Empower communities to win the war against climate change

Tilled farm at Kabasis village near Lake Bogoria in Baringo County. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

As delegates from around the world prepare to converge for the inaugural Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi from September 4-6, expectations are high that they will address the devastating impacts of climate change as a matter of urgency.

Climate change poses an existential threat to the world and mitigating its impacts requires a multifaceted approach.

One crucial aspect often overlooked in global climate discussions is the need to robustly involve communities. Yet, without empowering local communities and incorporating their insights, any attempt to combat climate change cannot go far.

Climate change is not just an abstract concept; it is a reality that affects people’s lives, livelihoods, and well-being. In Kenya, the consequences of climate change hit home hard last year when the country experienced the worst drought in 40 years. Food prices skyrocketed due to poor harvest, many rivers dried up, animals died because of lack of pasture, many people died of hunger and starvation, and thousands of pastoralist households sank into poverty after their livestock were wiped out by the biting drought.

Communities often bear the brunt of climate change. But they can also greatly contribute to finding local solutions. They can raise awareness, engage in grassroots activism, and push for policy changes. Communities can also showcase sustainable practices, fostering innovation and inspiring others to take action. Their involvement ensures diverse perspectives and helps shape effective strategies to address the challenges posed by climate change. 

For instance, local farmers, indigenous groups, and residents of vulnerable areas possess a wealth of traditional knowledge that can enhance our understanding of nature and sustainable practices.

Empowering communities not only amplifies the voices of those most affected by climate change but also fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility. When individuals are actively involved in coming up with solutions, they are more likely to adopt them and champion their implementation. This bottom-up approach can lead to the development of context-specific strategies that are more likely to succeed and endure over time.

Community involvement can bridge gaps between policymakers, scientists, and citizens as it leads to a holistic approach in the fight against climate change by taking into account the complex interplay of ecological, economic, and social factors. More importantly, it can help overcome the inertia that sometimes characterises international climate negotiations, where progress is often hindered by conflicting interests and bureaucratic hurdles.

It is good that Africa Climate Week has been planned to run parallel with the Africa Climate Summit and will provide a platform for policymakers, practitioners, businesses and civil society to “exchange on climate solutions, barriers to overcome and opportunities realised in different regions”.

The climate week is meant to build momentum towards the December United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP28) in Dubai. It will be part of the conclusion of the first global stock-take aimed at charting the way for fulfilling the goals of the Paris Agreement, an international treaty on climate change.

However, after the end of all these, real community involvement should start. It requires a well-thought out, consistent and more meaningful engagement and should involve empowering communities with resources, training, and tools to actively participate in decision-making.

The Africa Climate Summit should therefore be an opportunity to reframe climate action as a collective endeavour that transcends borders and encompasses diverse voices. Governments, NGOs, and international organisations should commit to allocating resources and pledge support for community-led initiatives that reflect local realities and aspirations. Let’s make combating climate change a collective action, which starts from the grassroots.

-The writer is the CEO of The Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations