Kenya: Activists Have High Hopes for Kenya's Climate Bill, Second Time Round

A groundbreaking climate change bill, rejected by former President Mwai Kibaki after what its supporters claim was pressure from private sector interests, is scheduled to be reintroduced for debate in parliament in September.

This time, backers of the Climate Change and Adaptation Bill, responding to a request by Kibaki last year, have submitted input on the proposal from a variety of interest groups and have adjusted the bill to ensure it complies with Kenya's 2011 constitution, which requires that the views and concerns of stakeholders be taken into account.

The law, which will create a Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, enjoys support from the powerful parliamentary committee on Environment, Water and Natural Resources, the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association and a cross-section of legislators from the country's semi-arid areas who represent pastoralist communities.

A crop of young, relatively progressive and middle-class politicians elected last March seems to be adding wind to the sails of the bill, with a majority openly proclaiming their support.

"The bill is attracting a lot of goodwill from different players in both the government (and) parliament, and the environment ministry and parliament's legal department have so far given their inputs to ensure everything runs smoothly," said legislator Wilbur Ottichilo, a member of the environment committee and a prominent environmentalist in Kenya.

A national conference to discuss the legislation was held in August, bringing together all interested parties. Ottichilo hopes the bill will be signed into law by November.

The new law will incorporate the country's Climate Action Plan (CAP), an institutional framework on climate governance being developed by the government, to ensure the plan addresses climate change in Kenya in a comprehensive manner.

That could include everything from rules on use of alternative energy to efforts to reduce disaster risk from increasingly extreme weather associated with climate change.

"In parliament everyone can rest assured that there is a lot of support for it and all we are waiting (for) is to see it tabled for discussion," said Njogu Barua, an MP and former environmental activist who has offered to second the bill.

Chachu Ganya, who is also a member of the environment committee and a lobbyist for the rights of pastoralist communities of Kenya's arid northern region, believes that with the entrenchment of democratic practices in Kenya, it is highly unlikely that what he called "anti-change forces" will influence new president Uhuru Kenyatta to withhold his assent to the law once it has been passed by parliament.

PENALTIES FOR POLLUTERS

The law will slap stiff penalties on polluters, while the proposed Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Fund aims to assist groups most vulnerable to adverse effects of climate change. Ordinary Kenyans hope it will cushion them against the suffering from droughts and flooding inflicted by the country's changing weather patterns.

"The problem of water here has gotten out of hand in the recent past," said Mwende Munyao, a farmer in the Wote area of southeastern Kenya. Due to frequent droughts, the 56-year-old mother of five must walk 12 km (7.5 miles) once each week to gather water.

"If a law would help alleviate our suffering here, then it should be enacted quickly," she said.

Similar sentiments are expressed by her husband Muange Munyao, who believes that parliament and the government should act to alleviate the loss of his crops and livestock brought about by increasingly frequent dry spells.

"The people with power must think about us and end the kind of life we are leading nowadays," Muange said. In the 1980s he had large herds of livestock, but now he has just two cows and six goats.

"These days men have been reduced to nothing, for a man without livestock is no man," he said.

Although the climate bill was originally passed by parliament last year, then-president Kibaki refused to sign it, claiming that there had not been sufficiently wide consultation while it was being written.

Shocked environmentalists and activists accused powerful private interests, including big polluters and manufacturers, of being behind Kibaki's refusal, for fear they would incur heavy penalties if the bill became law.

Maina Waruru is a freelance science journalist based in Nairobi.

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