For the past couple of weeks, we have been doing a “climate change crash course” that provides a foundation on the issue and why you should care. Climate change has the force to alter the Earth’s systems as we know it. All over the world, countries will experience severe natural disasters, population displacement, and a decrease in public health, among many other implications. It has a global impact, but developing countries and vulnerable communities will carry most of the burden. And their challenges will be felt by the rest of the world. It is hard to believe that a crisis so detrimental to the global community has not been solved already. This week, we will discuss the complexities of addressing climate change and examine the effectiveness of current efforts.
Data Collection and Decision Making
First and foremost, government and international action is the key to solving climate change; however, the nature of climate data makes it hard for scientists to convince decision-makers. Climate data has to be collected over a long period of time, at least thirty years, for trends to show and impacts to develop. This time range is necessary for scientists as they have to account for the Earth’s natural climate fluctuations and the lag time between our actions and the climate’s response. The lack of immediate evidence and consequences downplay the severity of the issue. Scientists have to rely on prediction models to convey the urgency of the crisis. Still, estimations have not been enough to convince governments and policymakers to make decisions that seem expensive and radical.
Perspectives on Preventative Measures
Mitigating GHGs and enacting climate policies are preventative measures governments can implement now to reduce climate change in the future. However, the enforcement of preventative measures has its challenges. Being proactive to an issue is less glamorous and heroic than combatting one in the moment. Micheal Wucker, in “The Gray Rhino: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangerous We Ignore,” claims that “voters reward politicians for fixing problems, but rarely for preventing them.” Preventative measures can seem tedious or unnecessary when the climate crisis is unprecedented and invisible. And the outcome of prevention is just as invisible as the issue itself. “If you do things right, it means you’re never proven right because you’ve prevented bad things from happening,” said Emilie Mazzacurati, Founder and CEO of Berkeley-based climate risk analysis firm Four Twenty Seven. While preventative measures are more affordable than responding after the effects, it is a lot harder to sell.
The regulation of greenhouse gases is complicated to implement as the scale of emissions is colossal, and their sources are spread globally. Commitment by individual states is not enough, especially with accountability. Involvement at the international scale is the only way to reduce these emissions and slow climate change effectively. However, voluntary commitment is hard to ensure. Self-interest is the primary concern that prevents countries from adopting climate policies and renewable energy. Climate policies can be costly to implement and could shift global economies. The course and magnitude of these shifts cannot be certain but can threaten various industries. The fossil fuel industry is extremely lucrative and has been historically known for lobbying against climate policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These groups go beyond business and have become political forces as well.
In some cases, climate change policies are not feasible for countries to enact, especially in developing countries. Some countries may have issues that are prioritized higher than reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while others might rely on unsustainable industries for income. Insufficient resources might also prevent a country from transitioning to climate policies. In a general debate among the UN’s Second Committee this past fall, Botswana’s delegate stated the country was currently experiencing a climate change-related drought, which has severely hampered many developing nation’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
There is also an ongoing debate on the “right to development,” which discusses the role of industrialization. Many wealthy countries developed at the expense of minorities. In the context of climate change, developing countries have the right to their economic, social, and cultural development without being penalized for not meeting prevention measures or enacting certain policies.
Strong global-coordination, compromise, and organization are necessary for mitigating greenhouse gases as there are economic, social, political, and moral implications to climate change and the policies to combat it. Collective international cooperation could support and include developing countries. Responsibilities and regulations could be proportionate to nations’ financial capabilities, which would take off the pressure and provide realistic timelines for developing countries to meet their goals.
We have seen successful global cooperation and environmental improvement with the Montreal Protocol (1987). This treaty successfully banned the use and production of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) worldwide, which stopped the depletion of the ozone layer. According to the UN Environmental Program, “The Protocol is to date the only UN treaty ever that has been ratified by every country on Earth – all 197 UN Member States.” The Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol ensured full participation by providing financial and technical assistance to developing countries to follow the Protocol’s control measures. Since the ban of CFCs, the ozone hole has shown signs of healing. The success of the Montreal Protocol is an excellent example when global climate action and cooperation works.
