Where’s the promised climate commission? Uhuru asked, three days to exit

President Uhuru Kenyatta delivers a speech during the opening day of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21), on November 30, 2015 at Le Bourget, on the outskirts of the French capital Paris. AFP PHOTO | ALAIN JOCARD

With three days left before Kenyans go to the ballot, President Uhuru Kenyatta has still not set up the presidential climate commission he promised Kenyan youth climate envoys who accompanied him to Stockholm, Sweden, in June this year.

President Kenyatta joined other world leaders in Stockholm to co-chair a two-day “Stockholm+50” meeting alongside Danish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first United Nations conference on the human environment.

He told over 30 climate justice activists at the time that the commission would be set up and funded by the office of the President, assuring them that it would be the last thing he would do before leaving office.

“Mkipigia wale mimi nataka kura, nitafanya vile mnataka (If you vote for who I want, I will do what you want). This is something that can be done before I leave office, and when we get back home I promise you it is the last thing I will do,” President Kenyatta said.

Mr Kenyatta was responding to three requests from 27-year-old Kenyan climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti, who spoke on behalf of the young climate envoys.

“We have three asks for you. Our first ask is that you, Mr President, consider establishing and announcing a youth presidential climate commission for Kenya … understanding that it can be challenging for the government to channel the democratic voice of the many people trying to make change in this space,” Ms Wathuti said.

“One way you can fill this gap is by creating an independent, multi-stakeholder, statutory body that could participate in climate-related decision-making.”

Ms Wathuti said this would give a permanent voice to young people and groups whose needs must be taken into account when decisions are made.

She also proposed that every ministry establish a youth desk to ensure meaningful participation of young people in decision-making. She then asked the President how young people could help him in his leadership on climate and the environment.

“In the lead-up to COP27 and beyond, we would like to use this platform to ensure that the priorities of Kenya — and other African countries — are centred in any high-level discussions that we are part of,” she said.

“Wouldn’t it be great if at least one third of every Kenyan delegation was below the age of 35?”

President Kenyatta responded: “We will meet again in Nairobi once we have established this office so that I can officially hand it over to you.”

Climate experts say the planet faces three threats that threaten human and environmental health: climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.

A climate commission, young Kenyans argue, would help Kenya advance her desire to combat climate change.

In a report released earlier this year, UN experts said the track record on delivering on the ambitions of half a century ago remains poor.

“Looking back at the past 50 years, the world has changed in many ways – but not in the direction called for in June 1972,” they said.

“We face intertwined crises of the state of our planet and extreme inequality among people and societies.

“The Covid-19 pandemic continues to slow or reverse progress and geopolitical shifts highlight our interconnectedness and vulnerabilities more than ever.”

To redefine the relationship between humans and nature, the report recommends leaders and governments integrate nature in cities and urban areas, protect animal welfare, expand and invest in nature-based education and recognise indigenous local knowledge and the rights of nature.

In his address to delegates from all over the world at the climate summit in Stockholm, President Kenyatta urged a “transformative package of environmental actions”.

Ms Inger Andersen, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep), agreed with Mr Kenyatta.

“Further inaction is inexcusable. We know now more than ever the consequences of marching blithely down the carbon-intensive development path. But we also know what we must do. Let us unleash a paradigm shift for the benefit of future generations," she said.

Cop27, the 2022 UN climate change conference will be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt later this year.