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Call for urgent action against environmental offenders

Kenyans have been urged to take legal action against firms or individuals whose operations contribute to climate change challenges and environmental degradation to curb further harm to the country’s natural ecosystem.

Environment and Land Court Judge Justice Anthony Ombwayo said that Kenya is among few in Africa with a climate change law that Kenyans could take advantage of to seek legal redress for the climate change crisis.

While noting that Kenya and her African sister states were among the worst affected by climate change and various forms of pollution, Justice Ombwayo advised Kenyans to institute more environment-oriented lawsuits to help mitigate climate change challenges.

Justice Ombwayo said whether some of the cases succeed or not, the move would still bring environmental issues into the broader public space and political discourse, which then would influence public, corporate behavior and government’s attitude towards conservation of natural resources and mitigation of climate change effects.

He said he was happy that the Environment and Land court had risen to the occasion, where judges have been issuing orders aimed at checking the habits that contribute to the destruction of the environment.

Justice Ombwayo however regretted that the court was handling more litigation on land matters than environmental conservation issues because the public had not been sensitized on their right to file environment related suits.

The Judge expressed concern that climate change was increasingly driving extreme weather while pollution and degradation continued to threaten the existence of the eight major ecosystem types including farmlands, forests, freshwaters, oceans, mountains, grasslands and savannahs, peat lands and cities.

He encouraged the Law Society of Kenya and Community Based Organizations to be solution agents by seeking remedies through legal action against those that engage in activities that contribute to the climate change crisis saying they were the agents that could force change on behalf of the Kenyan society.

“Citizens need courts to access justice and exercise their right to a healthy environment,” said Justice Ombwayo.

He said Article 42 of the Constitution entitles every citizen to a clean and healthy environment and reasonable standards of sanitation.

The judge spoke at the Lake Nakuru National Park and Bird Sanctuary after a cleanup exercise organized by the Judiciary in collaboration with the County Government, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC), National Environmental Management Authority(NEMA) and Law Society of Kenya (LSK) to mark ten years of the Environment and Land court.

Justice Mwangi Njoroge said that   due to the adverse effects of climate change that Kenyans continue to reel from, all environment cases filed at the Magistrate and Environment and Land Courts will be speedily adjudicated.

The Judge, who also supervises the Environment and Land Court in Nakuru said the Judiciary was keen on ensuring improved access to and speedy justice for Kenyans.

Plastic pollution in Kenya, he pointed out, was one of the biggest ecological challenges that the country was facing and cited Nakuru City where he said approximately 20 tonnes of plastic waste is discharged every day with a significant proportion of the waste leaking into water bodies.

Justice Njoroge noted that though Kenya banned single-use plastics in conservation areas including national parks and game reserves two years ago, dumping has continued along shorelines and beaches, prompting the need for innovative measures to curb the menace.

He stated that Nakuru’s economy relied heavily on tourism and warned that continued choking of the Lake Nakuru shoreline presented a huge challenge to the county and Kenya’s fortunes from the millions of tourists who flock the park.

Justice Njoroge indicated that due to climate change and environmental degradation, rainfall patterns have become irregular and unpredictable, while some parts of Kenya experience frequent droughts and when it rains, the residents have to contend with severe floods.

“These and many more are examples of global warming and apart from big industries individual Kenyans should play a part in remedying the situation,” Justice Njoroge advised.

Lady Justice Linnet Omollo urged Kenyans to take advantage of the rains to plant hundreds of trees to assist President William Ruto achieve the one billion trees annual target.

Justice Omollo said besides inculcating a tree planting culture, residents must also water and take care of the trees to maturity as the easiest way to reverse the effects of climate change and ensure environmental safety.

Law Society of Kenya (LSK) Nakuru Chapter representative Mr Rugua Ngure observed that besides the fact that climate change was exacerbating weather calamities, it should also be sending more people to court as they challenge policy makers and corporates for inaction or for contributing to the crisis.

Ngure noted that there was an urgent need to see how development decision making accounts for climate impacts through the formulation of clear guidelines on climate vulnerability and impact assessment.

He explained that there are different types of climate related issues that could be filed in court adding a public entity could be sued for approving projects without considering the climate change impact.

Previously, he said climate change cases had not been successful globally because of complexity of climate science and the difficulty of proving a link between extreme events such as flooding, drought and Greenhouse Gas emissions.

He however said such a scenario could soon change as there have been recent developments in climate science that have made it possible to not only link certain weather events to human-caused climate change, but also quantify the contribution of major GHG emitters.

By Esther Mwangi and Charloth Chepkemoi

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