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ENVIRONMENT DAY 2020

It’s now or never, we must protect our biodiversity for humanity survival

Kenya’s economy is highly dependent on natural resources, meaning that recurring droughts, erratic rainfall patterns and floods will continue to negatively impact livelihoods and community assets.

In Summary

• Kenya joins the world in marking the World Environment Day 2020 under the theme, 'Time for Nature'.

•  Focus is on its role in providing the essential infrastructure that supports life on earth and human development. 

Climate change and our survival
Climate change and our survival
Image: OZONE

The air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat all rely on biodiversity.

Unfortunately, however, our biodiversity is facing a crisis and this is all because of us.

Unless something is done then the future generation will hold us accountable for destroying the earth’s biodiversity.

For centuries, the loss of biological diversity has been caused by gradual natural occurrences such as glaciation or extreme events such as volcanic eruptions. However, for the last few years, the main cause has been the growth of the human population and the enormous pressure we exert on the planet. 

We have transformed natural ecosystems into agricultural fields and urban areas; we release pollutants, CO2 and invasive species into the environment, which damage ecosystems, as do our human actions. Our economic pursuits cause the disappearance of animal and plant species. 

This loss of biodiversity is, therefore, compromising the quality of our lives. We must understand that we are part of the planet’s biodiversity, intimately related to our animal and plant ancestors and made of the same matter of which the Earth is made. If we lose the links with our “biological past” and ignore our responsibility towards all living beings we will inevitably end up destroying our future. 

Kenya joins the world in marking the World Environment Day 2020 under the theme, 'Time for Nature'.

Focus is on its role in providing the essential infrastructure that supports life on earth and human development. 

This focus is expected to provide an opportunity for driving the momentum and public awareness of nature as a key aspect in the leading up to the 15th meeting of the Parties (COP 15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). COP 15 was expected to take place in October 2020 but will be rescheduled for 2021, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The COP15 is meant to adopt the “Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework”. It will outline what countries need to do, individually and collectively, in the next decade and beyond, to set humanity on course to achieve the vision of “living in harmony with nature” by 2050. All these efforts are aimed at saving life on earth.

 

There are key threats to biodiversity that Kenya must address. They are climate change, habitat loss and degradation, pollution, invasive species and overexploitation 

CLIMATE CHANGE

Climate change has altered the life on planet earth and some ecosystems have come and gone and species routinely go extinct.

In Kenya, it has had adverse impacts on the country’s economic development and threatens the realisation of Vision 2030 goals which seeks to create a competitive and prosperous nation with a high quality of life. 

Kenya’s economy is highly dependent on natural resources, meaning that recurring droughts, erratic rainfall patterns and floods will continue to negatively impact livelihoods and community assets.

The rapid, manmade climate change speeds up the process, without affording ecosystems and species the time to adapt. For example, rising ocean temperatures and diminishing Arctic sea ice affects marine biodiversity and can shift vegetation zones, having global implications.

Overall, climate is a major factor in the distribution of species across the globe; it forces them to adjust. But many are not able to cope, causing them to die out.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference declaration mandated countries to effectively champion national projects and initiatives to mitigate the Climate Change in Paris will hopefully be a turning point.

In 2013, Kenya launched the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) and Kenya National Adaptation Plan 2015-30.

This NCCAP is aimed at lowering carbon climate-resilient development pathway as Kenya adapts to climate impacts and mitigates growing emissions. 

The plan also addresses the enabling aspects of finance, policy and legislation, knowledge management, capacity development, technology requirements and monitoring and reporting. 

As a country, we must fully implement the NCCAP resolutions to address climate change and save our biodiversity.

DEFORESTATION AND HABITAT LOSS

All over the planet, deforestation has a direct cause of extinction and loss of biodiversity. Its estimated 18 million acres of forest are lost each year, due in part to logging and other human practices, destroying the ecosystems on which many species depend. 

Over the years, Kenya suffered severe deforestation from the 1970s to the 1990s, mainly for charcoal and timber production. It is still a problem.

Of Kenya’s 30,000 square kilometres of tree cover, more than eight per cent was lost between 2001 through 2014. The government has launched a major initiative to reverse that trend and restore the country’s upland forests.

Through the “20 Million Trees for Kenya’s Forests” initiative, the country aims to plant a total of 20 million trees in and around Mt Kenya and other highland forests, known as Water Towers because of their role in conserving the country’s rivers, lakes and fresh drinking water.

