Climate change is not just the greatest challenge facing future generations: it is already a daily reality here in Kenya. As Covid-19 hits the health and incomes of Kenyans, they are also being impacted by locusts and affected by extreme weather events. Such events are becoming more frequent and severe, affecting the most vulnerable the hardest.
The March rains brought unprecedented flooding and mudslides in Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot counties: displacing over 400,000 people, destroying farmlands. Many, sadly, have lost their lives.
A similar tragedy unfolded in Kisumu, where Lake Victoria has risen to its highest level in 120 years, with its banks overflowing. The Lake Victoria basin is the largest tropical lake in the world, home to around 40 million people, and is a major source of green energy and livelihoods: its significance to all of us is monumental.
If we look to Samburu, Isiolo, Laikipia and Meru, the worst locust plague in 70 years is ravaging crops. Kindled by an Arabian cyclone and abnormal rainfall, these locust swarms have already grown 20 fold, and are on course to grow 400 fold by the end of June.
The swarms can travel over 150km a day, and each square km of the swarm can consume crops that would feed 35,000 people. In rural Kenya, where over 70 percent rely on agriculture for a living, the risks are huge. Covid-19 has also provided a timely reminder of the two million people whose incomes are supported by the wildlife, biodiversity and natural beauty that sustains Kenya’s tourism industry.
But that wildlife has declined by 70 percent in the past four decades, and urgent action is needed to ensure that that sustainable, community-sensitive tourism will provide Kenya with jobs that will last in the future.
When President Kenyatta and UK Prime Minister Johnson met in January this year, they launched a Strategic Partnership between Kenya and the UK, which included a focus on climate change and the environment. Today, as we mark World Environment Day, it is right that we redouble our efforts and ensure that Covid-19 does not distract us from the urgent action required to address climate change and species extinction. The UK is already providing over Sh14.5 billion worth of support on these issues in Kenya, leveraging our expertise in green finance and climate innovation
Years of scientific collaborations mean that we can predict the changing nature of weather patterns, and I am proud that Nairobi is a leading centre for this in East Africa.
UK Met Office data is sharing localised advice and insight to farmers in Kenya and the region, and a British funded supercomputer near Ngong is helping counties by using data to track locust movements, so farmers and pastoralists can prepare for incoming swarms.
As the Kenyan economy recovers from the pandemic, we have an opportunity to protect and restore nature, reducing our exposure to deadly, zoonotic, viruses and climate impacts. Kenya will need jobs that will last, whether in climate-resilient agriculture, eco-tourism, or in factories powered by clean energy.
The origins of Covid-19 provide a stark reminder of what happens when humanity’s relationship with nature breaks down – as the disease was initially spread from animals to humans. Here in Kenya, we are losing 100 lions per year and it is estimated there are fewer than 2,000 in the wild – this is illegal and a serious organised crime. That’s why our partnership is prosecuting wildlife criminals and improving intelligence gathering to stop poaching.
The UK’s CoP26 Presidency will now span two years, culminating in November 2021 – during this time we will champion the African agenda – boosting resilience, adaptability, reforestation and improving access to international finance for climate projects which preserve the environment.
Tackling climate change could not be more fundamental to our way of life, our species, and our survival. The beauty of our environment is nowhere more evident than in Kenya, but we have been harming it for far too long.
It is time we stand together, using the best of Kenyan and British ingenuity to seize the opportunities of a brighter, greener future together.
Jane Marriott British High Commissioner to Kenya.