Framework for implementing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Kenya

Written by
Dr Ayub Macharia

The Government of Kenya is committed to promoting interventions on sustainable development in line with various global and regional frameworks. The country endorsed and adopted Agenda 21 that emerged from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (UN, 1992). The UNCED recognised that achieving sustainable development would require the active participation of all sectors of society and all types of people. The Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002) re-affirmed the objectives of the UNCED and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Further emphasis on need for enhancing interventions was reiterated during the World Summit on Sustainable Development which was held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 which gave rise to a roadmap document referred to as “The Future we Want”.
In 2015, the global community adopted Sustainable Development Goals. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets out ambitious goals and targets shaping operations of all institutions from 2016 onwards. This agenda is now a global moral compass in the 21st century, a policy blueprint outlining a pathway to sustainable livelihoods, inclusive societies and sustainable environments (Walsh, 2016). The 2030 Agenda comprises of a universal set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 Targets to end poverty in all of its forms, in all nations by 2030. The natural environment underlies each of those ambitions. According to UNEP, all the 17 SDGs have an environmental dimension (see
Kenya has domesticated global frameworks and conventions that support Sustainable Development into its Constitution and other legislation. Kenya promulgated her Constitution in 2010 and Article 10 describes sustainable development as a national value. Further, Article 42 and 69 makes it an obligation for the government and the citizens to protect the environment. In addition, Article 53 entitles every child with a right to free and compulsory education.The adoption of SDGs gave impetus to Kenya’s engagement with the need to actualize SD as a national goal. To this end diverse legislation and policies have been enacted to spearhead realization of sustainable development.
In order for the country to achieve SDGs, the Government has developed a Green Economy Strategy and Implementation Plan (GESIP) to support development efforts towards addressing key challenges such as poverty, unemployment, inequality, environmental degradation, climate change and variability, infrastructure gaps and food security among others. In addition Kenya’s Vision 2030 is the government’s principal document guiding socio-economic and political development. Vision 2030 document aspires to revitalize the country’s economic growth through harnessing of its natural resources. Education is identified as a key driver under the social pillar. The inspiration was to have an ESD policy developed and all education interventions reoriented to address ESD. Vision 2030 and GESIP have identified ESD as an effective strategy for building capacities to undertake a transition to a green economy in Kenya.
The Environmental Management and Coordination Act, Cap 387 is a framework law that provides for effective coordination and regulation of all actions that have a direct influence on the environment. Section 42 (4) of the Basic Education Act stipulates that ‘the Cabinet Secretary of Education shall upon advice of the National Education Board advise the government on the promotion of environmental protection education for sustainable development’.
The 2013-2018 National Education Sector Plan (NESP) provides a strategy for education and training to promote ESD with reference to the Global Action Programme. Sessional Paper No. 2 of 2015 on Reforming Education and Training in Kenya envisages a curriculum that is competence-based to foster quality education in the country (Republic of Kenya, 2015). Through this policy, the Ministry of Education is committed to promoting ESD as a key element to enable sustainable development and quality education.
ESD activities in Kenya have been implemented within an overall framework of the UN Decade of ESD (2005-2014) and the Kenya ESD Implementation Strategy (2008). The ESD Implementation Strategy has guided ESD interventions through eight interlinked strategies of advocacy and vision building, consultation and ownership, partnership and networks, capacity building and training, research and innovation, use of ICT, monitoring and evaluation, and Regional Centres of Expertise (Republic of Kenya, 2008). Further, the country has developed a national ESD policy (Sessional Paper No. 11 of 2014 on National Education for Sustainable Development Policy) spearheaded by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. The policy provides mechanisms for engaging all stakeholders in addressing sustainable development challenges through education.
Kenyas engagement with SDGs
Kenya’s Public sector engages with SDGs as a directive from the Central Government through mandatory Performance Contracting. The Kenya Gazette Notice Number 2431 and Legal Notice Number 93 of August 2004 set regulations and performance contracting in public service and State Corporations in Kenya. All public sector executives are obligated to sign performance contracts with the central government. Implementation of SDGs is managed by two institutions namely the 1) Ministry of Devolution and Planning and 2) the National Environment Management Authority. Each institution is expected to report to NEMA and Ministry of Devolution and Planning simultaneously. There are many similarities in demands from both institutions. However it is critical to note that NEMA’s process has a lot of bias on addressing Environmental Sustainability issues while the Ministry of Devolution process is more broader and include social and economic aspects which may have escaped NEMA’s interest.