Similar to the Montreal Protocol, we have The Paris Climate Agreement (2015), a universal accord that aims to mitigate climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. Kenya is one of 189 states that have ratified this agreement. The agreement follows the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), where countries will submit and publish their contributions that are realistic and in the context of their national priorities. INDCs allow for conducive and constructive collaboration between national and international decision-making on climate change. Similar to the Multilateral Fund, the Paris Agreement has the Green Climate Fund, which aimed to contribute roughly 10 trillion Ksh by 2020. So far, only 1 trillion Ksh has been donated. The Paris Climate Agreement is fairly new, so its success is still undetermined.
Global efforts are being made to combat climate change; however, some challenges prevent immediate action. What the Paris Climate Agreement can learn from the Montreal Protocol is the necessity of 1) clear communication and advocacy across the public and scientific sectors; 2) urgent global support and action that meets the demand of the crisis; and 3) innovation amongst industries to work harmoniously with climate policies. However, it should be noted that the context of both is different and requires different ramifications. With current events with COVID-19, initiatives are likely to be halted. It is our responsibility to continue advocating, so the climate movement does not lose momentum.
In an earlier post, we discussed the realities of personal prevention measures against COVID-19 in developing countries. We determined that it has socio-economic implications in terms of the inaccessibility of water, sanitation, and health resources. However, the pandemic also threatens social human rights, which has been deeply felt by these communities. The restrictions and enforcement of various orders can put vulnerable individuals in unsafe conditions that range from toxic living situations to police brutality. Many of these issues are gender-related. Today, we will investigate how COVID-19 has impacted human rights and heightened violence in Kenya, and especially in informal settlements.
For context, Kenya has made significant changes in its system in the past few months to limit the spread of the virus. So far, there have been 29 thousand confirmed cases of coronavirus and 45 deaths, according to Kenya’s Ministry of Health daily reports. In response, on March 27th, officials implemented a dusk-to-dawn curfew between 19:00 – 5:00, where citizens must remain at home and are arrested if not doing so. There is also a cessation of movement that prohibits travel to and from Nairobi and neighboring counties. Some coastal counties also have this ban in effect. As a result of these restrictions, transportation and most basic commodities such as food, water, and more have become scarce and risen in price. Employment and businesses have also plummeted, which threatens the livelihood of many families. The combination of high prices, low employment, restricted movement and uncertainty can foster tension within households.
In a human rights report, most parents expressed “concerns that the economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on households could lead to increased domestic and gender-based violence, instability within families, and the proliferation of child prostitution and illicit sexual activities since families cannot meet their needs.” The United Nations Human Rights and Social Justice Center Working Group (SJCWG) has been monitoring the impact of human rights from COVID-19 in Kenya’s informal settlements through the use of smartphone-based household surveys.
Domestic abuse has been a common issue in Kenya even before the pandemic. In 2014, the government reported that 45 percent of women and girls between the ages of 15 to 49 had experienced physical violence, and 14 percent have experienced sexual abuse. The report also indicated that 39 percent of ever-married women experienced physical or sexual violence from a spouse. And on average, only 44 percent of women have reported or sought out help, indicating that the prevalence of abuse might be even higher.
And abuse can have fatal consequences. The Daily Nation runs a program that tracks the prevalence of home murders, collects statistics on each case, and posts obituaries for the victims. In 2019, there were 171 cases of murder that happened at home. Of these cases, 71 percent were women in intimate relationships, and 13 percent were children. Although deaths led by abuse are outcomes of extreme cases, it is still an issue worth acknowledging.
These rates could increase amid Kenya’s movement restrictions and curfew, as these conditions provide more opportunities for domestic abuse behind-closed-doors. There has been a global surge in gender-related domestic violence since the beginning of the pandemic. UN’s Secretary-General António Guterres advised over twitter, “I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic.” Kenya is not an exception. In early April, Kenya’s National Council on Administration of Justice reported a “significant spike in Sexual Offenses” that constituted 35.8 percent of criminal matters, within the past two weeks of their statement. The council made note that, typically, “the perpetrators of such offenses are close relatives, guardians and/or persons living with the victims.” This statement is alarming, knowing that households have to spend increasingly more time together. The Daily Nation reported that the national 24-hour gender hotline jumped from 115 in March to 461 reported cases of sexual and gender-based violence in April.
