Burukenge slums

Burukenge slums in Tudor Mombasa in this photo taken on April 7, 2023. The settlement is at risk of being washed away as the sea line increases.

| Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

Rising lakes and a sinking coast: Kenya feels the heat of climate change

As Kenya marks 60 years of independence, the context of climate change has been witnessed through various aspects including an increase in aridity, sedimentation and the sea level rise in the coastal belt.

These factors have caused variations in the climate system, affecting lives and livelihoods across the country. Heat, drought and floods are among the catastrophes that have and are still impacting the Kenyan population on a daily basis.

 The increasing intensity and magnitude of weather patterns, especially the rise in temperatures in different parts of the country have caused endless pain.

 The most affected areas include the arid and semi-arid regions, leading to displacements, deaths and even loss of properties.

 This is a climate crisis that is also in line with a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which says that by 2100, the projected global temperatures will rise to between 1.2°C and 4.1°C, which now calls for urgent solutions to mitigate the effects of the climate change.

Mombasa Golf course

The aerial view of Mombasa Golf Course in this photo taken on April 20, 2023.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

 “The cause of this is global warming and it is not only in Kenya. It’s an event happening all over the world where the ice caps in Antarctica are thawing. I should that climate change is real and it is not only for the developing countries and what we are looking now are the solutions available to avert the crisis,” Prof. James Kairo, chief scientist at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute.

Lake Baringo which is located in Kenya’s North Rift region has also experienced an unprecedented increase in water levels, a disaster that wreaked havoc, causing painful displacements and even death for both the local communities as well as flora and fauna.

Schools had been flooded and people were forced to abandon their homes and relocate to upper grounds for their safety. This phenomenon has also been reported in other Lakes within the country such as Lake Victoria, Lake Nakuru and Lake Turkana where the rise in water levels were also evident.

Climate change is a global problem that demands global solutions and Kenya is an active player in international efforts. The international response to climate change is founded upon the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Paris Agreement under the UNFCCC aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping global temperature rise this century well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Kenya’s NDC sets out the country’s actions to contribute to achieving the global goal set out in the Paris Agreement, and includes mitigation and adaptation contributions.

MV Likoni

MV Likoni Ferry operating within the Likoni Crossing Channel in Mombasa in this photo taken on August 22, 2023.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

The Paris Agreement entered into force for Kenya on 27th January 2017, and as set out in Article 2(6) of the Constitution of Kenya (2010), the Paris Agreement now forms part of the law of Kenya.

“To fight climate change we need a concerted effort and what we are now doing at the COP28 is global stocktaking. This means that Africa will have an opportunity through the African Climate Summit to initiate the process of our achievement. What are we going to report as Africa since the Paris Agreement 2015? Each of the countries signed the nationally determined contribution NDCs, so it is in the COP28 meeting and the Africa Climate week that we shall be seizing the opportunity and look at how as Africa we shall be seeking the loss and damage fund,” Prof Kairo added.

Scientists have also raised concerns over the rising waters of the Indian Ocean, posing a threat to local towns and communities.

“There are three major consequences of climate change, increased aridity, sedimentation and sea level rise. Of all these, one that is impacting the coast is sea level rise so what I can say is that climate change is real," said Prof. James Kairo.

This is a crisis that has been attributed to the melting of the icebergs in the Arctic as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, causing the temperatures to rise rapidly therefore forcing water to retreat to land.

 A report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC) shows that the projections on global sea levels are likely to rise over one meter in the coming years.

The ice sheet is disappearing four times faster than in 2003 and already contributes 20% of the current sea level rise as well as changing the circulation of the world's largest Oceans. There are reports of massive bleaching of coral reefs, affecting the abundance and composition of fish species. This has negatively affected the coastal fisheries sector, which is one of the economic mainstays of the region.

 A village elder in Gazi identified as Idi Bomani complains of the depleting marine resources in the ecosystem, and local fishermen are forced to venture into the deep seas for fish.

Kenya Ports Authority tugboats

Kenya Ports Authority tugboats at the port of Mombasa in this photo taken on August 22, 2023.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

“During the previous years, we used to catch a lot of fish and crustaceans but now we are struggling. The little that we have cannot even satisfy the market but most of us now choose to feed our families expecting that change might come. This is a problem that requires a solution, we blame it on climate change,” said Bomani.

 Human activities have led to the destruction of this critical habitat. Since the Industrial Revolution. Human activities have led to an increase in carbon dioxide emission in the atmosphere, to levels that have caused Ocean acidification and Ocean warming. Chemical and oil spills at sea from industries coupled with the rampant plastic pollution, are also to blame for the vagaries of nature.

“I have been doing research from 1990 to 2020 using satellite data where I am assessing the impact of shoreline change on the nearshore environment and specifically the mangroves. I have found that shoreline erosion and sediments that have been washed away have been deposited in other mangrove zones,” Pauline Mwangi, a research student at Chuka University.

The mangrove trees in Kenya represent approximately 3% of natural forest cover, covering more than 60,000 hectares. This ecosystem has plenty of biodiversity, with birds, crabs and shrimp all foraging in the fertile mud. They also provide suitable habitats for the breeding of fish, providing opportunities for the fisheries sector only if put to use in a sustainable manner.

Mangroves are also good carbon fixers, they store huge stocks of carbon in both above and below-ground components. This makes them one of the most carbon-rich ecosystems on the planet.

Several programmes such as the Blue Carbon, have revived hope in saving this habitat. Conservationists say the carbon credit initiatives have contributed to the conservation and sustainable use of mangrove resources, boosting efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, conserve biodiversity and enhance community livelihood.

 Mangroves also act as natural barriers against storm surges, tsunamis, sea level rise and erosion. 

Researchers and environmental scientists are now calling on the African leaders attending the Africa Climate Summit, to come up with robust policy frameworks to help protect the continent from the impacts of climate change so as to ensure a green and healthy continent.