A. Ministry of Devolution and Planning
The Performance contracting guidelines provide that all Public Institutions implement the SDGs and report to Ministry of Devolution and Planning (RoK, 2016). These institutions are advised to:-
– Identify SDGs relevant to their mandate
– Carry out awareness creation on relevant SDGs
– Integrate the relevant SDGs in respective Ministry, Department and Agency’s (MDA’s) Policy and Development Plans
– Submit Quarterly reports to the Ministry of Devolution and Planning
These expectations imply that Kenya takes implementation of SDGs seriously and has cascaded their implementation to diverse institutions. These institutions will be in a position to implement all the SDGs since their collective interventions spread over all aspects of SDGs.
B. National Environment Management Authority (NEMA)
One of the targets the public institutions are expected to meet through performance contracting is environmental sustainability. The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) is tasked with the responsibility of elaborating what this target entails. NEMA has since 2012 defined and clarified this target, and has identified 6 areas that should be addressed including:-
1. Sustainability planning
2. Pollution control
3. Climate change
4. Environmental Ecological enhancement
5. Environmental Education and awareness
6. Promoting partnerships
NEMA has further explained the steps to be taken by the institutions as they implement Sustainability targets above. Figure 1 summarizes the process of engagement with public sector institutions in engaging on sustainability targets.
Figure 1 shows that implementation of PC targets is systemic and proactive. It starts with the establishment of the Institutional Sustainability Committee who guide the entire process. The committee is expected to spearhead development of the Institutional Sustainability Policy, undertaking of annual sustainability audits, development of sustainability workplans and implementation of the same. In addition, the committee is expected to ensure quarterly progress reports are submitted to NEMA. NEMA in return reviews the reports and gives feedback to the institutions every quarter. At the end of each Financial year, NEMA assesses each institution’s quarterly submissions relative to the sustainability policy, annual audits and the annual workplan and awards a score to the institution. This score is forwarded to the Executive Office of the President as part of the overall national performance Contract Assessment and forms part of the basis for rewards and sanctions for the Chief Executive Officer and the Board of Directors for the particular institution.
Further elaboration of Environmental Sustainability activities
The National Environment Management Authority has provided a detailed explanation of the kind of activities that public institutions should engage with to promote environmental sustainability. Explanation of expectations from the 6 areas is as explained below.
1. Environmental sustainability planning
Any sustainability intervention needs to be planned for. Sustainability challenges are contextual and vary spatial-temporary. Institutions also are endowed differently and hence need to identify their sustainability challenges, prioritize them, including their interventions. Hence NEMA has elaborated implementation of environmental sustainability planning into several levels.
a) Development of an institutional environmental policy
Under this requirement, all institutions are expected to develop an institutional environmental sustainability policy which outlines the institution’s intent to address sustainability issues based on local contextual challenges. This document is expected to be developed by the institutional experts and to undergo relevant approvals such as by the Senior Management and the non-executive Board or Council as is appropriate. In case of Ministries, the Environmental Sustainability policy is expected to be approved by the Principal Secretary. The policy document and proof of relevant approvals is expected to be presented to NEMA as evidence of appropriate engagement of top management and hence assurance of buy in by the institutions. The appropriate approvals suggests that the policy has high probability of getting implemented.
b) Undertake Environmental Sustainability Audit
Each institution is expected to kick off environmental sustainability engagement by undertaking an audit to determine baselines of current sustainability position. Institutions are expected to identify sustainability issues relevant to them and determine the levels of diverse parameters. For instance on water issues, the institution will determine how much water is received and account for its use including any leakages. The same applies for energy, waste management, and transport among others. This audit is expected to illuminate gaps to be addressed to enhance sustainability. This audit is conducted every year to show progress towards sustainability.
