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Accelerating Green Urban Growth in Nairobi

The theme for this year’s World Cities Day is “Adapting Cities for Climate Resilience”. The Day is being commemorated at a time when cities across the globe are experiencing climate-linked disasters—rising sea levels, floods, droughts, heatwaves, storms, and landslides. Over 56% of the world population, 44% of population in Africa, and 28% of population in Kenya lived in cities in 2020. By 2030, it is estimated that the share of the world’s, Africa’s and Kenya’s population living in cities will be 60%, 48%, and 34%, respectively.

With a population of 4.4 million, Nairobi alone emits over 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. With a projected annual population growth rate of 4.1% by 2023, the city’s greenhouse gas emissions are expected to increase by 17%. If the tonnage of carbon dioxide emissions per Nairobian increases by 1%, the city’s contribution to atmospheric warming would increase by an average of 1.6%. In effect, poverty gap would increase by 5.2%, thus hampering the city’s contribution to ending poverty and inequality through generation of decent jobs as envisioned in the global Sustainable Development Goals. Mainstreaming climate-friendly interventions in urban development planning is therefore central to creating sustainable and resilient human habitats supporting livelihoods, basic services, decent housing, reliable infrastructure, and poverty and inequality alleviation.

Currently, Nairobi’s urban development is anchored on various policy documents—the Nairobi Metro 2030 Strategy, Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Master Plan (NIUPLAN), and County Integrated Development Plans. Although the overarching objective of these policies is to transform Nairobi into a world-class city sustainably supporting livelihoods and wealth creation, the specific interventions of realizing this transformation have largely left out the climate dimension to a sustainable city. Given the growing threat of climate change on sustainable urbanization, there is an urgent need to mainstream climate resilience on post-COVID urban development policy.

The future of Nairobi is anchored on a circular economy—generating green productive jobs, supporting pollution-free accessibility, and a climate-change-conscious business and public sector. Waste management in Nairobi is guided by the Solid Waste Management Act 2015. Although legislation has provisions for recycling and re-use of waste, its focus is on solid waste. There is need to review the legislation to incorporate management of non-solid forms of waste. Introducing cap-and-trade system that requires enterprises to either use clean energy or purchase license to pollute could provide incentive for e-waste innovations— given Nairobi’s population is growing at an increasing rate, the potential for e-waste innovations is immense.

Investments towards addressing climate-change related challenges present a new frontier for creation of productive jobs. Currently, 47% of Nairobi residents have jobs in the formal sector while 53% work in the informal sector. To support decent living standards, the least-paid job should provide compensation of at least Ksh 80,000 in monthly earnings, whether in the formal or informal sector. In the city’s formal sector, over 74% of jobs pay less than Ksh 50,000 per month while the bulk of jobs in the informal sector pay an average of Ksh 18,500 per month. By providing subsidies and loan guarantees, the County Government of Nairobi could incentivize clean investments in areas such as electric car charging stations for generation of green productive jobs.

Transport and housing are integral in determining the region’s accessibility. Whereas 50% of the world’s urban population has access to public transport with 47% having accessibility within 500 metres, and 11% within 1000 metres, 33% of the urban population in Sub-Saharan Africa has access to public transport, with 29% having access to public transport infrastructure within 500 metres and 3% within 1000 metres. Although some firms in Nairobi have introduced electric cars in the public transport sector, majority of the public service vehicles use fossil fuels, which are associated with greenhouse gas emissions. The National and County Governments need to provide incentives to public transport service providers to embrace use of clean energy while imposing regulations on mileage, clean energy standards, fuel efficiency rules, and net metering requiring them to shift to electric vehicles. Further, the Nairobi City County Government could introduce carbon tariffs to control air pollution from greenhouse gases while providing incentives to manufacturing firms to invest in solar plants as sources of clean energy.

Although Kenya has made attempts to build 500,000 homes under the Affordable Housing Programme, this is inadequate in bridging the existing deficit of over two million homes. Whereas Nairobi bears 73% of Kenya’s housing deficit, supply of new houses in the city in 2018 was just 0.74%, implying existence of supply deficit especially in the informal housing market. The deficit is attributable to a high construction cost at Ksh 20 million per 1000 square metres. Property registration became more difficult in 2020 after slip generation, consent application, and title search fees surged. Lowering these fees could provide incentive to private developers to play are role in bridging the housing deficit. To support climate resilience in the housing sector, the government could consider providing incentives to landlords and private homeowners to invest in solar panels for clean energy. This could reduce greenhouse gas emissions among residents in both formal and informal settlements.

The government owns over 80% the land in Nairobi. Some of it is riparian land that is important in conserving the city’s rivers and water sources. Due to loopholes in implementation of the existing urban development policies in the city, there have been instances when private property has been developed on riparian land—threatening the city’s water catchment areas and further compounding the risk of climate change. The city’s rivers are further susceptible to liquid waste pollution from manufacturing firms, a phenomenon that further complicates the risk of climate change. To mitigate against this risk, the government could develop climate policies and strategies and require manufacturing firms to align their strategic plans to the broader climate strategy for the city. Further, introducing a pollution tax targeted to firms disposing effluent to the city’s rivers could incentivize firms to recycle, re-use, or embrace other innovative ways of managing liquid waste.

To achieve green urban growth in Nairobi, mainstreaming climate in all spheres of policy development is necessary. Moreover, introduction of carbon tariffs could control greenhouse gas emissions while providing incentives to firms to use clean energy. Embracing cap-and-trade systems obligating manufacturing firms to either use clean technology or purchase licenses to pollute could encourage clean energy innovations. Regulations on mileage, clean energy standards, fuel efficiency, and metering could further incentivize public transport service providers and consumers to invest in clean energy, especially electric vehicle charging stations and solar panels.

Authors: Shadrack Mwatu, Policy Analyst, Trade and Foreign Policy Department

Charity Mbaka, Policy Analyst, IESD Department

Dr Humphrey Njogu, Principal Policy Analyst, IESD Department

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