Climate justice for future generations starts with the current one

When President William Ruto led the nation in a national tree-planting exercise. [PCS]

The global call for climate justice has gained momentum, rightly emphasising the need to protect our planet. However, amidst discussions about intergenerational climate justice, the equally crucial aspect of intragenerational climate justice—the fair and equitable distribution of climate burdens and benefits within the current generation—often remains overlooked

Climate change, a global phenomenon, acts as an amplifier of existing social and economic disparities, disproportionately affecting marginalised communities and developing nations. Despite contributing minimally to greenhouse gas emissions, these communities bear the brunt of climate change effects, with rising sea levels threatening coastal regions and erratic weather patterns exacerbating food insecurity and displacement.

In Kenya, the burden of climate change is not distributed equally. Pastoral communities witness the shrinking of their grazing lands, while women, traditionally responsible for securing water and food, face increased hardship due to dwindling resources. Indigenous communities, whose cultural heritage is intricately linked to the environment, find their way of life threatened. Rural populations, lacking adequate resources, suffer disproportionately from extreme weather events.

Addressing climate change solely through the lens of intergenerational justice risks perpetuating existing inequalities. Sacrificing the well-being of the present for a theoretical future, especially marred by injustice, is morally untenable. A sustainable future demands a two-pronged approach, prioritising both intergenerational and intragenerational equity.

Our Constitution establishes the legal foundation for intragenerational climate justice, enshrining the right to a clean and healthy environment in Article 42. Collaboration between individuals and State agencies, under Article 69, is crucial for preserving environmental rights.

The first Africa Climate Summit held in Nairobi last year underscored the significance of global economic decarbonisation to achieve equality and collective prosperity. Leaders emphasised that despite not bearing historical responsibility for global warming, the continent has the potential and ambition to play a crucial role in the global effort to address climate change.

While Kenya has taken steps with initiatives like the National Climate Change Action Plan, the Long-Term Low Emission Development Strategy 2022-2050, and the Climate Change Act (Amendment 2023), stronger commitments and robust policy implementation are essential. Developed nations, as historical emitters, must shoulder a greater responsibility on the global stage. Financial mechanisms such as carbon pricing and climate funds should prioritise supporting adaptation and mitigation efforts in countries like Kenya.

In January, the Cabinet approved the Sovereign Green Bond Framework, which, among others, facilitates the development of new or improved climate-resilient infrastructure. Additionally, the Cabinet approved the National Green Fiscal Incentives Policy Framework which includes a variety of fiscal and economic mechanisms that support national climate change goals.

At the national level, Kenya's pursuit of climate justice demands a laser focus on equity. Policies addressing internal inequalities and ensuring a just distribution of resources are crucial. National climate action and disaster preparedness plans must prioritise vulnerable and marginalised groups, ensuring equitable access to resources and healthcare. Empowering women through education, resources, and decision-making power is fundamental, recognising their vital role and knowledge in addressing climate challenges.

Ignoring intragenerational climate justice is like building on a foundation of sand. While protecting future generations is essential, neglecting present injustices undermines our chances at a sustainable future.

Deborah Momanyi is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya

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