c) Appointment of a Sustainability Committee
Every institution is expected to appoint a team to guide sustainability interventions. The team is expected to demonstrate diversity of competencies such as water audit, energy audit, waste audit, cost benefit analysis among others. The committee is expected to meet regularly to deliberate on implementation of sustainability interventions. NEMA requires the minutes of these meetings as evidence of proactive engagement.
d) Adopting environment as a core value in the Service Charter
All public institutions in Kenya have a Citizen Service Charter. Inclusion of environmental conservation as a core value suggests the level of commitment by the institution to make sure that all staff are oriented towards sustainable development at all times.
e) Providing information when requested to by NEMA
EMCA Cap 387 mandates NEMA to request for information from any institution for the purpose of preparation of State of Environment (SOE) reports and Environment Actions Plan (EAPs).
2. Pollution Control
The emphasis of this theme entails demonstrating compliance to different environmental regulations. Kenya has enacted numerous environmental regulations to promote sustainable development.
a) Compliance to Waste management regulations, 2006 involves undertaking interventions such as
– The concept of 3R which entails reducing, reusing, and recycling of waste in the respective institutions
– Proof of proper disposal of solid waste, air conditioners, asbestos and E-waste among others as further explained in the Procurement and Disposal Act 2015
– Installation of waste segregation bins
b) Under Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Audit Regulations (2003) Institutions are expected to demonstrate
– Proof of undertaking Strategic Environmental Assessments for new policies, programs and plans
– Proof of undertaking Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for new projects
– Proof of submission of comments during EIA review (when requested to by NEMA)
– Submission of annual environmental audit reports
c) Under Noise and Excessive Vibrations Regulations (2008) institutions are expected to demonstrate
measures to minimize noise and excessive vibrations
d) Under Air Quality Regulations, institutions are expected to demonstrate measures to reduce air pollution including Green House Gases (GHGs)
d) Under Water Quality Regulations (2006), institutions are expected to demonstrate
– Measures to minimize release of waste water to the environment
– Proper disposal of waste water
3. Climate Change mitigation and adaptation
The Climate change Act (2016) mandates NEMA to undertake several activities on behalf of the National Climate Change Council. These roles forms part of the tasks included in the perormance contracts of public institutions and include
(a) monitor, investigate and report on whether public and private entities are in compliance with the climate change duties assigned by the National Climate Change Council;
(b) ascertain that private entities are in conformity with instructions given by the Council
(c) regulate, enforce and monitor compliance on levels of greenhouse gas emissions as set by the Council
(d) NEMA shall, annually, report to the Council on the performance of functions under the Climate Change Act 2016, and such report shall form part of the report by the Council to the National Assembly.
Under this aspect, climate change adaptation and mitigation initiatives for institutions include:-
– Installation of energy saving devices, renewable energy, water harvesting,
– Proof of measures to control green house gases
– Proof of mitigation and adaptation initiatives
– Development of green buildings, adopting green operations
– Compliance to Controlled substances regulations, 2007 with regard to importation, use and disposal of Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS)
4. Environmental Ecological enhancement
Under this aspect, institutions are expected to demonstrate
– Compliance to the Conservation of biological diversity, access and benefit sharing regulations, 2006
– Proof of authority or permit to access genetic resources
– Proof of benefit sharing arrangements on utilization of biological and genetic resources with local communities
– Compliance to Wetlands, River banks, lakeshores, and seashore management regulations, 2009
– Submission of EIA reports for new projects where applicable
– Submission of annual Environmental Audit reports
– Development and implementation of environmental management plans for forests, wetlands, coastal zone, and environment significant areas among others
5. Environmental Education and awareness
Under this aspect, institutions are expected to demonstrate
– Proof of behavior change among staff
– Sensitization of staff and public on Environmental sustainability relevant to the institutional mandate
– Participation in environmental events with communities and schools
– Recognition of environmental champions
6 Partnerships
Under this aspect, institutions are expected to demonstrate
– Environmental projects and activities undertaken through partnership with stakeholders
– Memorandum of understanding with their partners
– Joint management plans
– Corporate social responsibility (CSR) on environment
– Proof of Partnerships with NEMA on Monitoring and inspections to ensure compliance with environment legislation
Cooperative analysis of extent of coverage of SDGs using the Environmental sustainability targets
The coverage of SDGs through the sustainability targets is as shown in Table 1 below.
