EXPLAINER: Human activities driving global warming in Kenya

Understanding human activities contributing to global warming is crucial for developing mitigation strategies.

In Summary
  • From rising temperatures to unpredictable rainfall patterns, the signs of climate change are becoming increasingly evident across the country.
  • Forests act as carbon sinks, absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. When these forests are destroyed, the stored carbon is released, adding to the greenhouse effect.

In recent years, Kenya has been grappling with the severe impacts of global warming, a phenomenon primarily driven by human activities.

Heat waves will become increasingly prevalent in regions across the globe as warming continues.
Heat waves will become increasingly prevalent in regions across the globe as warming continues.
Image: FILE

In recent years, Kenya has been grappling with the severe impacts of global warming, a phenomenon primarily driven by human activities.

Kenya Alliance of Resident Association (KARA) defines global warming as the slow increase in the average temperature of the earth's atmosphere.

From rising temperatures to unpredictable rainfall patterns, the signs of climate change are becoming increasingly evident across the country.

Understanding the specific ways in which human activities contribute to global warming in Kenya is crucial for developing effective mitigation strategies.

Agriculture is a significant part of Kenya's economy, employing about 70% of the population and contributing approximately 33% to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

However, agricultural practices are also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The use of synthetic fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals releases nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.

Moreover, the traditional practice of slash-and-burn agriculture, which involves clearing forests to create farmland, releases large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere.

"Forest fires damage the carbon sink and environment," KARA said.

Kenya's forests, which cover about 6% of the land area, are under constant threat from logging, charcoal production, and land conversion for agriculture and settlements.

In 2010, Kenya had 3.18 Mha of natural forest, extending over 5.7% of its land area.

In 2023, it lost 10.1 kha of natural forest, equivalent to 6.35 Mt of CO₂ emissions according to Global Forest Watch (GFW).

"From 2001 to 2023, Kenya lost 386 kha of tree cover, equivalent to a 12% decrease in tree cover since 2000, and 189 Mt of CO₂e emissions," GFW said.

Forests act as carbon sinks, absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere.

When these forests are destroyed, the stored carbon is released, adding to the greenhouse effect.

According to a report by the Kenya Forest Service, "Deforestation and land use changes are major contributors to Kenya's greenhouse gas emissions".

"Protecting and restoring forests is essential for mitigating climate change," the KFS report states.

Thirdly, Kenya's energy sector is another significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Although the country has made strides in developing renewable energy sources like geothermal, wind, and solar power, a substantial portion of its energy still comes from fossil fuels.

The combustion of fossil fuels for electricity generation, transportation, and industrial processes releases large amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) notes;

"While Kenya is leading in renewable energy in Africa, the reliance on fossil fuels for certain industries and transportation continues to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions."

The transportation sector in Kenya, characterized by a growing number of vehicles and inadequate public transportation infrastructure, is a significant source of CO2 emissions.

The increase in private vehicle ownership and the use of diesel-powered trucks and buses contribute heavily to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

In March 2023, the Ministry of Roads and Transport launched Kenya's first Electric Mobility (e-mobility) Draft Policy to reduce emissions.

So far Data from the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA) showed that the National Transport and Safety Authority registered a record 2,694 electric vehicles (EVs) in 2023, marking a significant increase from the 475 units the previous year.

The impacts of global warming are becoming increasingly severe in Kenya.

According to the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD), the average annual temperature has increased by 1.0°C since 1960.

"This warming has led to more frequent and intense droughts, with the most recent drought in 2021-2022 affecting over 3 million people and leading to severe food and water shortage," KMD added.

A study by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) found that climate change could reduce Kenya's agricultural productivity by up to 25% by 2050 if no action is taken.

This would have devastating effects on food security and the livelihoods of millions of Kenyans.

The evidence is quite clear that human activities are driving global warming in Kenya.

From unsustainable agricultural practices and deforestation to reliance on fossil fuels and the increasing number of vehicles, the country's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is significant.

The impacts of global warming, including rising temperatures, severe droughts, and reduced agricultural productivity, pose a serious threat to Kenya's environment and economy.

UN Environment Programme's Executive Director, Inger Andersen, has also emphasized the actions taken today would determine the future of millions.

"Sustainable practices and green energy are key to combating this crisis," she remarked.

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