Human Rights and Climate Change Action in Kenya

By Benta Moige

Climate change has, over time, altered weather patterns which have altered day-to-day operations and continue to threaten individuals’ well-being. The right to food, adequate water and housing have been dwindling due to tremendous changes in weather patterns and human activities. Alteration of precipitation patterns has led to reduced rainfall or increased rainfall in other areas, causing more regions to dry up. The right to health and life is threatened due to malnutrition. As reported in the Amnesty International Global Annual Report (2022), by the end of 2022, Northern Kenya had not experienced rain for four years, leaving millions of people facing acute hunger.

Over time climate change has introduced new challenges for Kenya. Cattle rustling and clan clashes in the North Rift have been directly attributed to climatic changes. The vices have been driven by the need for communities in the region to adapt to the impact of climate change. Long periods of drought have deprived them of their traditional sources of income, causing communities traditionally known for agriculture to venture into pastoralism. The militarised response to the climate change-affected areas is counter-productive, leading to the loss of lives, property, and livelihood for many others.

The Kenyan government must mitigate against the effects of climate change, facilitate Kenyans in adapting to climate change while paying attention to vulnerable groups, and mitigate against loss. In the same breadth, the government has been exploring measures, such as building dams, eviction of communities from water catchment areas and police deployment, which have been adopted. Some of these measures affect the enjoyment of some rights, especially for women, indigenous people, and culture.

For instance, limiting access to natural resources limits people’s right to easily access clean drinking water and the right to culture for indigenous communities. The Mau Forest eviction, for instance, threatened the right to life, housing, education and culture of over 5,000 forest residents.

In the Northrift, the government has focused on using force instead of addressing climate change by ensuring that the warring communities have resources to adapt to the impact of climate change by engaging in new economic activities to the changes caused by climate change. Human activities are the primary causes of climate change. However, some activities are central to survival and must be designed to be environmentally conscious. The government can achieve this by reducing fossil fuel use and carbon emissions.

As discussed above, some of the adaptive measures adopted in Kenya threaten the enjoyment of human rights, including the right to life, where force is used to bring change. Because of the centrality of human rights, solutions to climate change should be designed so that they have human rights at the centre to promote, respect and facilitate the enjoyment of human rights.

Duty bearers and climate activists should: pay attention to the rights of communities or groups which might be disproportionately affected by climate change, invite participation from communities when devising climate change solutions, treat human rights and climate change as intertwined concepts and therefore develop favourable solutions for both and incorporation of climate finance as one of the remedies to mitigate against human rights violations.

Benta Moige is the Country Researcher at Amnesty International Kenya. She writes in her personal capacity. Email: [email protected]