Kenya has set ambitious goals to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030; while striving to attain economic, social and environmental development. The defining issues around climate change often are debatable. The rising sea levels, the threat on our food security, the extreme and no longer predictable weather patterns, gas emissions emanating from our endless trail of vehicles on the roads, the use of natural gas in buildings and electricity generation among others.
As we aim to become a competitive middle-income country with a high quality of life for its citizens in the next nine years, communities must deal with factors that continue to impact their livelihoods and assets. Take for instance the recurring droughts that render their members susceptible to malnutrition and in most cases death. Floods that leave a sequence of crop damage in their wake. While the bigger erratic impact is on the nation’s economic development, the communities bear the immediate brunt of climate variability.
We frequently wonder, are the effects of global warming permanent or is there a chance to reverse the damages already caused by human activities? What actions can we collectively take? What is the place of communities in the ecosystem, and how can they get involved in the fight against climate change and its adverse impacts on the world?
Deforestation and land degradation
In the quest for modernity, communities have become overly reliant on logging for infrastructure development, mining, timber production for construction, charcoal burning for commercial use, urbanisation among other reasons. As a result, Kenya remains in the low tree cover countries in the world; with a forest cover of 7.2% against a minimum target of 10%. The country is facing a terrestrial emergency, and the communities are particularly vulnerable. As major causes of carbon emissions, deforestation and land degradation continue to intensify the occurrence of floods and droughts, with extensive consequences on communities as food insecurity becomes prevalent. So, how can communities get involved in helping the country achieve the national target of 10% cover by 2030?
A sustainable change will only arise when we improve the systems around the cause of deforestation. Alternative fuel should become cheaper and incentivized, new innovations and business models should be developed, so that communities do not need to rely on wood. For instance, companies like Gjenge Makers, Continental Renewable Energy Co. (Corec), and Green Pavers recycle plastic waste into alternative environmentally friendly building materials such as paving bricks, solar roof tiles and eco-friendly poles ideal for fencing on farms, homes, national parks, forest reserves, and commercial places. The three have similar objectives, among others to reduce the amount of plastic waste and the rate of deforestation in the country. This is the mindset we need. Looking at materials with a long-lasting life span in place and phasing out waste and destruction of natural resources.
The National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) predicts that greenhouse gas emissions in Kenya will rise until 2030 in all sectors except forestry; where emissions are likely to decrease after 2020. This is as a result of reduced deforestation and an increase in reforestation initiations both by the government and the private sector.
Woe unto our transport systems
Have you seen the state of our roads? The growing number of vehicles in our cities? Transportation emissions are especially high during the crazy traffic we experience particularly in Nairobi, since more energy is used and thus more carbon is emitted. The vulnerability of the transport sector is demonstrated in the events of extreme weather changes.
While almost our entire adult life is based on commuting from home to work and back, the COVID-19 pandemic has underpinned the need to review other work arrangements such as working remotely. This has already been tried and tested during this period, and has not only proven to save us on transport costs, but has also reduced the number of vehicles on the roads and ultimately on the amount of emissions released into the environment. Businesses are also coming up with air friendly solutions (which are helping avoid time wastage in traffic) by having bicycles and boda bodas running delivery services. Take Decathlon for example, which does 90% of its online deliveries in Nairobi on the bicycle (further promoting the company’s sports business). 5% are done by boda bodas (with an electric one from Opibus) and only 5% of deliveries are made by conventional transport means.
A research from the Global Carbon Project, the University of East Anglia, and the University of Exeter showed that a reduction in transport activities contributed greatly to the decrease in carbon emissions globally. As lockdowns were put in place and transport hurled in April 2020 to reduce the spread of the virus, carbon emissions from air travel and automobiles dropped by half. By the end of the year, the report indicated that the drop from automobiles and air travel had recorded approximately 10% and 40%, respectively, from 2019 levels.
Globally, greenhouse gas emissions plummeted by about 2.4 billion tons in 2020, accounting for a 7% drop from 2019. Covid-19 has contributed to the largest decline to ever be recorded. With the situation expected to rebound this year, it is important that communities and governments at large consider the adoption of renewable energy from zero emission sources; as part of their recovery strategies. This will go a long way in tackling climate change post the coronavirus pandemic.
Adopting a Circular Economy
To reach the climate goals by 2030, Kenya must hasten the shift to a circular economy; moving from the current linear economy that focuses on taking, making, using and disposing of resources. This cradle to grave model is responsible for the continued disposal of waste into the environment, most of which just sit on open landfills causing grave pollution on air, land and water.
Adopting a circular economy will emphasize on redefining growth; and communities can benefit from long-term positive impacts both economic and environmental. Sustainable Inclusive Business, the knowledge centre under the Kenya Private Sector Alliance underscores that in a circular economy, also known as the cradle to cradle model, waste is not considered waste but as value. By reintroducing waste into the cycle, it becomes a resource that repeatedly becomes an input to regenerate other products. This goes a long way in reducing the levels of waste pollution in the environment.
A circular economy approach could reduce global carbon emissions from key industry materials by 40% in 2050. This is according to an Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2019) report – Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change. I believe that to achieve this, business communities must create models that keep assets, products, and components in use while making productive and efficient use of resources.
In the end, the vision is to enhance climate resilience; including strong economic growth, creating robust ecosystems, and ensuring that Kenyans have equal sustainable livelihoods. With that focus on people, we cannot forget the impact on the planet with reduced climate-induced loss. By applying both orthodox and eccentric approaches in fighting climate change, communities will not only feel involved in the process, but will also contribute massively to making the world a better place for us, and future-proofing it for our next generations.
Josephine Wawira is the Communications Officer at Sustainable Inclusive Business – KEPSA.
The article was published on the Standard Newspaper (Friday, February 12, 2021. Pg-36)