Participation & Governance

Lessons From the South: Towards Sustainable Development a Green Economy in Kenya

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Sustainable development is a concept that has been on the global agenda for quite a while, not least with the upcoming replacement of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 with the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’. However, while there is broad agreement on the concept, how to achieve sustainable development in practice has been an issue of major contention, especially with regards to the immediate monetary costs.

Upsetting the Economic Apple-cart

A green economy is one that results inimproved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which islow carbon, resource efficientandsocially inclusive


Credit: UNEP
Credit: UNEP

Characteristic of other sub-Saharan countries, Kenya’s economy derives almost half of its GDP from natural resources, while more than half of the households in the country rely on agricultural activities for income. This inevitably reveals the vulnerability of the economy to environmental and climatic shocks, and with alarms of overstepping planetary boundaries are already blaring, the latest IPCC report, Assessment Report 5 (AR5), indicates that the world should brace itself for the increasing impacts of climate change, through enhanced climate change adaptation.

To this end, Kenya has just released its Green Economy blueprint - the UNEP Green Economy Assessment Report: Kenya - providing an interesting insight into how a low-income country can ‘economically’ transition to a green economy development, as well as building on the body of evidence supporting this transformational shift.

Kenya’s national real GDP, under a Green Economy scenario, would outpace the Business-As-Usual scenario by 12% by 2030 - UNEP Green Economy Assessment Report - Kenya

Sector-Specific Interventions

The interventions laid out in the UNEP Green Economy Assessment - Kenya report are sector-specific, as they mainly target the agriculture, transport, energy and manufacturing industries. The crux of the report is that Kenya’s national real GDP, under a Green Economy (GE) scenario, would outpace the Business-As-Usual (BAU) scenario by 12% by 2030 - this is an important year since Kenya’s current development blueprint culminates in 2030. This would be manifested through high long-term economic growth. More specifically, this would, for example, entail the agricultural yield outgrowing the BAU scenario by 15% by 2030 through embracing of

Credit: IATP
Credit: IATP

climate-resilient crop varieties; and energy reduction of 2% and increased energy savings and proportion of renewable energy such as geothermal, as compared to a BAU scenario. This, coupled with the projected doubling of GDP per capita under the GE scenario by 2030, lays a strong case for the transformational shift to a Green Economy development pathway. Despite the fact that short-term measures call for substantial investments, the quantitative analysis in this report reveals that long-term benefits will be eventually accrued in the shift to the green economy model within 7-10 years; quite remarkable!

The Financial Equation

Transition to a green economy requires substantial financial investments, no doubt. This has been the elephant in the room as regards transition to a green economy for countries in the Global South. To this end, the Green Assessment report for Kenya does acknowledge this challenge, and has subsequently identified a cocktail of financial sources to fund the transition to a Green Economy. These include - but are not limited to:

  • International funding sources: The international climate finance mechanisms such as Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), REDD activities, carbon trading, and other funds from bilateral and multilateral donors
  • Domestic financing: Public resources such as government budget scientific research and geothermal energy exploration; and private sector financing

Silver Lining: Simple is Effective

Also of major interest is the fact that a good number of the interventions outlined are ‘no-brainers’; things like better environmental conservation and water resource management. Simple as they seem, these interventions have significant potential to unlock green growth opportunities. But a more detailed account would grant a deeper insight. With the requisite foundation clearly laid out - National Climate Change Action Plan and mainstreaming a comprehensive green economy strategy in the Medium Term Plan for development (2012-2017) - Kenya is poised to realize the transition to a green economy. Most of the interventions laid out in the report are simple in the sense that they do not require significant technical expertise - hence need for technology transfer and capacity building. For instance, improving agricultural yield would need sustainable water management using simple techniques such as rainwater harvesting and increased usage of readily available organic fertilizers.

A summary of the interventions in the report is outlined below:

Sector Interventions
Agriculture Agro-forestry, sustainable water management, post-harvest loss reduction and training on soil and water management. A green economy scenario would outpace the BAU scenario by about 15%
Energy Doubling of geothermal energy capacity by 2030, small-scale off-grid systems, solar (we have plenty of it), wind. Green energy to account for 20% of total energy supply by 2030, leading to a reduction of 2% in energy consumption
Transportation Enhance mass transit (rail and public transportation), integrate land-use and transport planning to enhance efficiency.

The Bigger Picture

The transition of Kenya’s economy to a sustainable development pathway has global significance, and is an important cog in building the global momentum towards sustainability. Africa’s joint position paper on the post-2015 global development agenda, the process developing Sustainable Development Goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals in 2015, clearly identifies green growth as one of the priority areas of focus.

In tandem, with countries working towards a global climate agreement in Paris in 2015, under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), much attention is being focused on countries reducing their domestic greenhouse emissions in the build up to the new agreement In this report on Kenya’s Green Economy Blueprint, for instance, with CO2 emissions from transportation set to triple in Kenya between 2010 and 2030, switching to more efficient transportation modes - such as mass transit systems - will be instrumental in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

With the task clearly cut out, and the path well defined, Kenya’s transition to a green economy will undoubtedly serve as a significant case study, especially for other countries in the Global South, in the transformative shift towards sustainable development.

However, this well laid out plan will require coupling with political will to realise full implementation. Thus far, the integration of climate change mitigation and adaptation interventions in Kenya’s Medium Term Development Plan (2012-2017) is a beacon for scaled action. Even better, many other countries, including those from the Global South, are switching to a green economy, thus offering a much-needed boost to global efforts to switch to sustainable development. This is undoubtedly crucial for the well-being of current and future generations, since intergenerational equity is one of the overarching principles of sustainable development.

Featured Image Credit:CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture via Compfight cc