Air quality is a determinant of public health. Common air pollutants include sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrous oxides (NOx), carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), suspended particulate matter (SPM), hydrogen sulphide (HS), ozone (O3) and lead (Pb). There are also guidelines on odour and obnoxious smells. Health hazards associated with vehicles emission are enormous. Previous studies in Nairobi showed particulate matter (PM) mean values of 239μg/m3 and 396μg/m3 for PM10 and PM2.5, respectively. These concentrations are higher than the World Health Organisation (WHO) limits of 150μg/m3 and 65μg/m3 for PM10 and PM2.5, respectively.
In 2011, Kenya officially launched its transition to low-sulphur diesel in a move that is expected to improve air quality and reduce vehicle emissions across East Africa. Containing only five per cent of the amount of sulphur present in Kenya’s previous diesel supply, the cleaner fuel is already available in pumps across the country. There are significant financial benefits for Africa in switching to lowsulphur diesel.
A World Bank study shows that, when combined with cleaner vehicles, adoption of lowsulphur fuel would result in annual savings in health costs of US$6 billion in sub-Saharan Africa. Between 2010 and 2020, total savings are projected to be Kshs3.7 trillion ($43 billion). In March 2011, the Government gazetted new regulations to protect the population from air pollution. Seven other laws already in place provide a guideline on what is to be done to improve air quality. The new legislation will check on the age of vehicles and level of combustion to ensure a clean environment for all as provided for in the new Constitution. Industries will also have to comply with the set standards.
Nema has also partnered with the Transport Licensing Board (TLB) to control pollution and asked all public service vehicle operators to dismantle noise amplifying equipment in accordance with the noise pollution regulation.
Carbon trading – where polluters buy and sell the right to emit carbon dioxide – is set to be key business in Africa. Indeed, Kenya is expected to steer the continent’s carbon market. The framework for this was established in 2010. Experts expect Kenya to earn billions of shillings from its conservation efforts. The efforts are being complemented by the Kenyan Energy Efficient Stove Project, which produces stoves that are approximately 75 per cent more efficient in the use of wood/charcoal and 60 tonnes of carbon a year. The Government and non-state actors are positioning themselves to benefit from this global commerce. The flower industry plans to take an inventory of its forests in a bid to set up a carbon credit scheme. This will then be fronted as a single carbon sink.
Kenya remained a significant player in international efforts to protect nature. It continued to host UN Environment Programme (Unep), the only UN agency located in the developing world, at Nairobi’s Gigiri. In May, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Kenyan Amina Mohamed an Assistant Secretary- General and Deputy Executive Director of Unep. Among many important roles, Ms Mohamed will be responsible for advancing the Unep medium-term strategy and related reform agenda, as well as strengthening the agency’s political and substantive input into the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 and beyond.