Skip to Main Navigation
FEATURE STORY March 20, 2019

Mount Kenya: A View of Climate Impacts and Opportunities

In March 2019, a small expedition team climbed Mount Kenya to see first-hand how climate change is impacting communities and how they are adapting and driving opportunities for climate action. Tim Jarvis, who led the expedition team, is founder of 25zero, a campaign that brings climate change to life by showing how global warming is impacting glaciers on tropical mountains. Tim led a team of five - three from the World Bank Group: John Roome, Senior Director of the Climate Change Group, Merli Margaret Baroudi, Director of Economics and Sustainability at MIGA; and Prashant Kapoor, Chief Industry Specialist in the Climate Business Group at IFC. They were also joined by a representative from the Government of Kenya, Patricia Achieng Nyingu’ro, Chief Meteorologist for the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, and Connect4Climate Youth Ambassador, Liatile Putsoa.  


The frontlines of a changing climate

The highest mountain in Kenya, second highest in Africa, Mount Kenya is a towering presence visible even 150 km away from Nairobi. The mountain apparently draws its name from the Akamba words for shine or glitter, a tribute to the perennial snow caps that once were its defining feature. Today, the glaciers that gave the mountain its name are in fast retreat. Only 10 of the 18 glaciers that covered Mount Kenya’s summit a century ago remain, according to UNEP. And within the next 25 years, warming temperatures could mean that there will no longer be ice on Mount Kenya: a change symbolic of the broader impacts that climate change is having in the region.

In May 2018, torrential rains uprooted hundreds of thousands of people across East Africa: 260,000 were displaced in Kenya; half a million were affected in Somalia. The floods came just as many people were recovering from drought and famine that had swept the region: slowing crop production in Kenya, driving food prices higher, increasing inflation, and straining economic growth. Hunger is also on the rise after many years of decline, along with undernutrition with a fifth of Africans - 257 million individuals - undernourished, with worsening environmental conditions and climate extremes a key factor.

Looking ahead, if unchecked, the projections for future climate impacts are also grim: sub-Saharan Africa could have more than 86 million climate migrants by 2050. Climate-related water scarcity alone could cost countries of the Sahel up to six percent of their GDP – spurring migration and sparking conflict. Already in Kenya, the dying glaciers are impacting the livelihoods of farmers and herders, triggering violent outbreaks.


Unlocking the opportunities of cleaner, more resilient growth

Globally, bold action on climate could deliver US$26 trillion in economic benefits by 2030 and create 65 million new jobs. And countries across the African continent have a tremendous opportunity to get ahead of the climate challenge and build cities where people can move, breathe and be productive; develop resilient power and water systems and housing that can withstand climate extremes; and create food and land systems that are more robust, and resilient.

Last week, at the third edition of the One Planet Summit held in Nairobi, there was ample evidence that Africa is a vibrant place for climate innovations and investments. Africa is already home to one of the world’s largest concentrated solar power plants  – the Noor complex, in Morocco, powering the homes and lives of over 1.1 million Moroccans – that has accelerated global investment in this exciting technology. In Kenya, innovations in technology and insurance are helping protect over 150,000 herders vulnerable to floods or drought with satellite technology that helps detect whether vegetation is “brown” or “green” which, in turn, helps determine insurance coverage. Today, these innovations are shaping Africa’s responses to climate change, tomorrow they could be global solutions.

This week in Ghana at Africa Climate Week, the Bank is showcasing a partnership with Inyenyeri, a Rwandan company that has an innovative approach to tapping the clean cooking market and reducing household air pollution by 98%. The Bank will also be presenting on how the power of cooperation, through financing, market mechanisms and technology, can help align climate action with the region's larger development goals.



And there was much evidence of that: from extreme flooding to signs of deforestation. But there were also positive stories of people already responding to a changing climate and building resilience to future impacts through innovative water harvesting and climate-smart farming practices, for example.

Of the $22.5 billion financing earmarked by the Bank Group for climate finance for Africa from 2021-25 – more than half (about $12-12.5 billion) will be devoted to supporting adaptation and resilience.

One view from Mount Kenya was that of clear and mounting climate risk, especially for Africa. But at the same time, it was also abundantly clear that there is much by way of African leadership, as well as the entrepreneurship of its private sector, and the enthusiasm of its citizens for bold climate action.