Let's harness opportunities in climate crisis


Nairobi City County workers engaged in the clean up of Ngong River in Kibera during the 'Let the rivers flow' initiative on November 20, 2023. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard] 

Once upon a time, Nairobi, Ngong and Mathare rivers were clean. But as the city industrialised, they changed from life-giving sources to symbols of environmental damage.

Some factories along the riverbanks used the river’s water for manufacturing and host their waste. The rivers, some flowing through the heart of the city, should have been beautiful, supporting aquatic life and offering fresh spots to relax and appreciate nature. But they are victims of informal industries and small-scale workshops, slaughterhouses, residential houses, and other privately owned businesses that dump waste indiscriminately.

Nairobi has to rely on water imported from other counties to bathe, wash and drink, with the risk of waterborne diseases always hanging so close, especially when it floods.

The environmental consequences of the dumping include the disappearance of birds, fish, and aquatic plants. The soil quality along the riverbanks has also worsened despite numerous efforts such as the Nairobi Rivers Rehabilitation and Restoration Programme.

Some of these sins by the privately owned entities contribute to the global warming that results in floods and prolonged droughts, which cause unpredictable rain patterns, hence crop failure, threatening food security.

They are culprits because they emit different greenhouse gases (GHGs) that cause global warming responsible for climate change. The industries include manufacturers of cement, steel and textiles, all of which are carbon-intensive because they heavily rely on fossil fuels for energy.

Agriculture is the backbone of our economy, but large-scale farming of crops such as tea and coffee necessitates the clearing of forests, significantly reducing number of trees that can absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, climate change, despite its many challenges, also offers unique opportunities for the private sector to innovate, grow and contribute to sustainable development. The private sector can do this first, by transitioning to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal, and reducing their carbon footprint.

An example is Strathmore University’s solar energy system that powers the campus, with the excess energy channelled back into the national grid. Instead of massive forest clearing, agricultural businesses can adopt agroforestry. There is opportunity to improve waste management by recycling, investing in waste-to-energy technologies, and developing reusable or biodegradable packaging.

Another opportunity lies in eco-tourism, where businesses partner with local communities focusing on conservation. Besides, the construction industry can adopt green building standards, use energy-efficient materials and incorporate renewable energy systems.

During the Africa Climate Summit, the Kenya Green Building Society was part of an initiative at the Climate Action Zone, which promoted sustainable construction practices, and encouraged developers to certify buildings under the Green Star rating.

The private sector must start by acknowledging their contributions to the problem then help solve it for sustainable development. Kenya has immense potential for solar, wind, and geothermal energy. Exploiting these will reduce carbon emissions and create jobs.

Kenyan businesses may tap into international funds and grants that promote the green agenda, while at the same time investing in research and embracing new technologies.

The private sector is a huge source of wealth and job opportunities. It can also be pivotal in safeguarding the environment. It is time for the private sector to grab the opportunities presented by climate change to drive innovation, create jobs and contribute to economic growth. This is a call to action, as we aim for the great global shift to a greener economy.

The writer champions climate justice. [email protected]