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Key findings
  • About half (49%) of Kenyans say droughts have become “somewhat more severe” or “much more severe” in their region over the past decade. Only 14% say the same about floods.
  • Slightly more than a half (53%) of Kenyans say they have heard of climate change, a 17-percentage-point drop from 70% in 2019. o Climate-change awareness is higher among men (59%), urban residents (57%), economically well-off citizens (62%), and highly educated respondents (71%) than among their demographic counterparts.
  • Among those who are aware of climate change: o More than eight in 10 (83%) say it is making life in Kenya worse. o Three-fourths (76%) believe that ordinary citizens can help curb climate change, and 81% want the government to take immediate action to limit climate change, even at considerable economic cost. o Respondents assign the primary responsibility for fighting climate change to citizens (44%) and the government (43%). o Large majorities say “a lot more” effort to fight climate change is needed from the government (74%), business and industry (68%), developed countries (65%), and citizens (59%).
  • Only 41% of Kenyans say their government is doing a good job of fighting climate change.

Kenya has been a leader in the fight against climate change, putting in place a Climate Change Act (2016) and policies to promote climate-resilient development, clean and efficient energy, reforestation, and other adaptive strategies (USAID, 2022). President William Ruto has spoken passionately about the need for action, including greater investment to help African nations confront a threat for which developed nations are largely responsible (Din-Kariuki, 2023).  

In September, Kenya is hosting the Africa Climate Summit and Africa Climate Week 2023, one of four regional “climate weeks” in preparation for the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 28 in November-December (United Nations Climate Change, 2023). 

Kenya itself is highly vulnerable to climate change, with a national economy that is dependent on rainfed agriculture and tourism – both very sensitive to increasing temperatures, climate variability, and extreme weather events. The Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (2021) Index ranks Kenya 150th out of 185 countries, meaning only 35 countries are less prepared for the climate risks they face. 

Over the past decade, the country has experienced extensive climate variability, with distressing socioeconomic effects on the population (Whitaker, 2023). After five consecutive seasons of poor rainfall, the number of Kenyans affected by drought and hunger has risen from 4.2 million to 6 million, according to the latest report by the Kenya Food Security Steering Group (Chelangat & Ngotho, 2023). The report states that more than 970,000 children below the age of 5 require urgent treatment for malnutrition, up from 884,000 reported in July 2022. The number of Kenyans requiring humanitarian assistance has increased from 3.5 million to 4.4 million, a clear indication of the impact that drought has had on food security in arid and semi-arid parts of the country.  

Similarly, a report by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network warned that households in 15 counties in Kenya with a total population of more than 10 million are at risk of acute hunger this year, extending the ravages witnessed through 2022 due to a lack of rain (Mburu, 2023).  

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 questionnaire to explore Kenyans’ experiences and perceptions of climate change. 

Findings show that despite the government’s prominent positions on climate change, only about half of Kenyans are aware of the problem. Among those who have heard of climate change, most say it is making life worse and needs immediate government action, even if it’s expensive. Citizens also stand ready to do their part. In fact, most Kenyans say “a lot more” action is needed from citizens as well as from the government, developed countries, and business and industry to limit the ravages of climate change. 

Simon Templer Kodiaga

Simon Kodiaga previously served as the communications coordinator for East Africa at Afrobarometer.