Climate Change Duties: Who shoulders the responsibility for our environment?

By Phyllis Wakiaga

Wangari Maathai once said, ‘In a few decades, the relationship between the environment, resources and conflict may seem almost as obvious as the connection we see today between human rights, democracy and peace.’

This undisputable connection is presently evident and materialises in the relationship between our collective psyche and the present state of our environment. As a society, the spaces we inhabit are representative of the way we think and the way we live, and consequently, the political, social and economic decisions that we make as a result.

What is our assumption about who should be burdened with matters of conserving our environment? If we look at the cautious manner in which we keep our ‘sanitized, private spaces’ closed off, or the way in which we are negligent and callous with the more populated, free for all public spaces – we pick up on our instinctive attitude to shirk our responsibilities to institutions, organizations and ‘someone else’ other than ourselves.

Statistics have shown that since 2001, global losses from climate change and disasters are estimated at about $2.5 trillion, with the future looking bleak in terms of the impact of this sum on GDP growth and developmental projects. Urban institutions and systems, especially in African countries, bear the brunt of these pressures given their increasing populations. We have seen the shocks from the failure of urban systems reverberate throughout the country to affect other regions and markets. And while no country or system is immune to these shocks, it is imperative that we all fashion a collaborative problem-solving process which will help us understand our individual roles in climate change action.

Climate Change Duties

Climate change duties” means the statutory obligations conferred on public and private entities to implement climate change actions consistent with the national goal of low carbon climate resilient development.

Modern businesses and societies face unforeseen risks as a result of climate-related effects. These include increases and frequency of extreme weather patterns, which we have witnessed this past year, disruption of water distribution and increases in temperatures. Knowing that these are bound to happen again, next year and the year after that, how have we positioned ourselves, our businesses, houses and general environment to deal with these events?

Securing our lives and our economies implies the need for systems of governance, ecosystems and societal standards that have the capability to maintain competent function in the face of climate change. In other words, we ought to be able to return to a modicum of normal range of function even when faced with adverse impacts of climate change. Hence this is where we start to interrogate ourselves and the extent of our knowledge on our individual and societal carbon footprint. Can we truly say that we are able to steer ourselves back to progressively achieving our vision 2030 goals should we go through a natural disaster? And if we are not confident about this answer, how fast can we begin to find the solutions?

Back, to my quote at the beginning, it has been forecasted that at some point in the future water will be such a scarce resource, and that we will go to war with each other to have it. This is a dire situation as we are beginning to witness its scarcity in many regions, some due to adverse weather and most due to politics and greed. What are we doing to secure fresh water for generations to come? What measures are we putting in place to protect our natural resources?

Our Role

The private sector, for example, due to its sheer size and its role as a development partner for the government, must be a visible champion for climate-change action in its daily operations. Businesses must pursue strategies to boost resilience with urgency and ambition by showing a willingness to deepen their understanding of climate risk and opportunities for bouncing back. We must take the time to understand the directive to reduce emissions keeping them consistent with a 2°C pathway, thereby enhancing our adaptive capacity to withstand adverse weather changes. We must appreciate and engage with the international negotiations being conducted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) currently under way in Paris.

Because our voices as a sector can be heard, we ought to be at the forefront of designing and delivering adaptation services for government and other organizations. This is knowledge that some of us use already to tabulate and forecast profitability, it will only be a question of doing it on a wider scale. Additionally, since we find ourselves at the centre of many operations, be it government, civil society, community organizations, we should leverage this position to rally support for existing efforts for climate-change and amplify them as the desired standards to be replicated across the nation.

No matter how much foresight we have, nature is ultimately unpredictable. However, if we are conscious and daily embrace our responsibility in ensuring that we cushion the impact and more importantly that we bounce back successfully, we will with stand the unpredictability.

(The writer is the CEO of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers and can be reached on

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