With an estimated 19 000 premature deaths arising from air pollution in Kenya, it has become a rallying call for government and civil society. Evidence suggests air pollution will only worsen in the coming years without urgent action, impacting public health and further aggravating climate change. Given the complexity of the problem, an integrated approach is needed that brings on board actors from across all sectors.

In July 2018, SEI co-organized a seminar on integrated planning for climate change and air pollution in Kenya, along with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and the Institute for Climate Change Adaptation (ICCA) at the University of Nairobi. This seminar launched a series of activities that are in the pipeline for the three institutions, aiming to close gaps in policy and action around air quality management and climate change planning in Kenya.

A factory chimney spews smoke over the rooftops of nearby homes in Mukuru

A factory chimney spews smoke over the rooftops of Mukuru, Nairobi. Photo: William Apondo.

“The health impacts of air pollution among certain population groups especially the young and the elderly are severe. The associated economic losses have even bigger implications on the country’s progress,” noted Professor Shem Wandiga, Director of ICCA, speaking at the seminar.

Charles Sunkuli, Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, said that there was increasing momentum for efforts to reduce harmful emissions. In his opening address to the seminar, he reported that his ministry had initiated a process to develop a national air quality management strategy and action plan, creating an inter-agency committee for the purpose.

Close links between climate, air quality and energy

A recurring theme in the seminar was close connection between the challenges of air quality and climate mitigation. While they operate at very different levels, they are often affected by the same processes of energy generation, from household stoves up to factories and power plants. Better energy planning to could have a positive impact on both challenges.

Seminar attendees

The seminar brought together attendees from government, civil society, academia and the private sector, including Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry Charles Sunkuli (front row, fifth from the right). Photo: SEI

Charles Sunkuli noted that Kenya had put climate mitigation activities at the heart of public planning processes. This follows the enactment of the Climate Change Act in 2016 among other institutional and legal frameworks. However, he said, “developing legislation and policies for achieving a cleaner development pathway for Kenya will require evidence for decision making.”

Making LEAP-IBC part of the solution

During the seminar, participants were introduced to SEI’s energy policy decision-support tool, LEAP-IBC (for Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning – Integrated Benefits Calculator). Andriannah Mbandi, an air quality researcher with SEI Africa, showed how LEAP-IBC could be used in integrated planning for climate change and air quality management in Kenya. LEAP-IBC assesses the potential implications of different viable energy scenarios for climate, health and crops (which can be greatly affected by air pollution). “The tool has already been used to demonstrate similar reductions in emissions including particulate pollution and black carbon, with potential benefits in reduction on the impact on health and the environment,” she said.

SEI is keen on creating awareness around LEAP-IBC among different actors in Kenya’s efforts on air quality management. SEI’s Policy Director, Johan Kuylenstierna presented how LEAP-IBC is successfully being applied in Ghana to assess the impact of implementing climate and air quality policies. Philip Osano, SEI Africa Deputy Centre Director and the current coordinator of the Kenya Air Quality Network (which is hosted by SEI Africa) invited participants to a series of upcoming training seminars on LEAP-IBC. These will be held later in the year and will, among other things, help to customise the tool to meet the needs of Kenyan users.

Dr Alice Kaudia, Environment Secretary at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and the current Chair of Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), said: “LEAP-IBC is a powerful and important tool to guide planning processes. LEAP-IBC should be strongly anchored in the academia of Kenya for continuous learning and ensuring that we have a pool of competent LEAP-IBC experts in the country.”

Prof. Peter Mbithi, Vice-Chancellor of Nairobi University acknowledged (in remarks read by acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor Madara Ogot) the role of SEI in strengthening synergies aimed at tackling challenges around climate change and air quality management in Kenya.

SEI Africa Centre Director Evelyn Namubiru-Mwaura noted that the Ministry of Environment and Forestry was working with SEI to develop a black carbon inventory for Kenya as part of efforts to reach climate mitigation targets. She added: “We are happy that the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has recognised SEI as a valuable partner.”