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Governments in Africa must walk the talk on climate change

 Deficit in forecasting capability exacerbates the vulnerability of African countries to weather-related catastrophes. [iStockphoto]

Climate change discourses like the recent Climate Summit held in Nairobi continue to be welcomed. However, from the look of things, African countries seem to fail to walk the talk. We hold conferences and meetings related to climate change, but meaningful actions emanating from these discussions are thin on the ground. Clearly, there are some fundamental issues which need to be addressed.

First, implementation of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) needs to be addressed. The NDCs, as part of the Paris Agreement, are supposed to be the pillars for the fight against climate change. Most of the current discussions do not inform the audience how far African countries have gone in implementing their NDCs. I came across one senior official from an African country who informed me that her country is still waiting for funding to start implementing their NDCs. This means that while African countries’ climate change negotiators are still talking about the issues, their discussions have little relevance to what they are actually doing, or not doing, at the country level. From reports in the available literature, it is unfortunate that NDCs are under-funded and in some instances, no funds have been allocated for local implementation. In Kenya, for example, only 13% was earmarked locally and 87% was supposed to be mobilized from external sources. If African countries are to take climate change seriously, they must take a proactive approach and prioritize climate change, even as they await so-called promised donor funds which take forever to be accessed. As the saying goes, ‘charity begins at home,’ so African countries should revisit this issue of NDCs.

Second, marginalization and under-funding of meteorological departments means that the region cannot produce accurate enough data to predict weather patterns for the coming hours or even days and shows clearly that climate change has not been prioritized. Many African countries do not have functional synoptic weather stations for capturing weather data and warning about impending catastrophes like floods, often with devastating consequences. Studies done by risk experts and climatologists from the UK and Africa found that average deaths caused by flooding events in Africa are four times higher than in Europe and North America per flood, as seen in the recent Libya case. Moreover, since climate change is a multifaceted issue, cutting across many sectors, climate change needs to be mainstreamed into existing development plans and Africa should earmark its own funds for addressing these issues.

Third, various studies seem to indicate that the concept of climate change is misunderstood. For example, in a study done by the Conversation, dated 2nd June 2023, it was confirmed that in Kenya, students know very little about climate change. In fact, although 96.3% of students were familiar with current changes in weather patterns such as knowing about less or delayed rains, warmer nights and more severe droughts and floods, their understanding of technical issues like global warming and carbon sequestration was weak. Moreover, 60% of those surveyed had no knowledge of global actors such as Conference of the Parties, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Kyoto Protocol. Closer to home, some of the students did not have any knowledge about local actors such as the Drought Monitoring Centre or even the national climate change policies including the National Climate Change Response Strategy. Further, the students could not differentiate between climate coping, adaptation, and mitigation strategies. For instance, coping is a short-term strategy, while adaptation is long-term strategy, and mitigation strategies are taken beforehand to prevent risks.

By and large, the Conversation study found that apart from subjects directly linked to climate change, such as weather and climate in geography, ecology, biology, crop production and other environmental subjects, climate change is mainly taught under optional subjects at secondary schools and universities. It is worrying that African students, unlike their peers in Europe, have superficial knowledge about climate change. Therefore, given that the youth in many African countries comprise more than 60% of the population and are the custodians of the environment, governments need to integrate climate change into the curriculum from primary school to university level. Furthermore, the climate change knowledge of policy makers who claim to be dealing with climate change issues, should be upgraded so that they can seriously deal with these issues.

Fourth, there is no doubt that carbon markets make a lot of sense. However, how many people understand them? If carbon markets were so simple, there would be brokers and middlemen doing business across Africa. In fact, we would be seeing scandals and corruption deals across the continent if carbon markets were that easy to access. Various studies acknowledge that the subject is not easy to understand and have provided suggestions on the way forward. For example, there is need to organize business clinics to help businesses to deepen their understanding of the concept. Other recent studies in Africa note that there are problems of technical capacity to participate in the carbon markets on fair terms. According to African Report of October 2022, the ecosystem of project developers is very limited in scale and most of them operate in one or two countries in Africa. Navigating land rights for nature-based projects also can be challenging. Moreover, it is expensive to validate and verify individual projects. Mostly, market mechanisms to de-risk investments in supply have not been developed so that at present, utilizing carbon markets remains mostly speculation. In short, capacity building is a critical component to be addressed at both national and regional levels for carbon markets to become feasible in Africa.

African governments need to walk the talk and address the issues around climate change. They should not commit themselves to recommendations when they know very well that they cannot deliver. NDCs must be implemented and budgets, no matter how small, need to be allocated to achieve this. While carbon markets sound a good idea on paper, in practice it is going to take a while before countries have capacity to internalize them. Finally, to demystify climate change it must be mainstreamed in our school system so that our students at all levels, from primary school to university have a basic understanding of climate change which in turn, will encourage them to make meaningful contributions to addressing this grave concern.

Dr Kakonge, former Kenya Ambassador/ Permanent Representative to the UN Office and WTO in Geneva, Switzerland. 

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