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Kenya goes for the real polluters

By | September 22nd 2009

By John Njiraini

The contrast is confounding. The calamities that have befallen the country have a direct link to the lifestyle of opulence and over-indulgence among the citizens of the developed world.

Definitely this might not make sense to the many cattle farmers who have been watching helplessly as their herds of cattle die at the Kenya Meat Commission facility in Athi River.

It might also sound as an absurd claim to millions of people facing starvation and generally to most Kenyans feeling the pain of high commodity prices and water and electricity rationing.

But unknown to many, Americans living lavish lifestyles like driving sports utility vehicles are contributing to the problems bedevilling the country due to climate change.

According to World Bank, these cars form part of lifestyles that significantly destroy the environment through emissions of carbon dioxide and thus contributing to global warming.

Environmentalists in Kenya and Africa, want to push for compensation from developed countries that are the major polluters. Through carbon trading, Kenya could claim a significant portion of the $126 billion carbon market through planting of trees and conserving of the environment.

"In today’s world conserving the environment is not all about self preservation, it’s also about earning money from countries that contribute significantly to climate change," said Nobel laureate Prof Wangari Maathai.

Through the Greenbelt Movement, Prof Wangari is undertaking a pilot project in Kamae Forest whereby the organisation could earn millions through agricultural carbon sequestration.

Carbon sequestration is the uptake and storage of carbon mainly by trees and plants that absorb carbon dioxide.

Carbon sequestration

Estimates show by exploiting opportunities in the carbon market through planting of tree Kenya alone could earn a whopping Sh30 billion annually while the continent could rake in about Sh200 billion annually.

The Sh30 billion is equivalent to the money the Government is borrowing from donors to preserve and conserve Mau Forest.

Although the country’s forest cover has largely been depleted from more than 10 per cent in the 1960s to about 1.7 per cent today, preserving the remaining cover could amount to a gold mine.

"Countries in sub-Sahara Africa need scale-up financial and technological support to help vulnerable people adapt to climate change," said Marianne Fay, a chief economist at the World Bank.

Carbon trading is taunted as one of the channels that this can be achieved. A concept that is fast gaining popularity due to efforts to tame carbon emissions and arrest global warming, this is a market based mechanism for helping mitigate the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Strong position

Carbon trading markets have been developed to bring buyers and sellers of carbon credits together. In these markets, large polluters, both countries and companies, are assigned a quota of carbon that they are allowed to emit.

If the emissions are less than the quota, then the country or company can sell credits but if the emissions are more then they would need to buy carbon credits. Environment Minister John Michuki said Kenya plans to take a strong position by demanding large polluters to be compelled to pay at the Copenhagen Environment Summit in December.

"Kenya will be expecting an equitable and effective global climate deal that will not only effectively tackle issues of adaptation and mitigation but will also apply the principle that the polluters pay," he said during the launch of the World Bank report on Development and Climate Change.

A total of 17 countries led by the US are the biggest world’s polluters accounting for more than 70 per cent of carbon emission.

According to the World Bank report, Africa accounts for a paltry four per cent of the global carbon dioxide emissions largely due to deforestation and land degradation. Of this, South Africa alone account for 70 per cent due to its industrial advancement.

Despite being the least polluter, the continent is expected to bear about 75 per cent of the cost of damages caused by the changing climate. "Developing countries will bear the brunt of the effects of climate change even as they strive to overcome poverty and advance economic growth," states the report.

Experts warn that if urgent actions are not taken, global warming of two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial temperatures could constitute a catastrophe to the continent.

In such an extremely warm environment, about 400 million people could face hunger, two billion would no longer have enough water and rising sea levels could threaten 60 million people .

In the face of these eventualities, environmentalists contend that conserving the environment could not only save the planet but is also a source of income for the country.

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