Kenya, located in the Greater Horn of Africa region, is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. More than 80% of the country’s landmass is arid and semi-arid land (ASAL) . While temperatures vary across the country, a distinct warming trend has been observed. Since the 1960s, the mean annual temperature of Kenya has increased by approximately 1.0°C, at an estimated annual average rate of 0.21°C. Temperatures will continue to rise and are projected to increase by 1.7°C by the 2050s, and 3.5°C by the end of the century. Increased heat and extreme heat conditions will result in significant implications for human and animal health, agriculture, and ecosystems .
Precipitation trends for Kenya are highly variable, and there is significant geographical diversity in observed rainfall trends. Since the 1960s, northern areas have become wetter, while southern areas have become drier, although there is a high degree of variability. Additionally, more frequent, and intense rainfall events have been experienced, as well as an increased drought and aridity in the country. Since 2000, prolonged droughts have become more common. Precipitation in Kenya is projected to remain highly variable and uncertain. However, extreme rainfall is expected to increase in frequency, duration, and intensity, and rainfall in arid zones is expected to decrease .
Kenya is highly exposed to many natural hazards, the most common being floods and droughts , which negatively impact lives and livelihoods and put human health increasingly at risk. Extreme climate events also adversely affect the economy . A severe and prolonged drought from 2008–2011 affected 3.7 million people, caused $12.1 billion in damages and losses, and cost over $1.7 billion in recovery and reconstruction needs . In 2018, floods led to loss of human lives, displaced more than 230,000 people including 150,000 children, closed over 700 schools, wiped out billions of shillings worth of roads and infrastructure and 8,500 ha of crops, and killed over 20,000 head of livestock .
Agriculture is critical to Kenya’s economy and food security but is considered as one of the most vulnerable sectors to climate risks. Agriculture contributes approximately 28% of Kenya’s GDP and accounts for more than 65% of exports. Most of the sector relies on seasonal rains for production, and therefore, the projected changes in precipitation patterns will likely increase short-term crop failures and long-term production declines. The high inter-annual variability of precipitation is already having devastating consequences on rural livelihoods, with droughts and floods a frequent occurrence in both the arid and semi-arid lands and key agricultural zones .
Sea level rise is also already affecting Kenya’s coast towns and communities, and is expected to impact about 86,000 people a year . Sea level rise places Kenya’s broader economy at risk as coastal and marine resources suffer, negatively impacting tourism, fisheries, shipping and port activities. Kenya’s agriculture sector along the coast will also be impacted, as a one-meter sea level rise is expected to affect exported mango, cashew nut and coconut harvests, and result in a loss of income of about $ 472.8 million . Over the past two decades, rising temperatures has also triggered mass coral bleaching events and the mortality of coral reef systems on the Kenyan coast, negatively affecting Kenya’s coastal fisheries and tourism .
In addition, due to climate change, Mount Kenya’s glaciers are shrinking and are expected to disappear in the next 30 years. This will threaten Kenya’s largest river which supplies more than 60% of the country’s hydropower, many of its cities, and a critical portion of the country’s agricultural land .
According to Kenya’s updated NDC (2020) , Kenya’s total GHG emissions increased by 65.2% between 1995 and 2015. Despite this, the country’s GHG emissions still represented less than 0.1% of the 2015 global emissions.
In 2015, the biggest contributor to GHG emissions in Kenya was the agriculture sector (40%), mostly due to livestock enteric fermentation, manure left on pasture, and agricultural soils and fertilizer application. This was followed by the LULUCF (Land use, land-use change, and forestry) sector (38%) mainly due to deforestation, and the energy sector (18%). The IPPU (Industrial Processes and Product Use) sector and the waste sector represented 3% and 1% of Kenya’s GHG emissions, respectively.
However, projections show that by 2030, energy will become the leading contributor to GHG emissions in the country due to the increased consumption of fossil fuels in generating electricity, meeting domestic, commercial, and industrial heating demands, and for transportation.
Kenya has significant oil reserves and about 400 million tons of coal reserves which have not yet been exploited. Coal will be an important fuel option for electricity expansion in Kenya. Already, there has been proposals to build two coal power plants in the country, one of which would be based on local coal and the other on imported coal .
Key policies and governance approach
The National Climate Change Response Strategy (NCCRS), developed in 2010, was the first national policy document on climate change in Kenya, and aimed to advance the integration of climate change adaptation and mitigation into all governmental planning, budgeting and development objectives . Kenya has since, made significant efforts to mainstream climate change at the national level including through the Vision 2030, National Climate Change Framework Policy (NCCFP), National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) 2018-2022, and international protocols such as the Paris Agreement .
The NCCAP (2018-2022) identifies the country’s priority climate change adaptation and mitigation actions. The actions are intended to contribute to the country’s achievement of the low carbon climate resilient development pathway, poverty eradication, and the NDC target .
In addition to the above-mentioned climate-related policies, several sectoral policies have been put in place in Kenya to support the implementation of adaptation and mitigation actions, including the National Policy on Climate Finance, the National Livestock Policy 2015, the Kenya Climate-Smart Agriculture Strategy (2017-2018), National Oceans and Fisheries Policy 2008, the Water Act (2016), among others .
