in environmental protection. These three commitments will play a key role in moving Kenya towards a low carbon climate resilient development pathway and contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change.

According to the Environment Cabinet Secretary, Prof. Judi Wakhungu, these initiatives are being undertaken by the Government and private sector to help communities cope with the impacts of climate change and develop a low carbon infrastructure.

The Climate Change Act 2016 offers mitigation measures to help combat effects of climate change for various stakeholders, including the government. As one of the measures, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, in a gazette notice number 2356, banned the use, manufacture, and importation of all plastics bags below 30 micron in Kenya. There was heavy opposition to this ban, especially from the manufacturing sector and is the third attempt by the government since 2005 to ban polythene bags.

A woman recycles plastic bags from a river near the Dondora dumpsite close to the capital Nairobi, Kenya on March 17, 2015.Thomson Reuters Foundation/Reuters


A recent report by the World Economic forum noted that unless decisive measures were taken, there would be more plastic bags in the ocean than fish by 2050. “I am so excited about the ban on plastic bags and I cannot wait to see innovative solutions emerge from our optimistic and forward-thinking population of young people. Re-usable bags, though costly to produce, may be the long term solution,” said Wanjira Mathai, Senior Partnership Advisor, Partnership on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Renewables (wPOWER).

In another commitment for environmental protection, Kenya made an announcement to restore 5.1 million hectares of land. “This is nearly nine per cent of Kenya’s total land mass and makes us the first African country to complete a national restoration opportunity assessment that informed our commitment to the Bonn Challenge and African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100),” said Mathai. Through this initiative, Kenya is now the thirteenth African country to commit to bringing over 46 million hectares of land into restoration by 2030.

The Green Belt Movement, founded by the late Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, has planted more than 51 million trees across the country. This has helped protect critical watersheds, restored thousands of acres of indigenous forests, and empowered thousands of women and their families. “We have a huge deficit of trees to plant, that is something we can do without spending too much,” Mathai said.

wPOWER’ s women network in central Kenya undergoing training on clean cooking alternatives. Photo Credit: Tindi Sitati


According to the Energy Regulatory Commision, Kenya has embraced its potential  in exploiting renewable energy sources to provide energy required to complement the realization of Vision 2030. The country’s equatorial location offers solar power potential with year-round solar insolation at 4 – 6 kWh/m2/day. In 2015, approximately 470,000 rural households owned solar home systems, this figure known to be steadily increasing. On the household cooking front, cleaner fuels must also become part of the solution to tackle climate change.  As of 2012, an estimated 2.25 million households owned an improved cookstove and LPG is continuing to gain popularity in urban settings where 25% of households are using it. A linked issue is one of prioritizing women’s leadership in clean energy entrepreneurship, as they form the foundation as change agents for both rural and urban development. wPOWER, a global platform for promoting the pivotal role of women in clean energy entrepreneurship, is working on empowering over 5,500 clean energy entrepreneurs working in underserved rural areas in the global South.

While such efforts are underway and Kenya is making strides, enormous opportunities still exist for environmental protection, and in adapting to long-term climate change. It is thus imperative to mainstream climate change considerations into the national policies as well as planning and budgeting.


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