Impacts of climate change on African economies
Case study: Kenya
Robert Mburia, Kenya
Original Post: Jan. 16, 2012


Comprehensive studies on climate change show moving results and predict dire consequences on several species, as well as the socioeconomic livelihoods of many African communities, as well as those of other developing nations (NOAA, 2009, IPCC 2007, Naomi 2011). The topic of climate change elicits varied reactions from developing and developed nations. What is most clear is the fact that climate change causes and mitigation measures have not been handled with the seriousness that they deserve.

Ogola (n.d) has retaliated by stating that, under the UNFCCC every country has a requirement to develop a comprehensive climate response program that incorporates all climate change activities into energy, transport, industry, agriculture, forestry, and waste management sectors. This very requirement has not been met by many countries, most notably the developed ones, who are responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions.

Kenya and Climate Change
Kenya was the host of the first climate change declaration in 1990 at the Nairobi Conference of Global Warming and Climate Change. The Nairobi Declaration on Climate Change noted that the necessary measures to halt or reverse the climate change phenomenon are unique in that they must be proactive rather than reactive. Measures have to be put in place to anticipate and prevent climate change.

Climate Change and Disease Burden
In their 2010 analysis, Wamyama, et al, showed that past climate change and future projections have huge consequences on the ecological, economic and socio-physical components that comprise Kenya. Ecosystems which are very sensitive to climatic changes will be significantly affected. Owing to the fact that the country’s economy is heavily dependent on natural resources, there would be significant impacts on the growth and socioeconomic livelihood of Kenyan communities.

Climate sensitive diseases, such as malaria, have already begun affecting high altitude areas like Nairobi, Kericho, and even the Mt. Kenya Highlands, which were previously malaria free. Increased drought spells have seen pastoralists lose thousands of cattle and millions in income. Drying of biomass and subsequent reductions on the national electricity energy production (especially during droughts and flood) put further strain on the Kenya’s economy.

Droughts and Floods
The short rains of 2011 ravaged some parts of the country with massive flooding, the likes of which hadn’t been witnessed since the 1960s. Several people died, while others become internally displaced. Africa is predicted to experience greater impacts than other world regions, due to its great vulnerability and lower adaptive capacity. Stockholm Environmental Institute (2009) estimates the immediate needs will require at least $500 million to be addressed in 2012. By 2030 it is estimated that $1 to $2 billion per year will be required to adapt to the climate change in Kenya.

Economic costs of drought in the period from 1998 to 2000 cost the nation approximately $2.8 billion, due to livestock loss and crop failure, forest fires, fisheries damage, reduced hydro power generation, reduced industrial production and water supply (ibid). At the same time the 2004 and 2005 droughts had an impact on millions of people. The 2009 droughts greatly impacted Kenya’s energy and water. Post- election violence-experienced in 2007 and 2008- worsened the effects of the drought and drove inflation still higher. The greatest drought impacts were felt for the better part of 2011, where inflation increased to 15% in July due to high food and oil prices as well.

Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security (n.d) shows how economic activity caused by environmental changes may lead to conflict. Although conflicts are caused by a multiple of factors and processes, global climate change may fuel the magnitude of these conflicts, at times sparking them as well. Human economic activity increases CO2 emissions into the environment causing both regional and global environmental changes, which in turn may lead to changes in agricultural output. Altered resource availability has a direct correlation to food shortages, which may fuel political disputes, ethnic tension, and civil unrest. Such events may then affect regional and global relations, leading to regional and global conflicts (ibid).

Stephen et al (2010) concurs that although Kenya’s economy is bigger than most of the African countries, it is challenged by several issues that include poor governance, corruption, environmental degradation, and increased poverty among other factors. Stephen, et al further describes Kenya’s vulnerability as the extent to which a natural or social system is susceptible to sustaining damage from climate change.

