Nairobi — Kenya's hopes of becoming one of the first countries in sub-Saharan Africa with a body legally empowered to advise on mitigating the effects of climate change have hit a dead end, after President Mwai Kibaki rejected a law that would have created a Kenya Climate Change Authority (KCCA).
The Kenya Climate Change Authority Bill was passed by the country's parliament in December. The KCCA would have advised national and regional governments on how to cope with climate change, punish environmental offenders and implement local and international agreements on climate issues.
The body would have been authorized to formulate policies on adaptation and response, besides setting regulatory measures to control activities that would impact the environment and climate.
Under the bill, a Climate Change Trust Fund would have been established, managed by a board of trustees, to source funds from within and outside government to finance mitigation and adaptation activities by KCCA and civil society.
But in January President Kibaki refused to sign the bill, citing lack of public involvement in its creation.
The president said that although the law was important to the country to deal with climate change and ensure a clean environment for citizens, public participation in the formulation of laws by the national assembly was enshrined in the constitution, and had to be observed.
"There was no public input in formulation of the bill in accordance with article 118 of the constitution. I recommend that the bill be referred back to parliament to allow for public input," Kibaki's statement said, effectively denying the country its first-ever climate law.
PRESIDENT'S VIEW DISPUTED
The president's assertion about lack of public input has been disputed by groups involved in crafting the law, including the Kenya Climate Change Working Group (KCCWG), a nongovernmental organisation.
The group's chief executive, Cecilia Kibe, called the president's decision shocking.
"We have held hearings across the country prior to the tabling of this bill in parliament for debate and adoption," said Kibe. "We are all shocked by the turn of events."
Documents provided by KCCWG indicate the involvement of the public in consultations, including grassroots groups such as farmers and livestock keepers.
The prime mover of the bill, former legislator and leading climate scientist Wilbur Otichillo, said he was also taken aback by the president's move. He asserted that the Network on Renewable Energy and Climate Change, a lobbying group, had sought and incorporated the public's views on the bill.
"We can only hope the next parliament to be elected on March 4 will rectify the anomaly and make the president understand that the Kenyan people were exhaustively involved," Otichillo said.
It is unlikely that the new parliament will look at the matter afresh before June, since there will be a month-long break after members are sworn in. The bill will also compete with other pending bills related to the country's recently adopted constitution and those left unfinished by the previous parliament.
Climate-related matters in Kenya are currently handled by a small unit of experts from different government ministries, based in the prime minister's office.
However, the unit is poorly funded by the government, and climate initiatives are mainly spearheaded by civil society and non-governmental organizations, experts said.
Maina Waruru is a freelance science journalist based in Nairobi.