The Importance President Uhuru’s UK Trip on Kenya’s Climate Change Agenda

By Dennis Okore

President Kenyatta at Mansion House, the Official Residence of the Lord Mayor of London, where he attended the Kenya-UK Investment Forum on July 27, 2021.
President Kenyatta at Mansion House, the Official Residence of the Lord Mayor of London, where he attended the Kenya-UK Investment Forum on July 27, 2021. [Courtesy the StandardMedia]

President Uhuru’s UK trip had a heavily packed schedule. One cannot miss some of the achievements from the trip. Key among these achievements was witnessing the signing of the agreement that will enable Kenya to join the Adaptation Action Coalition (AAC) and the UN Climate Action Summit (UN CAS).

  Formed in January 2021, The AAC aimed to build upon the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit (UNCAS) ‘Call for Action on Adaptation and Resilience. Where the Call for Action signaled intent and ambition. The AAC drives action through targeted sectoral workstreams and events. The Coalition’s primary aim is to accelerate global action on adaptation to achieve a climate-resilient world by 2030 through the delivery of sector-specific, action-orientated workstreams, initially focused on health, infrastructure, and water in 2021.

 This is significant given the government's development blueprint which is centered on the delivery of the ‘Big Four’ agenda. Committing to join the coalition signals a strong devotion to aligning the government priorities while also achieving the adaptation and mitigation actions towards climate change. Kenya joins other 35 countries globally who are already members of the coalition. In Africa, Kenya joins Egypt, Malawi, Ghana, Morocco, and Djibouti. The ‘Big Four’ agenda is aligned to the Vision 2030 development blueprint and the associated Medium – Term -Plans.  

 In Kenya, like the other parts of the world, the adoption of the Paris agreement on Climate Change in 2015, has defined every development, economic and social discourse as countries integrate climate-focused policies. This is so because, although the Paris agreement was agreed upon globally by many parties, the effectiveness of its implementation remains a challenge, partly because of the principle of common but differentiated responsibility. The global consensus must reflect and be implemented at the national level according to each country’s magnitude of GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions and ability to address the associated challenges.

 The global climate change agreement still has glaring inequalities in their contribution to carbon emissions, development outcomes, vulnerability, and exposure to climate impacts vary greatly. Despite these disparities, countries also agreed on developing climate national plans known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). In Kenya, this is implemented under the National Climate Change Action plan (2018-2022) which draws its mandate from the Climate Change Act of 2016. Through this, Kenya has driven ambitious projects in increasing renewables in the electricity generation mix of the national grid and aggressive campaigns toward achieving tree cover of at least 10% of the land area in Kenya. These efforts have also led to the adoption of the Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) in line with the Kenya CSA Strategy. The scaling of Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) for mitigation has also been a useful program by the government. Policy measures for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and foster conservation (REDD+), have been instrumental in delivering these programs.

 Kenya submitted its first NDC in 2016. This set both adaptation and mitigation contributions based on conditional support to reduce GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 30% by 2030 relative to the Business as Usual (BAU) scenario. Despite the 2016 NDC being conditional to international support, most of the progress made on implementation has been from domestic funding. Recently, Kenya submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) its revised NDC targets where it commits to reducing 32% of GHG for $ 62Billion where Kenya is only able to meet 13% of the budget from domestic resources.

 President Uhuru’s visit happened at an opportune time just as the UK is at the helm of the Presidency of Conference of Parties (COP26) which will happen later in the year in the Scottish city of Glasgow. Under the Paris Agreement, countries committed to bringing forward national plans setting out how much they would reduce their emissions - known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). They agreed that every five years they would come back with an updated plan that would reflect their highest possible ambition at that time. 2020 marked the first of these five-year cycles but due to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, it could not happen. This means that in early November this year, countries are expected to update their 2030 targets before the Glasgow meeting. The President’s visits put Kenya in a strategic position in speaking on behalf of Africa while presenting the Kenya case as a member of the AAC before the COP26 pre-activities gain momentum.

 Ironically, when COP26 happens, the focus for the negotiations will be on finalizing the rules needed to implement the Paris Agreement, called the ‘Paris Rulebook’. One would wonder why this is happening 5 years later when we are closer to 2030 than were in 2015. Either way, countries can find solutions that can enable greater ambition in mitigation and adaptation actions. It will be interesting to see how COP26 comes up with agreements around building confidence in systems that support Africa in meeting the commitments in their NDCs. In Africa, like in many other parts of the world, progress is still remote, as most countries are still struggling in meeting the commitments laid out in Paris towards limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. While targets will be important at COP26, it will only be important if they must translate into action, fast. The financing of climate change initiatives is a big area of concern for the success of Climate Change Agreements in Africa. Like Kenya, many African countries have not been able to sufficiently fund climate change projects. Financing these projects is key in promoting mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change-related planning and management in Africa, including focusing on women, youth and local and marginalized communities. More support from developed countries and action-oriented policies are needed to avail financing is needed to fund far-reaching programs that are integrated with the whole sector of the economy to create a lasting impact. The scale of need for climate finance is big due to the impact of the COVID19 pandemic.

   Dennis Okore, Communications and Public Policy Consultant

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