Moreover, prevention orders make it difficult for survivors to access urgent support services or seek refuge elsewhere. Domestic and sexual violence has severe emotional and physical consequences such as mental illness, physical injuries, sexually transmitted infections, unplanned pregnancies and more. Those who chose to escape their living situations also run the risk of being arrested, especially during the night. In short, the ramifications of these measures can trap abuse victims with their abusers and could punish them if they leave.
On the flipside, police negligence and brutality have become a growing issue since COVID-19. The UN and SJCWG impact report indicated that “police [have been] turning away victims of domestic violence from police stations, on the basis that these crimes were ‘not urgent,” despite the surge in reports and warnings from international groups. In addition to indifference, police officers have become abusers as well. The report continued by revealing an increase in sexual harassment of women and girls, especially sex workers, by police and county security officers.
Police brutality and corruption have risen after the Kenyan government had granted police officers more public order powers. Within the first two weeks of the curfew, police had killed 12 people, which was greater than the coronavirus death toll. The police are using excessive force while raiding the streets, markets, and homes, even before the curfew start time begins. Reports reveal that authorities have also looted food, extorted money from residents and made arbitrary arrests. Those who are homeless or live in informal settlements are particularly vulnerable, given these circumstances.
One of the most upsetting cases is the death of Yassin Hussein Moyo. The 13-year-old-boy had been watching the police rampage through Kiamaiko, an informal settlement in Nairobi, from his balcony at home. During an open-fire, the police shot and killed Moyo in front of his siblings. In an informal settlement in Mombasa, a bodaboda driver was beaten to death by the police after bringing a pregnant woman to a hospital past curfew.
Many find the excessive enforcement and violence by police to be counterproductive in many ways but highlight structural inequalities that the pandemic worsens. While the government and President Kenyatta have acknowledged and apologized on behalf of these atrocities, there has been little call to action to end abuse in the future. It is unfortunate seeing authority figures oppress the public when vulnerable people need protection the most. Coronavirus has introduced another public health pandemic, violence. Although these orders are meant to protect the public’s health and contain the virus, some repercussions need to be addressed. Whether it is at home or on the streets, people are in potentially dangerous situations and need reliable support. Hopefully, with more advocacy and pressure on the government, structural changes will be made that support and protect the human rights of its people.
Vendetta Awiti is a 63 year old widow who lives in Obunga-Kasarani village and sells bhajia to school children, all this from the assistance of the Obunga dwellers after her house sunk due to rains. She lives with her daughter and ten grandchildren; all orphaned by death of her sons. With an income of Ksh.70 a day, she can hardly fend for her daughter and grandchildren
But thanks to an invitation from Umande Trust, to participate in the annual Kisumu urban seminar together with her fellow slum dwellers of Obunga, Manyatta and Nyalenda at Kosawo hall in Kisumu. It is in this session that she got to listen to a presentation on solar energy from the county government, after which Umande Trust’s Managing Trustee offered to purchase solar units for the three slums represented and communities were requested to select one person per area of residence to benefit from a solar lamp; and Vendetta was luckily chosen to receive a solar panel with two lamps.
Her daughter and grandchildren have now gotten the opportunity to go back to school and are able to study late after the rest have retired to bed and a subsequent improvement in their grades, not to mention their improved morale.
Secondly, she is able to earn some revenue by charging mobile phones at a certain cost with the help of her neighbor after which they share the money between themselves.
Currently her only biggest fear in regards to the solar panel would remain to be security in terms of theft and protection from her playful grandchildren.
Her hopes were once again rekindled especially with her dependants back in school.
Several other households are also following on her footsteps of buying solar lamps, resulting into a safer environment for residents of Obunga village.