By Naomi Kitur

County Governments have been urged to be at the frontline in implementing actions for mitigating and adapting climate change as it affects the vulnerable communities in the country.

The Kenyan Chief Justice Martha Koome speaking during the the 7th Annual Devolution Conference in Makueni County said the effects of climate change including drought, famine and floods affect the local communities, domestic animals and wildlife, of which county governments are responsible for.

“While the setting of mitigation standards is often made at National government levels, adaptation and mitigation of activities are often implemented and have impact at local levels. Thus, it is the county level of government that is the best placed to implement the actions to mitigate climate change,” said Koome.

Koome added that effective and equitable climate actions demand that mitigation and adaptation policy interventions in response to climate change be pursued on multiple scales of governance right from global, national and the sub-national levels.

She further explained that due to the impact of climate change on the society and environment, both governments have a responsibility and obligation to promote mitigation and adaptation to the climate reality for the sake of the citizens and future generations.

Koome also asked the counties to strengthen the primary health care systems in regard to diseases brought about by the drastic climate change on the environments.

“Climate change is likely to have a drastic impact on healthcare and this imposes an obligation on county governments to strengthen their primary healthcare systems as a response to health impacts” noted Koome.

The Chief Justice commended most of the counties who have implemented agricultural measures and policies in crop and animal husbandry hence ensuring food security in the country and added that governments should be on notice that they must take climate action obligation seriously lest they be taken to court for breach of climate change policies.

She also stated that climate change has a justice element, that the social justice element of climate change includes four elements; the first principle of an equitable response to climate change is prevention which involves effective and rapid action to avoid dangerous climate change. Counties must act and be seen to take action to prevent climate change.

The second principle she mentioned is the intergenerational sustainability which demands that future generations should not inherit reduced life opportunities due to our current unsustainable use of natural resources and degradation of essential eco and climatic systems.

‘’It is also made clear in article 42 of the constitution that we have to take sufficient action to prevent dangerous climate change. This is an obligation that our courts and tribunals have enforced in several instances including in the ‘Save Lamu’ case before the national environmental tribunal on building a coal power plant in Lamu,’’ she explained.

The third principle is the obligation to asses policy choices according to their impact in protecting the most vulnerable by reducing exposure and increasing adaptive capacity of the most vulnerable communities and population groups. It is the responsibility of county governments to ensure their rights are not violated.

Finally, the entire policy development implementation and evaluation process related to climate change should involve active participation of stakeholders with an emphasis on fair participation of vulnerable and marginalized groups. The most vulnerable need to be included in decision making efforts.

‘’There is need to bear in mind the social justice imperative in the constitution that requires that our mitigation and adaptation measures and policies protect the vulnerable and the excluded communities and population groups among both the current and future generations,’’ she concluded.