Kenya’s lack of a pavilion at the COP27 irks delegates

Pavilions at the just concluded 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27)

Photos showing some of the African pavilions at the just concluded 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

Photo credit: Pauline Ongaji | Nation Media Group

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, ended a few days ago, but one thing that will perhaps remain in the minds of many Kenyans who attended the meeting is that the country didn’t have a pavilion.

The first time I set foot at the COP27 conference centre two weeks ago, one of the first things I did was walk through the massive area looking for Kenya’s pavilion, or even just a stand, but there was none.

Other countries, institutions and organisations from Africa and beyond had pavilions, some elegantly designed and brightly coloured.

Africa was well represented by the likes of South Africa, Nigeria, Namibia, Rwanda, Namibia, Togo, Ghana, Rwanda and Tanzania, the latter two of which look up to Kenya as a beacon of development in East Africa.

But, alas, Kenya was nowhere to be seen, which is ironic for a country whose leader, President William Ruto, is the coordinator of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change.

Kenya has also been vocal on matters of climate change in the region, and in June this year it hosted UN talks on biodiversity.

Such was the shame that even Environment and Forestry Cabinet Secretary Soipan Tuya admitted it didn’t depict a good image of the country.

“This is because we have a lot to showcase because we are doing a lot and have a lot to show the world,” she said in an interview in the coastal city of Sharm el-Sheikh.

But the cost of setting up a pavilion was too high and Kenya could not afford it, said Dr Pacifica Ogola, the country’s chief negotiator.

“For a country to have a pavilion, it needs up to half a billion shillings, quite an exorbitant amount for a country inflicted by drought and hunger,” she added.

A reliable source said renting an empty space at the event costs $500 per square metre, and the minimum space request is nine square metres, which translates to $4,500. 

The offices were of one structure, with a similar design in the interior and exterior, the source said. “Hiring organisations or countries were required to bring in their own furniture, an audiovisual system, and signage, among others; in other words, the pavilions were custom-made for each delegation according to their needs,” the source said.

If a country obtained space, its representatives would be required to assign one project manager from the contracted event company in order to start working on their project.

A source said the 250-square-metre Africa pavilion cost $250,000 to set up. At the current dollar-shilling exchange rate of Sh122, this amounts to more than Sh30 million.

Meanwhile, it is instructive to note that Kenya had the fourth-largest number of registered delegates at the conference, 386. It was ranked fourth just behind oil-rich United Arab Emirates (UAE), which will host next year’s COP28, Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

It is worth noting that all African countries ranked in the top 10 on the number of delegates they sent to the conference had pavilions, except Kenya and Uganda.

Kenya also touts itself as the biggest economy in East and Central Africa, but countries like Rwanda and DRC were able to secure space at the centre.

It is important to have a pavilion in such a high-profile event because it draws decision-makers and key actors in climate change issues.

It is where people and innovators get a chance to showcase their work and climate change solutions.

For instance, while visiting the UAE pavilion, we came across an announcement about the targeted research areas for the UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science.

At the Israeli pavilion, on the other hand, we found Yair Teller, founder of HomeBiogas (TASE: HMGS), an Israeli company developing, manufacturing, distributing and selling domestic and industrial-scale biogas systems.

It was a shame that with such a huge number of delegates there was no central point to meet and discuss climate issues affecting Kenya, said Paul Kaluki, a project lead with the Afrika Youth Caravan to COP27, a climate action organisation.

“We were disappointed that as Kenyans we didn’t have a designated area to meet and conduct discussions,” he added.

But it is even more unfortunate for Kenyan innovators, who missed out on a chance to showcase their work to the world.

They include Sheryl Mboya, a university student who developed edible plates and cups as the ideal replacement for traditional plastic plates and cups.

Another is Clifford Okoth Owino, an industrial chemistry graduate and co-founder of Chemolex Company Ltd, a clean energy and waste management startup that created a system that traps discarded plastics floating in rivers before it is converted into valuable secondary products such as fencing poles, roofing tiles and furniture boards.

This story was produced as part of the 2022 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Centre for Peace and Security.