Defining Policy: Climate Change Governmental Policy in Africa

In our debut cross-posting with Social Science Space partner Viva Voce podcasts, Simon Chin-Yee describes his research studying how the political network in Kenya interacts with the changes wrought by climate change.


Ever since I was a child, I have had an avid interest in the natural world and environmental issues. Ever since entering higher education, social and societal concerns have dominated my work and my life. I have over 10 years of experience working on projects that were centered in or on Africa, predominantly for the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). I believe that the days of being able to work solely in one discipline are over. In such, my research uses crosscutting themes to combine the social and natural sciences with the ultimate goal of contributing to knowledge that will be used to minimize adverse effects of climate change to the local populations in East Africa, specifically in Kenya.

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Climate change is one of the key political challenges facing humanity today. On the one hand it is truly global in nature, as the climate and ecosystems are not contained by state boundaries. While on the other hand, as weather patterns change the climate touches the lives of individuals and communities. While international conventions and treaties have been set up in an endeavour to regulate CO2 emission rates, the global governance of climate change requires the harmonization and cooperation by all states.

It has often been noted that African voices are missing from the climate change debate as the traditional industrial powers take over discussions. The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report outlined that it is the poor and the marginalized that live off the land, sea or lakes, with particular regards to those who live in areas affected by drought, which will be the most affected by rapidly changing climates; in particular, sub-Saharan Africa. However, the international politics of the climate crisis raises seemingly intractable questions such as who is responsible for the current state of the world, and consequently, who should pay to fix it? There has been a notable absence of specific commitments on finance by the historical producers of these emissions, to the frustration of developing countries, NGOs and green movements.

The key objective of my research is to examine how climate change mitigation and adaptation policies are developed in Africa. It is essential to recognize and understand what drives climate change strategies and the role that the international regime has on state policy. This will be achieved through an extensive study on East Africa, with particular attention paid to Kenya. This will include African involvement with international organizations such as the United Nation’s Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as well as economic regional bodies, multinational corporations and pressure or influence from other governments.

Currently in Kenya, my preliminary fieldwork consists of a series of elite interviews with experts, researchers, programme specialists and policy makers from international organizations in Nairobi. Having worked in the region previously has enabled me to use existing contacts to help secure interviews and introduce me to the different facets of life here in Kenya. The objective of these interviews is to gain an understanding how the regime interacts with governmental officials at the various levels, particularly within the ministries in charge of climate change. This will be complemented with interviews of those in charge of national climate change policies. Kenya is a culturally diverse and geographically stunning country.

Working on the ground has helped me not only understand my own research, but it has also given a greater context to the direct effects of climate change on the fragile environment of Kenya. By speaking to everyone from governmental officials to shop owners, it has become blatantly clear that people are aware that things are changing. Picking me up in torrential rain two days ago, Daniel, my taxi driver quite eloquently said, “The rainy season is in April. Normally, it does not rain like this in August, but we can no longer foretell the weather.”

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are continually finding themselves at cross-purposes with the climate change regime and the countries that happen to be the largest producers of gas emissions, namely the United States and China. Africa has repeatedly called for a change to this regime and has been ignored, which subsequently leaves them with a regime that does not suit their purposes. If there is a coherent global agenda, how effective has this been and has it been able to convince developed countries into supporting countries in developing their own climate change adaptation strategies.

This research will have implications for the effectiveness of such policies and be beneficial for the local populations of these countries socially, economically and culturally. The ultimate goal of this academic study is to help understand the history, politics and drivers of climate policy-making in Africa and reinforce the dialogue between researchers and decision-makers. The research, promotion and documentation will inform decision-makers, civil society and academics on the various dimensions, challenges and scenarios facing the region.

Simon Chin-Yee: Defining Policy: Climate Change Adaptation Governmental Policy in the Republic of Kenya

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Simon Chin-Yee

Simon Chin-Yee is a doctoral student in politics at the University of Manchester and a consultant with UNESCO,

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