Protecting Mother Earth from many threats requires greater innovation


Margaret Chepkoech, plants a tree seedling during the 2021 Kaptagat Forest Annual Tree Planting exercise. FILE PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

When this column was first written nine years ago, the country had just discovered and was on the cusp of exploiting its oil resources. The key questions that became the remit of weekly discourse related to the negative impacts of the extractive sector and the requisite governance responses that the Kenyan government needed to put in place.

Since then, the issues that this column has dealt with have moved beyond extractives to key governance issues and their implications for the sustainable development of the country.

As the column completes nine years of consistent engagement with readers, it is time to reflect on the future. The environmental crisis the world faces is an apt demonstration that the work ahead is still enormous.

At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Unep categorised this crisis as a triple planetary crisis of pollution, climate and nature. While the first two have been the subject of discourse in this column in the past, the nature crisis requires attention too.

In the 1970s, a scholar named Christopher Stone wrote an article, Should Trees Have Standing: Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects, debating the possibility of natural objects having the capacity to challenge instances of degradation of nature.

In his admission, the idea then sounded controversial, but he challenged the world to think about it. Half a century later it is not strange at all.

Ecuador became the first country in 2008 to recognise the right of nature in its Constitution. It provided for the recognition and protection of nature’s right to exist, maintenance, regeneration and evolution. A few other countries have included provisions in their law. Courts have also made decisions supportive of the rights of nature.

Kenya developed amendments to its Environmental Management and Coordination Act but the same could not be processed in time before the 2022 General Election. That Bill included recognition of the rights of nature.

These developments point to the reality that human beings need to make peace with Mother Earth by recognising that we are not the most important species on the planet. Instead, we need to be humble to appreciate that the regenerative nature of the ecosystem, if impaired by our greed the entire planetary balance will be lost. It is why nature can now speak for itself and make demands against other entities on the planet, including human beings.

It is imperative that efforts to address the planetary crisis explore bold, radical and innovative solutions if we are to win the war against the ongoing threats. A business-as-usual approach will lead to us having no planet in a few short years.

Environmental governance is no longer an issue for a few experts, or for those with an interest in the environment. It is a conversation that affects lives and livelihoods and the existence of the entire planet requires concerted action to ensure the existential threats are eliminated.

The writer is a law professor at the University of Nairobi.