Kenyans express growing concern for climate change, demand stronger action on crisis

Mathare River

A flooded Mathare River as it passes through Mathare Slums Gitathuru area on April 27, 2024.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • In just the first half of 2024, the world has witnessed devastating extreme weather events.

An overwhelming 88 per cent of Kenyans are calling for the country to bolster its efforts in tackling climate change, according to a recent survey conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The survey dubbed ‘The People's Climate Vote 2024’ shows that over half (51 per cent) of Kenyans have personally experienced extreme weather events.

This aligns with the global sentiment as 43 per cent of people worldwide believe that weather extremes have intensified in recent years. The prevalence of droughts, floods and erratic weather patterns has likely contributed to an increased awareness and concern about climate change among populations.

In just the first half of 2024, the world has witnessed devastating extreme weather events. Europe sweltered under record-breaking heatwaves, with temperatures in some regions exceeding 40 degrees Celsius for weeks. Wildfires, fuelled by the extreme heat and bone-dry conditions, raged across these regions.

East Africa has seen its share of complex weather phenomena, experiencing a historic drought that has pushed millions of people towards hunger. The situation became so dire that the United Nations declared a famine in parts of Somalia. Recently, this drought was followed by a sudden shift in Kenya that brought intense rainfall and devastating floods. The floods have caused widespread damage, displacing millions of people, destroying infrastructure, and, tragically, claiming lives.

The survey findings reveal that: "Over 50 per cent of the Kenyan population is actively concerned about the impacts of climate change. This concern is deeply integrated into their daily lives, with 28 per cent of individuals reflecting on climate change daily and an additional 52 per cent doing so often. The personal connection to this issue is underscored by the fact that 51per cent of those surveyed in Kenya have recently experienced extreme weather events, while only 12 per cent have not," it says.

Looking ahead, many Kenyans are also deeply worried about the long-term effects of climate change on future generations. Their perspectives on the country's efforts to address climate change vary. While some recognise existing national initiatives, a significant proportion believes that more needs to be done. Only 21 per cent believe Kenya is excelling in this realm, with 33 per cent indicating room for improvement and 16 per cent expressing discontent with the country's performance.

Kenya’s data reflects a broader global sentiment. The recently released survey found that 86 per cent of global respondents believe countries must work together to tackle climate change. This highlights a growing recognition that climate change is a global challenge requiring a unified response. Furthermore, 72 per cent of those interviewed want their countries to transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy sources. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading international body for assessing climate change, has repeatedly stressed the urgency of transitioning away from fossil fuels. Their latest report, published in February, warns that "limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the target set in the Paris Agreement to avoid catastrophic climate impacts, requires rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions."

The entity urges a near-complete phase-out of coal by mid-century and significant reductions in oil and gas.

According to the The People's Climate Vote 2024’ survey, more than 75 per cent of people globally believe wealthier countries have a responsibility to help poorer nations adapt to climate change. They recognise climate change as a global issue that demands an international response.

"This highlights the ethical concerns surrounding the disproportionate impact of climate change on developing countries, which often contribute less to greenhouse gas emissions," the report says.

Wealthier nations have historically been the biggest polluters, and their emissions continue to outpace developing countries. This creates a significant disparity in vulnerability as wealthier nations generally have more resources to invest in climate-resilient infrastructure, early warning systems and research and development for clean energy technologies.

Developing countries often lack the financial resources and technological capacity to adequately prepare for impacts of climate change. They face challenges that require significant investments in seawalls, climate-smart agricultural practices and improved water management systems.

Climate finance, which refers to financial resources mobilised to address climate change, is critical for supporting developing countries in their adaptation and mitigation efforts. However, there are ongoing debates about the nature and adequacy of climate finance. 

There are also debates about the allocation of funds. Some highlight the need for adaptation, as developing countries already feel the effects of climate change and need immediate support to build resilience. Others emphasise the importance of mitigation efforts in reducing future emissions, mainly from rapidly developing economies.

Similarly, the survey reveals that 78 per cent of people globally want their countries to provide protection to people affected by extreme weather events. This emphasis on safeguarding vulnerable populations echoes the growing concept of a just transition to a low-carbon economy.