We’ll pay more in future if we fail to fund pro-climate actions today

Environmental activists wear face masks depicting the governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, during a protest to encourage a green economy, outside of the Bank of England in the City of London, Britain, August 6, 2020. [Reuters]

As curtains fall on the 26th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Conference of the Parties (COP 26), our generation is being reminded of the threats we face due to our activities. I guess some in the audience may be wondering where this is headed since this column articulates matters of economics.

For the avoidance of doubt, climate change matters are at the heart of the world economic order for five main reasons: One, the complexities and threats that we face due to climate change are a consequence of past and ongoing human economic activities; two, the costs and benefits of responding to climate change-related complexities are done using economic modelling; three, the issues at stake on climate action are a reflection of geo-economic politics that shape how the world interacts.

Four, our economic activities today have a profound impact on the socio-economic welfare of the generation of our children and great...great-grandchildren; and five, the action points are not only limited to government interventions but also trickle down to corporate, household and individual actions. A lot of empirical evidence demonstrates that the consequences of inaction are worth more than the investments we need to make today within our anthropogenic activities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While I am not an environmental scientist or environmental economists, I have been engaged in policy, governance and practical activities to document impact of climate change in the country. I have also provided technical support in designing capacity-building programmes to enable the country plan, budget, track and report her nationally determined contributions on climate actions. This grants me the moral authority to give my two cents. 

One of the biggest challenges I have encountered in my climate change voyages has being the ‘technical language’ barrier. At both the national and global level, the majority of the scientists in the climate change space have been unable to unpack their jargon into simpler language and messages that communities, households and individuals can relate with. In the 2017/2018 fiscal year, I had the privilege of being part of a technical team documenting climate change case studies in two counties–Kilifi and Narok.

The nature of the assignment required that we explore the technical and scientific jargon and engage communities and individuals making significant contributions in their daily economic activities. We also visited county-level interventions and sites devastated as a consequence of climate change. The outcome of the project was to document this information in simple language that could be disseminated to policymakers and technical officers in other sectors of the economy.

At some point, the same information is to be taken to local communities to adapt and integrate into their economic activities. From this experience, I witnessed first-hand the cost and realities of climate change in the country. From extreme weather variabilities in Kilifi and across the rest of the country, to the flooding menace in Narok town and its environs and the senseless destruction of the Mau water towers threatening our geothermal power reservoir.

I am also alive to the powerful cartels, government agencies and sometimes highly placed individuals who profit either from the destruction of our forests or from projects meant to restore and conserve them. Unfortunately, even if we do not participate in the destruction but remain silent observers of these crimes to our ecology, we and our offspring will equally suffer the consequences.

For instance, the famine and devastation in 10 counties and another 13 reclassified under high alert level is a burden we will all share. Besides, how do we explain the heat waves in Nairobi and most parts of the country in mid-November when we are supposed to be in the middle of the short rains season? 

The cost of climate-related disasters to the world have been projected at $650 billion for the 2016-2018 period. This is about six times our current gross domestic product estimated at Sh10.753 trillion ($106 billion) as at June 2020. Economists project global warming could depress agricultural yield by up to 30 per cent by 2050. Further, it is projected this could affect up to 500 million smallholder farmers across the world. Delta cities are projected to experience more frequent flooding, which implies cleaning costs and sometimes moving costs.

On the brighter side, the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate concluded that transitioning to low carbon and sustainable growth can have a direct windfall of about $26 trillion to the world economy by 2030. In the process, these investments are projected to create an estimated 65 million jobs over the same period. We are an agricultural-leaning economy and most jobs are in this sector.

Unfortunately, the costs of dealing with the impacts of climate change are predicted to disproportionately fall on developing countries, Kenya included. Developed countries are expected to shoulder the monetary costs to combat climate change. But the flow of funds from rich to poor countries is a complex web that makes it extremely hard to know the exact amount of dollar value that reaches poor countries.

In any case, the politics around the flow of funds is outside the scope of poor nations struggling with poor governance and corruption at home. The net effect is that individual countries will have to find local mechanisms to find the fiscal space to respond and finance climate-related investments. The corporate sector and individual households will have to complement government efforts in this journey.

For example, the pollution of Athi River is done by corporates and households within the city and farmers downstream. The cost of cleaning that river is more than any measures that can be taken by the polluters to minimise the pollution. The consequent health burden to the nation and destruction of aquatic habitation and related economic activities is beyond imagination.

At the policy level, there are unlimited opportunities to integrate climate adaptation and mitigation measures into commercial and household economic activities. A great example is Makueni County, which has adopted a policy on water harvesting in their urban planning and building construction approvals. This policy could be scaled across all counties to guide urban and rural development planning. In Mandera, the government has enlisted the local community to plant, nurture and water trees planted in the town.  

In the roads and public works sector, the related agencies can make it mandatory that every project must have an inbuilt sub-project to restore tree cover after every construction. The climate-smart agriculture programme is also doing an excellent job in ensuring tree cover in farming areas. I have been to counties and regions that have adapted adequate fruit crops alongside their other farming activities not only to enhance farm output but with enormous benefit to climate action.

At the household level, we could make our individual contributions by embracing more natural lighting and green energy sources in our homes. The extra investment in larger windows, solar or wind energy is a contribution to climate change. We could also ensure more tree cover by planting fruits like bananas in our compounds. To beautify our compounds we could use less brick and mortar and instead plant flower gardens.

Finally, next time you go on holiday or a business trip, take time to read your hotel’s request to help them conserve the environment. For instance, I have found a note in my hotel room asking me to leave my bath towel in certain areas if I wish to re-use it instead of having it washed daily. That helps to conserve the environment and our climate.

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