BY MAUREEN MURORI, NAIROBI

Kenya continues to demonstrate its commitment towards the mitigating effects of global warming through various ways, including the signing of local bills and international agreements.

Kenya recently signed the Paris Agreement which, according to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Water, and Natural Resources, Judi Wakhungu, will form part of Kenya’s laws.

The agreement, ratified on January 27th, 2017, allows developing countries that bear the brunt of the climate change, to receive finances from developed countries to aid in environmental conservation strategies.

Further improving the way in which the East African nation responds to climate concerns, the Environment CS, Wakhungu, announced a ban on plastic paper bags used in retail, wholesale and kiosks, as well as in local markets to package purchased items. In a gazette notice dated 28th February, 2017, the CS said: “…it is notified to the public that the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources has with effect from 6 months from the date of this notice banned the use, manufacturing, and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging…”

The Rwandan plastic bag experience

By banning plastic bags, Kenya follows in the footsteps of another East African Nation, Rwanda, which completely banned it in 2008 when the rest of the African nations and other countries across the globe were considering a tax on single-use plastic bags. (AGE ISSUE 4 on Kigali featured an extensive look at Rwanda’s successful efforts to keep the city clean.) The move in Rwanda has paid off. Ritah Nyawira, a young Kenyan lady traveling to Rwanda, said the country is clean. She, a friend, and other travelers were searched at the border, and the authorities made sure that no plastic bags entered the country.

“The first thing that you notice about Rwanda as you check in at the border is that the country is environment conscious, the Kenyan tourist said, adding that the non-biodegradable bags are disposed of in a garbage bin when found.

“This comes as a shocker for first-time travelers to Rwanda, but it is also intriguing to see that some of these environmental laws can really work,” Ritah said of her experience in Rwanda. While Ritah and other Kenyans are excited about the ban on plastic bags, which will take effect later in 2017, other Kenyans are more interested in building technologies that embrace green solutions and strategies.

Building Green is the Future of Construction

When asking a local lawyer about green issues that excite him the most, he quipped: “Building green.” According to Steve Kimeu, a Nairobi-based consultant in matters of law, these technologies will not only help to conserve the environment, but also utilize it in the best way possible.

He mentioned that a number of institutions are adopting sustainable building in Kenya. One of them is the award-winning Catholic University of Eastern Africa Learning Resource Centre (LRC).

Designed by Musau Kimeu, an architect and an environmental expert, the resource centre was completed in 2012. Two years later it was recognized as the best green building in the country. United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, defines the green building as “the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and deconstruction. This practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort.

Green building is also known as a sustainable or high-performance building.” The LRC is constructed in such a way that the foul air is expelled through thermal chimneys located at various intervals of the building. For sewer treatment, there are several oxidation ponds where all liquid waste from the centre is directed. The center utilizes natural lighting during the day through the use of a high-roofed atrium with a narrow plan allowing natural lighting to filter through the building.

On a warm day, concrete fins and aluminum louvre screens ensure that temperatures remain cool. On the other hand, cold seasons are fought off through the use of granite rocks, which are warmer and heats up the cold air to maintain comfort. Additionally, the entire building is set in such a way that it is accessible to all people, including the physically challenged. These are just but a few ways in which the institution is trying to cope with environmental concerns.

Other buildings following the same model include Vienna Court, an office complex along State House Crescent in Nairobi. The property, which was recently awarded LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design Gold certification by the US Green Building Council (USBC), is set around lush gardens with waterfalls and has rainwater harvesting technologies, and four basements, which can hold up to 400 vehicles, among other environmentally friendly facilities.

Rosemary Koech-Kimwatu, Head of Legal and Regulatory Affairs, Wayawaya, an East African FinTech company, is more concerned about health issues brought about by poor management of the environment. “Today, the majority of health issues are lifestyle-related,” she said, adding that a change in lifestyle through the adoption of better and healthier diets will play a major role in improving the health of Kenyans. “There is a need for greater focus on preventive measures as opposed to curative.”

Cut Carbon Emissions with 30% By 2030

Commenting on the environmental ambitions set by Kenya, Samson Malesi Shivaji noted that “Kenyan development planners chose to have a greening pathway to development in the design of the vision 2030 blueprint.” The Chief Executive of Kenya’s water and sanitation civil society network (Kewasnet) said that, although he is a supporter of green growth, he recognizes it is easier said than done, as it “does not only focus on new investment but a requirement that traditional industry change gear and shift into more sustainable production approaches.” “That being said, the discussion around green growth must consider the multiplicity of approaches that must be embraced in order to ensure the realization of such green growth.

This includes the combination of a myriad of approaches across different developmental sectors and includes a variety of stakeholders in ensuring shared understanding, as well as contributions to shared obligations and aspirations.” By committing to embrace climate change bills locally (Climate Change Bill 2016), and adopting global environment contracts such as the Paris Agreement 2017, Kenya demonstrates the “level of ambition at country level and is an invitation to the international constituency to learn and hold us to account for the commitments we have made,” Malesi added. Issues of the environment are challenging, but as well put by the CS “the road ahead poses many challenges, together we can make tremendous strides as most of our climate change governance, policy, and strategic instruments are in place.”

Worth Knowing

One year ago, Kenya pledged to cut carbon emissions by up to 30% in its efforts to develop without the use of fossil fuels. This, the country said, will be done through the expansion of solar, geothermal and wind power, as well as the increase of forest cover by about 10% and a cut on wood fuel.