Kenyans may usher in the new year with an unlikely Christmas gift - a climate change law.
Latest details indicate that the 2012 Climate Change Authority Bill is ready to be tabled to the President for assent after being passed by the Senate.
Sources from the Parliamentary Network on Renewable Energy and Climate Change (PNRECC) confirm that President Uhuru Kenyatta had agreed to sign the Bill into law, following the outcome of the twenty first Conference of Parties (COP 21) meeting in Paris.
PNRECC had hinted that the Bill will be assented into law before COP 21, but last minute reviews settled for after the Paris meeting.
“We have discussed the Bill’s progress with the President at length during various forums,” says Wilbur Ottichilo, the Network’s chairman. “He promised to assent to it as soon as it passes through all the readings.”
The coming into force of a new climate pact at the Paris meeting has raised expectations that Kenya could be the first African country to have a climate change law in place.
The binding agreement requires developed and developing countries to limit their emissions to relatively safe levels, of two degrees Celsius, with an aspiration of 1.5 degrees Celsius, following regular scientifically informed reviews.
It also opens a fresh funding stream for poor nations to help cut emissions and cope with the effects of extreme weather, where countries affected by climate-related disasters will gain urgent aid.
This is the second time the Bill is seeking Presidential assent after former President Mwai Kibaki declined to sign it into law citing lack of public participation in the drafting process during the late stages.
“The Bill has gone through a rigorous process of amendment,” assures Ottichilo, who is also Emuhaya MP. “We expect a new law any time before the New Year.”
Joseph Pamba, a farmer from Mbeere South in Eastern Kenya, has high expectations from the legislation.
The 65-year-old is expecting a good harvest from his maize, peas and millet crop, following the heavy rains that have been pouring for the last two months.
But he is not sure whether this promise will hold until January, when, according to him, the dry weather spell sets in.
“A lot has rained up to this point but the dry weather seems to be coming back,” says the father of six. “The government is not doing enough to support weather vulnerable farmers like us.”
The retired primary school teacher understands the need for such legislation. For he has seen a lot of change in his village for the six decades he has lived here.
He can count a couple of trees, animals
and bird species which have disappeared from the Mbeere ecosystem. Even a nearby river was flowing with fish. Now there are none, he says.
“This is because of climate change and global warming,” reckons Pamba. “I know this because I used to be a teacher before I became a farmer.”
He says a climate legislation may create structures to reach rural Kenya, like his village. Even processes like issuance of title deeds and better markets for farmers may be influenced by the new legislation.
“With the climate change law I am sure the government will be able to address land problems,” figures Pamba. “If someone knows which land is theirs, they will be able to take care of it, unlike when it is communally owned.”
The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources agrees with Pamba’s expectations. To reach farmers like him, the legislation is expected to pave way for the establishment of a Secretariat under the Ministry, officials say.
The Secretariat will then be made into a department, then into an authority, explains Alice Kaundia, the environment secretary at the ministry. This will enable the introduction of incentives such as tax rebates, subsidies and e-procurement for climate innovations, she says.
“Kenyans can soon expect a climate change fund and a climate change resource center to be based at Kenya Meteorological Department,” says Kaundia. “Through the legislation, the government will contribute to the East Africa integration process and the Africa adaptation program.”
But there are challenges to even out. Experts say the greatest test for Kenya will be to translate scientific data into information that can be used for the welfare of climate hit communities.
According to Richard Munang’, the climate change programme coordinator at the Regional Office for Africa (ROA), Unep, experience shows there are barriers in building the capacity of the public to take action when there are new breakthroughs.
“The main rationale is to package knowledge in a way that benefits communities,” says Munang’. “The barriers are there but steps should be taken to address them and pave way into utilizing what works.”