Loss of Forests
Forests are useful ecosystems that are vital in terms of water catchment towers, carbon sinks, timber, pasture, medicinal products and many more things. Studies show dwindling wildlife populations in Mt. Kenya Forest, a factor which may deplete the elephant habitat. It is clear that different components of the environment, that include both the biophysical and socioeconomic factors work on each other. Climate change is fueled by forest loss and degradation. On the other hand, climate change has led to depletion of forest ecosystems and forest resources as well.
Multiple factors affect forests in Kenya. These include conversion of land uses and changes in land use patterns for agriculture, settlement, and industrial/commercial purposes. Tropical montage cloud forests are likely to be affected by climate change, especially temperature and precipitation change (Bruijnzeel, Scatena & Hamiton 2010). Loss of forest in Kenya has serious socioeconomic consequences, not the least of which is its negative effect on the GDP of the country.

Reduced Agricultural Production
Kenya’s economy relies heavily on rain-fed agriculture. Agriculture and tourism are the key economic backbones of Kenya. Agricultural based goods that are exported- mainly coffee and tea- are the country’s major foreign export earners. FAO noted that Africa has been transformed from being a key exporter of agricultural products into a net importer. More than 30 million people require food aid annually in Africa. Other studies show that, whereas other parts of the world are coming out of poverty, Africa is seeing a worsening situation in widespread and abject poverty, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where many live below the international poverty line (African Security Review 2003).

Greenhouse gas emissions and responsibilities
It is not the intention of this paper to discredit any particular nation or body, but there has been strong evidence that major greenhouse gas producers like the United States have never shown any real concern for climate change issues. Naomi (2011) observes that policy makers, especially of the United States, primarily contend over the certainty of climate change. Up to 2006, the United States was the largest emitter of the greenhouse gas that traps the suns heat (Raupach et al 2007.) However, China is now the leading emitter of carbon dioxide emissions (NEAA, 2007, Sci-tech 2006, National Geographic 2008). The concepts of sustainable development have not been fully embraced by many countries, as they continue to prioritize industrialization and economic growth.

The whole of Africa emits only 3.6% of carbon dioxide per year (UN Statistics Common Database 2006). It is also noted that Africa carries about 14% of the world’s population. Kenya as a country produces less than 0.5% of carbon dioxide per year.

Conclusion and Recommendations
No single country can make a sustainable tackle climate change causes alone, as well as the impacts. Africa is vulnerable to climate change impacts, and much of the climate induced change that has been seen up until now will be irreversible if drastic measures are not taken internationally. Climate change has a potential of slowing socioeconomic growth. There is need for the international community to fully commit to alternative practices that have no negative impacts on the climate or earth’s ecosystems. The scientific communities and research bodies (especially in the energy and industrial sectors) need to come up with more innovative ways that can positively drive sustainable growth without jeopardizing life systems. There is a need for local and international legislative and policy framework regarding various economic activity and green house gas emissions. Countries that contribute to high levels of green house gasses should be on the forefront in paying for the environmental damages, especially those incurred in African countries. Local and international collaboration in combating global warming can go a long way in sustaining life in Kenya and the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa.

The author recommends more research to be carried out on the impacts of climate change on the African economy, as some of them are not yet known and others will continue to emerge. Preventive measures should be adopted. A ‘can do’ attitude will help with Africa’s climate change mitigation. There is also the need for Africa to rise up and take decisive action, and not simply blame developed nations and wait for compensations. The biodiversity in this continent may be the key for the world’s major challenges.

1. The FAO has stated that Africa’s annual food imports are the equivalent in hard currency of $19 billion, while its agricultural exports are valued at $14 billion. SAPA, 9 December 2002, reporting on the Africa Food Security Conference in Nigeria.
2. Ogola S.J (n.d) Climate change: Kenya’s responses, available at
3. “China now no. 1 in CO2 emissions; USA in second position". Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, 2007.
4. China CO2 Emissions Growing Faster Than Anticipated". National Geographic. 2008-03-18
5. Leendert Adriaan Bruijnzeel, F. N. (Ed.). (2010). Tropical Montane Cloud Forests: Science for Conservation and Management. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
6. UN Statistics Common Database,2006,
Climate Emergency Institute
Climate Science Library

 The Health and Human Rights Approach to Climate Change