The campaign is part of a wider strategy to increase forest cover, restore degraded land, protect habitats for many species, including endangered birds and mammals, and contribute to efforts to tackle climate change.

Degraded areas in all five of Kenya’s Water Towers — Mt Kenya, the Aberdares, Mt Elgon, the Cherangani Hills, and the Mau Complex — will be targeted, due to their importance to the health of Kenya’s rivers and hence the freshwater supply.

We may launch numerous projects and campaigns but the ultimatum solutions to deforestation mostly lie in policy. It's time companies and corporations adopt best practices and refuse to use timber and paper suppliers that contribute to deforestation. In the same vein, conscious consumers can refuse to patronise companies that do, and put pressure on retailers that employ unsustainable manufacturing methods. 

Kenyans can also participate in land preservation through charities and private corporations. Above all, international governments need to enact stronger, scientific forest protection laws.

POLLUTION

The World Health Organization estimates that more than four million people die prematurely each year from ill-health caused by indoor (household) air pollution. Household air pollution is primarily caused by fuels that are burnt for cooking and lighting. In urban areas, many residents of informal settlements have little access to electricity or liquefied petroleum gas and primarily use firewood, charcoal and kerosene for fuel. 

In 2016, Kenya’s dirty air contained more than two times as many of the deadly PM2.5 as the WHO guideline for outdoor air pollution (25.8 micrograms per cubic meter [μg/m3] ).

 As a country, we don’t have daily and annual ambient standards for PM2.5. Its annual and daily guidelines for PM2.5 are for industrial areas (35 μg/m3 for annual average and 75 μg/m3 for daily average).

 The available data from international organizations such as the Health Effects Institute (HEI), the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and the WHO.

Kenya thus needs air quality regulations that will provide the framework to tackle air pollution in the country.

It's, therefore, ideal for action, for instance, removing old cars from the roads. Kenyans deserve a less-polluted life. 

Traffic restriction such as closing major streets to traffic to reduce tailpipe pollution from cars and trucks are needed.

Developed countries are now restricting the most polluting cars from entering city centres.

Cyling
Cyling
Image: STAR ILLUSTRATED

The other key consideration is having car-free zones to reduce air pollution levels in specific urban areas.

Having an effective and efficient public transport system and promoting cycling and walking could also help tackle air pollution. 

 Air quality assessment and management should be a major priority for Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority. NEMA should regularly issue air quality alerts, especially when air quality conditions are expected to impact health. 

Air quality alerts would also help to inform vulnerable groups, including children, older adults and those suffering from conditions such as asthma and heart disease - about the pollution levels in Kenya. 

OVER EXPLOITATION

Environment and natural resources in Kenya are valuable national assets that must be sustainably managed for present and future generations. They offer a range of benefits and opportunities for local and national economic development, improved livelihoods and provision of environmental goods and services. Despite being the foundation on which sustainable development is anchored, there are many environmental degradation issues and challenges facing the country.

Its time for the government to enact policies that will control overhunting, overfishing and over-harvesting. Poaching and other forms of hunting for profit increase the risk of extinction.

All these activities have resulted in the extinction of some of the species and this has already led to catastrophic consequences for ecosystems.

Continued awareness on overexploitation, especially poaching and overfishing, are key. Governments need to actively enforce rules against such practices, and individuals can be more conscious of what they eat and purchase.

INVASIVE SPECIES

The introduction of non-native species into an ecosystem can threaten endemic wildlife either as predators or competing for resources), affect human health and upset economies.

As a country, we have experienced  a number of biological invasions, some of which have had significant consequences on socio-economic status . Notable examples include the larger grain borer (Prostephanus truncatus) , the water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes)  and Prosopis spp. 

To prevent the introduction of invasive alien species into Kenya, importation of any plant material is subject to strict specified conditions. The stipulated procedures ensure that enough information on the plant material is available to evaluate the pest risk of potential invasives.

 Plant quarantine restrictions are based on pest risk analysis and existing scientific knowledge on the distribution, biology and pests of the plant. Suitable regulations are enforced to facilitate the import and export of plant materials through the issuance of import permits and phytosanitary certificates. Legal authority is provided to allow for treatment or destruction of infested or infected plants or plant products.

Inspections should be carried out at the entry point’s i.e. international airport, sea ports and borders to enforce quarantine measures. 

Dr John Chumo   is the committee secretary, National Environmental Complaints Committee