Nairobi can champion climate action creatively

General view of KICC,Times Tower and CBK Pension buildings and the Nairobi expressway, Nairobi April 29, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

If you were in Nairobi in the 1990s, you know how different things are today, from transport to housing, pollution, population density, solid and waste water management.

Some estates in Eastlands were dream homes. Today, some are so dilapidated they desperately beckon private developers to replace them with apartments. It is also in the 21st Century that Nairobi witnessed a lot of buildings collapse, sometimes costing lives.

After leaving the university, some of us opted to stay in Nairobi to hunt for jobs and avoid burdening poor parents who were usually financially fatigued. As a starter, and if you were lucky, you ended up in those flats where lights had to stay on all day. They still exist and you wonder how much people spend on electricity in such settlements. Of course there were illegal connections, even with the sometimes fatal consequences.

Many changes in urban centres are driven by the rising demand for housing by populations hunting for jobs, education and other opportunities. According to ‘Statistica’, urban areas hosted at least 28.49 per cent of Kenya’s population as at 2021. There had been a 0.5 per cent increase then.

The UN-Habitat says at least 70 per cent of world’s population will be living in urban areas by 2030. For cities, at least 68 per cent of the world’s population will have relocated there by 2050. These same cities play a critical role in achieving a lot of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of them is Climate Action (SDG13).

With high concentration of populations and industries in and around cities, energy consumption is high. Many manufacturers still heavily rely on wood fuel, encouraging deforestation, while the public transport industry is majorly diesel fuel-run vehicles.

Because of poor adherence to city land use planning, we have houses that stand on critical areas, including riparian land and water ways, which worsen flooding when it rains heavily.

Cities contribute up to 67 per cent of carbon emission, and at the same time hold populations that risk in case of disasters. Cities can play an equally huge role in mitigating the climate crisis. One such area of focus is construction. Incorporating new technology that maximises use of renewable energy to power and heat homes should be a priority, considering the buildings are permanent.

Nairobi, the city in the sun, which hosts UNEP and UN-Habitat headquarters, among other key entities, remains a peaceful, vibrant, innovative and very positive population that makes Kenya an attraction for many, besides being a regional hub for economic, education, tech and other services. Kenya, as a country, prides in making huge steps in transition to renewable energy.

Nairobi County Government must enable use of efficient, safe and less polluting public transportation by increasing safety and insisting on quality means. Many people drive cars for safety and convenience rather than luxury.

Even with the high cost of living, many in the middle class would rather borrow to fuel their cars than use public transport. This increases carbon emission and causes financial strain. Yesterday was World Bike To Work Day, which would have been a huge way to reduce pollution by avoiding motorised transport. But the roads were jammed and I’m sure many people do not know such a day exists. Many in the city have not considered riding a transportation option.

But just as Nairobi oils Kenya’s economic wheels, it can lead in ensuring minimum emission from energy, construction, transport, water and waste management sectors. Involve volunteers and multilaterals to not only plant more trees but also find innovative ways to suck carbon from the atmosphere.