The Constitution of Kenya (2010) provides the foundation for implementation of climate change actions through its Bill of Rights provisions especially the right to a clean and healthy environment. To provide a legal framework for climate change, in 2016, the Climate Change Act was enacted. The Act establishes governance structures for climate change in the country , and guides the mainstreaming of adaptation and mitigation actions into sector functions of the National and County governments, the private sector, civil society and other actors . The National Climate Change Council (NCCC) is responsible for oversight and coordination .
Through its updated NDC (2020), Kenya commits to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 32% by 2030, relative to the business-as-usual scenario. The NDC includes both mitigation and adaptation components and builds upon Kenya’s initial NDC and the country’s National Adaptation Plan (NAP) 2015-2030. Priority mitigation actions include, among others, increasing renewables in the electricity generation mix on the national grid, making progress to achieve a tree cover of at least 10% of Kenya’s land area, and scaling up Nature Based Solutions (NBS) for mitigation. Priority adaptation actions include, among others, addressing residual climate change impacts, loss and damage especially in the productive sectors of the economy, enhancing investment in ocean and blue economy, and enhancing uptake of adaptation technology especially among women, youth and other vulnerable groups, while incorporating scientific and indigenous knowledge. Kenya has also developed an Integrated MRV system, including an Integrated MRV tool, for monitoring and reporting on mitigation and adaptation .
Successes and remaining challenges
The total cost of implementing Kenya’s planned mitigation and adaptation actions in its NDC is estimated at USD 62 billion. Compared to the country’s first NDC which was fully conditional to international support, Kenya commits to mobilize resources to meet 13% of this budget, meaning Kenya will require international support for the remaining 87% of the budget .
However, a first attempt to track climate finance flows in the country shows that finance flows in Kenya may not be aligned with these climate ambitions and needs. The Landscape of Climate Finance in Kenya found that USD 2.4 billion flowed to climate-related investments in 2018, amounting to only one third of the climate finance needed annually. In addition, the analysis shows that the financing tracked is disproportionally targeting certain sectors and activities that will only partially address climate issues. Therefore, if finance continues to flow at this same rate, Kenya will fall short of what is needed to achieve the climate goals within its NDC .
In addition, while Kenya’s NDC mentions its plans to build two coal power plants, these plans are inconsistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C temperature goal. Coal-fired electricity needs to be phased out globally by 2040, and much earlier for many regions .
Initiatives and Development Plans
Kenya has launched a 5-year, USD 34 million project under the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to help reduce the cost of climate change-induced drought on the country’s national economy. The project “Towards Ending Drought Emergencies” is an ecosystem-based adaptation project which will be implemented in the Arid and Semi-Arid rangelands of the country. The project, launched in February 2021, aims to help 620,000 people in eleven counties and restore over 500,000 hectares of degraded rangelands. The included counties are Garissa, Tana River, Isiolo, Marsabit, Samburu, Kajiado, Kitui, Makueni, Tharaka-Nithi, Meru and Taita Taveta .
- Thorough implementation of existing climate policies.
- Encourage international support in the form of finance, investment, technology development and transfer, and capacity building, while following principles of transparency and accountability.
- Enhance adaptive capacity and climate resilience across all sectors and the two levels of government – National and County.
- Strengthen institutional capacity of all related institutions across sectors and counties, as well as non-state actor.
- Increase renewables in the electricity generation mix of the national grid.
- Enhance energy and resource efficiency across different sectors.
- Achieve tree cover of at least 10% of the land area of Kenya.
- Make efforts towards achieving land degradation neutrality.
- Scale up Nature Based Solutions.
- Enhance REDD+ activities.
- Promote clean, efficient and sustainable energy technologies to reduce over-reliance on fossil and non-sustainable biomass fuels.
- Build low carbon and efficient transportation systems.
- Implement Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA).
- Invest in sustainable waste management systems.
- Harness the benefits of a sustainable blue economy, possibly through coastal carbon Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES).
- Explore innovative livelihood strategies for enhancing climate resilience of local communities through financing of locally led climate actions.
- Develop and apply comprehensive climate risk management tools to help address and manage climate risks.
- Develop robust early warning systems.
- Enhance uptake of adaptation technology especially among women, youth and other vulnerable groups, while incorporating scientific and indigenous knowledge.
- Invest in ocean and blue economy.
- Strengthen the tools for adaptation monitoring, evaluation and learning at the national and county levels, including non-state actors.
 Climate Change Knowledge Portal, World Bank Group (2021). [Online]. Available: https://climateknowledgeportal.worldbank.org/country/kenya/vulnerability.
 Climate Risk Profile: Kenya (2021): The World Bank Group.
 Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Republic of Kenya (2020). Kenya’s Updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).
 Government of Kenya, (2020). Second Voluntary National Review report on the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
 Climate Policy Initiative (2021). The Landscape of Climate Finance in Kenya: On the road to implementing Kenya’s NDC.
 Climate Action Tracker (2021). [Online]. Available: https://climateactiontracker.org/climate-target-update-tracker/kenya/.
 IUCN (2021). [Online]. Available: https://www.iucn.org/news/eastern-and-southern-africa/202103/kenya-launches-34-million-project-tackle-effects-climate-change.