Table 1: Coverage of SDGs through the 6 Sustainability Targets proposed by NEMA for public institutions
Table 1 shows that the NEMA managed Sustainability Targets for Public Institutions covers all the 17 SDGs. Hence NEMA as an institution is on the forefront in championing for SDGs in Kenya through the Mandatory PC Sustainability Targets. The process of engagement of the public institutions ensures that there is proactive engagement and consistent guidance by NEMA to ensure upscaling of realization of SDGs.
Role of Regional Centres of Expertise in promoting realization of SDGs
An RCE is not a center in a traditional sense but a network of existing formal, non-formal and informal education organizations, mobilized to deliver education for sustainable development (ESD) to local and regional communities (UNU, 2002). RCEs aspire to achieve the aspirations of Sustainable Development by translating its global objectives into the context of the local communities in which they operate. An RCE involves diverse stakeholders including school teachers, professors at higher education institutions, environmental NGOs, scientists, researchers, museums, zoos, botanical gardens, local government officials, representatives of local enterprises, volunteers, media, civic associations or individuals who work in the spheres of sustainable development such as economic growth, social development, and environmental protection, students and learners at all levels (UNU, 2002).
Kenyan RCEs are hosted in universities most of which are players in performance contracting arrangement of the Central Government. NEMA coordinates the activities of RCEs in Kenya and helps to bring institutions together to establish an RCE. Kenya currently has 9 RCEs acknowledged by the United Nations University (UNU). These RCEs operate in different regions of the country. The list of Kenyan RCEs is provided below.
1. RCE Greater Nairobi Region hosted by Kenyatta University
2. RCE Mau Complex hosted by Egerton University
3. RCE Kakamega Western Kenya hosted by Masinde Muliro University
4. RCE Nyanza hosted by Maseno University
5. RCE Greater Pwani hosted by Pwani University
6. RCE North Rift Valley hosted by University of Eldoret
7. RCE Maasai Mara hosted by Maasai Mara University
8. RCE Central Kenya hosted by Kimathi University
9. RCE Upper Eastern hosted by Kenya Methodist University
Further, these 9 RCEs have established a National Network dubbed “Kenya National Network of RCEs” and have their own governance system including elected leaders. The coordinators of the network hold a meeting every year and a national conference where innovations from diverse RCEs are shared with members of the public. NEMA also assists each RCE to hold mobilization meetings to recruit more members, share experiences and to plan together.
RCEs create a local/regional knowledge base to support ESD actors, and promote four major goals of ESD in a resource-effective manner. They can champion ESD programs tailored to address SDG issues and local context of the community in which they operate. Universities being hosts, coordinators and key members of RCEs, must work closely with the local communities.
RCEs also play a role in increasing access to quality education that is most needed in the regional context as well as deliver trainers’ training programs especially on SDGs. This also entail development of methodologies and SDG learning materials for use by the trainers. RCEs should also lead advocacy and awareness raising efforts to raise public awareness about the importance of SDGs and essential role of ESD in achieving a sustainable future. This will promote the long-term goals of ESD such as environmental stewardship, social justice, and improvement of the quality of life (UNU, 2002).
An RCE is characterized by a well-defined system of governance and management with an emphasis on enhancing collaborative partnerships and an inclusion of a research component in its activities. The four issues of governance, collaboration, research and development and transformative education are the core elements of RCEs and the way they are addressed determines the success of RCEs contribution to promotion of SDGs.
Republic of Kenya (2016) Guidance for preparing the 13th Cycle (FY 2016/2017)Performance Contracts. The Presidency, Nairobi.
United Nations Environment Assembly (Undated) The Environmental dimensions of SDGs. Downloaded on 22nd November 2016 from
UNU, (2002).Regional Centers of Expertise in Education for Sustainable Development. Retrieved from
Walsh, P.P., (2016) Implementing the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in Ireland: A Case for Hybrid Sustainable Development Parliamentary Committees. Irish Studies in International Affairs, pp. 1-11

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