In the run-up to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), which will take place in Glasgow, UK between 31 October and 12 November 2021, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the environmental challenges they face in their contexts, the actions they are undertaking to tackle them and their expectations for the upcoming summit.
CIVICUS speaks with Charles Wanguhu, a social activist and coordinator of the Kenya Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas, a forum in which participating civil society organisations (CSOs) share information, plan and strategise together to conduct joint advocacy, engage with government agencies, companies and the media, and inform and sensitise the public.
What's the key environmental issue in your country that you're working on?
The Kenya Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas is a not-for-profit members’ organisation working towards a sustainable oil and gas sector in Kenya and just energy transitions. With the discovery of oil in Kenya’s Turkana County, our work includes advocating for policy and legal frameworks that ensure environmental justice and climate considerations in developing Kenya’s oil. We do this through policy and regulation reviews and by building the capacity of local communities to participate effectively in environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) processes to ensure that their environment is safeguarded.
We also directly participate in the review of ESIAs, in which we agitate for climate change considerations and environmental protection at the project level. For instance, as Kenya’s Turkana Oil Project is expected to proceed to the production phase, we have participated in the project’s stakeholder consultation forums, where we have raised the need for the project’s ESIA to incorporate climate change impact assessments. We have also been advocating for transparency in the sector through disclosure of petroleum agreements and licences to enable the public to understand the environmental and climate change obligations of oil companies, allowing for increased accountability by the state and these companies.
Have you faced backlash for the work you do?
Shrinking civic space remains a challenge in our operating environment. Civil society groups face backlash from government when they speak out about topical issues. These restrictions mostly take the form of refusal of permits for protests or for holding meetings related to projects of concern. In some instances, government agencies such as the Non-Governmental Organisations Coordination Board and Kenya’s revenue authority have been used to target CSOs.
We also face restrictions from corporate entities, including the deliberate exclusion of CSOs from public participation events. Our members who have expressed concerns or are seen to be vocal about issues related to the extraction of oil and gas resources have found themselves not invited to participate or not allowed to give comments at public hearings.
How do you connect with the broader international climate movement?
We are developing a pan-African just transition programme that will involve working with other regional and international groups to ensure that the global energy transition is just for Africa and is reflective of the impacts of the climate crisis on Africa.
What hopes, if any, do you have for COP26, and how useful generally do you find such international processes?
Inclusion of climate change considerations at the project level already has a legal hook in Kenya through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement and Kenya’s Climate Change Act of 2016. The delayed implementation of the Act has been a challenge, but we are aware of various draft regulations on climate change that are currently under review for eventual enactment.
Regarding just energy transition, we are hoping for stricter obligations complying with the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, which acknowledges that diverse countries have different responsibilities and capacities to address cross-border issues such as climate change. This would ensure that Africa is not left behind in the transition, or even worse, that the transition does not happen at Africa’s expense.
International processes have been useful to the extent that they have partly facilitated the domestication of climate change legal and policy frameworks, but we certainly hope for an increased commitment by states.
What one change would you like to see to help address the climate crisis?
We would like to see an increase in the speed of the implementation of climate change legal frameworks and obligations both locally and internationally. Further, we would like to see the developed countries of the global north commit to and meet their pledges on climate finance made under the Paris Agreement. This will come in handy to finance just energy transitions in Africa.
Civic space in Kenya is rated ‘obstructed‘ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
Get in touch with the Kenya Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas through its website, and follow @KCSPOG and @CharlesWanguhu on Twitter.