Sustainability and Inequality for a Green Economy, lessons from Kenya**

Significant progress has been made in the last couple of years in driving the transition to a green and inclusive world. Events such as the ushering of the new SDGs, the signing of the Paris agreement, and the significant investment flows into renewable energy, are just some of the few hallmarks of the significant strides that has been achieved in the fight against climate change.

However, the jury is still out regarding progress in driving an inclusive green economy, as the fight against inequality and poverty still remains a major challenge. Unless we are able to significantly dent the poverty and bring along the millions of vulnerable people across the world, the milestones achieved in other sectors of the green economy will come to naught. This is because, the very definition of a green economy emphasisises inclusivity, and the need to usher in a new world order where the losers of the current unfair economic system, are brought along in the transition, where everybody will be a winner. It cannot therefore be emphasised enough that the transition to a green economy needs to:

  • Invests in people because green must be fair,
  • Transforms key economic sectors to one that is more inclusive and respects natural resource limits,
  • Reform our current financial institutions and financing flows ensure that we pay for the cost of the climate change and exacerbate the current footprint of humanity,
  • Rethink how we measure progress, and most importantly measure what matters, to ensure the wellbeing of our planet and its people,
  • Protect natural capital, which is the pillar that anchors our current economic system.

However, as stated in the Green Economy Barometer (2016), the “transition is not broad enough or deep enough”. The gap between the haves and have nots continues to grow. The reasons for this can perhaps be explained by the fact the green economy strategies and policies to a large extent still focus at the macro-economic level, instread of driving change on the ground. So in many respects, the more we advocate for a green economy, the more things remain the same. To the extent that flashpoints may arise in our efforts to drive sustainability and inequality at the same time.

The African Centre for a Green Economy recently undertook a comprehesive review to develop understanding on potential flashpoints that may arise as we seek to achieve the various goals set out in the SDGs. Using Kenya as a case study, four main flaspoints were identified that are critical for illustrating the potential trade-offs that may arise in our endeavour to achieve the sustainable development goals:

  • Conflict between commercial and traditional landscape use in the Tana River Delta
  • Watershed management among Naivasha Flower Growers
  • Drought in the Northern Region’s Turkana County
  • Human and elephant conflicts in the Mount Kenya Area

These case studies showed that many of the triggers of conflict in those areas were a result of the unfair distribution of limited resources such as water, land and money. Each of the case studies demonstrated the importance of understanding the intersections between the political, environmental, economic and social structures in developing relevant and effective strategies in transitioning to a green economy. The transition requires a reworking of economic policies that drive a brown and exclusive agenda, recognizing the possibilities for more inclusive, collaborative and democratic approaches.

Imaginative and innovative policy combinations will thus be required to ensure real change within the limited time before climate change triggered conflicts rise and irreparable damage is done to the planet. In Kenya’s the devolution of the Kenyan government presents a significant opportunity to create these innovative policies that cater to more context specific needs, promoting local economies and sustainably using locally available resources. The neoliberal once-size-fits-all economic policy has not worked and therefore the next few years will be critical in redefining measurements of progress.

** This report was done for a client, a final version will be released soon for distribution.