Learning must prioritise climate change crisis

Ngong planting trees

Elizabeth Mukami from Kenya Red Cross plants a tree at the Ngong Hill Forest Recreational Park in Corner Baridi, Kajiado County on May 24, 2022 during the launch of tree planting activities in the 47 counties ahead of the World Environment day to be marked on June 5.  

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Universities can play a key role in shaping change in society. They produce knowledge through research, train future decision makers and contribute to public awareness of issues.

However, not all universities rise to challenges like this. Studies have established that efforts to integrate sustainable development into African universities’ curricula and their community engagement leave something to be desired. Teaching and research do not always reflect society’s real problems.

Climate change is another area universities should identify and provide solutions. It is a complex, politicised and global issue which needs informed leadership.

Kenya has neglected the integration of climate change into the education system. None of the commissions that have looked into the education system have dealt with this. In his research, Dr Charles Kariuki noted that Kenya’s education policies treat climate change casually.

A 2015 survey of two public universities found that they were yet to incorporate climate-related issues into their programmes. This creates a gap in the production and dissemination of knowledge on climate change.

Climate change

There is little in the literature on how climate change is represented in Kenyan universities’ curricula, activities, institutional governance and community engagement. Our working paper (Kenya’s climate change policy actions and the response of higher education: Transforming Universities for a Changing Climate Working Paper Series No. 4; Jackline Nyerere, Winniejoy Gatwiri, and Rachel Okinyi) sought to fill the gap.

We reviewed the climate change policy environment and the link between national and university policies, actions and practices. Our aim was to understand what Kenyan universities were doing to raise awareness to respond to climate change.

Drawing on national and international policy documents, peer-reviewed journal articles and national climate change reports published between 1999 and 2020, we found a gap. Universities in Kenya do not receive enough guidance from the government in responding to the impacts of climate change. This means they do not produce output that could offer guidance to society more broadly.

Kenya has an elaborate policy framework that addresses climate change in specific sectors. These include the National Climate Change Action Plan 2013–17 and the Kenya National Adaptation Plan 2015–30. The policies draw from global declarations like the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement. They are anchored in the Constitution and Vision 2030.

National policies

The National Climate Change Response Strategy proposes that schools and colleges include climate change information in their curricula.

It is clear therefore that national policies and strategies recognise the potential of university education to solve climate change issues through teaching, research and community service.

But universities still lag in coming up with or adopting policies to guide climate action at institutional levels.

Kenyan universities have made some efforts in sustainable development. They established the Kenya Green University Network in 2014. But results are few.

Strathmore and Kenyatta universities have the largest solar installations in the region, generating 600KW and 100KW of power respectively.

Universities treat sustainability targets, such as carbon emissions reduction, as more of a government requirement than their ambition. Climate change content is treated casually in the education system.


Even though there is an intricate climate change policy framework at the national level, our review found no evidence that policies are carried through to strategies in higher education.

Local universities should be more sensitive to national policies aimed at addressing the effects of climate change.

Increased financing will enable universities to make climate change activities a central part of curricula, campus activities, governance and community engagement. The Commission for University Education should include climate action as a criterion in evaluating university programmes. This would motivate action.

Jackline Nyerere is a senior lecturer at Kenyatta University. This article was first published in The Conversation