United Nations Environment Programme
environment for development Search 
News Centre
 Home News Centre
 Media Contacts
 Press Releases
 In Focus
 RSS / Podcasts

 Printable Version

Remarks by Achim Steiner at the Launch of the Aberdares Fencing Report

Nairobi, 5 September 2011

Ladies and gentlemen,

UNEP is delighted to have assisted in supporting the assessment of the impacts of conservation measures in the Aberdares.

This work is part of a wider series of new and inspiring actions by the government, the private sector and wider society that is assisting this country move forward on a transition to what the world is terming a local carbon, resource efficient Green Economy.

The Aberdares is one of Kenya's five main water towers:

  • River - They form the upper catchments of all main rivers in Kenya (except Tsavo River coming from Kilimanjaro).
  • Lake - These rivers feed all main lakes in Kenya, as well as three trans-boundary lakes: Victoria, Natron, Turkana.
  • Renewable energy - Hydropower plants installed on these rivers contribute 57% of the total installed capacity in Kenya.
  • Tourism - Some of water towers are important tourism destination (Mt. Kenya, Aberdares, Mt. Elgon). In addition, the rivers flowing from the water towers are the lifeline of major conservation areas, such as the Maasai Mara-Serengenti ecosystem, the Rift Valley Lakes and the Samburu plains.
  • Biodiversity conservation - The water towers comprise the bulk of Kenya's closed-canopy forests which host a large amount of the country's biodiversity, including over 40% of the mammal, 30% of the bird and 35% of the butterfly species.
  • Climate change adaptation -The forests of the water towers help mitigate the impacts of climate variability, hence reducing the vulnerability of society to drought of the kind being witnessed in the Horn of Africa with alarming frequency as well as floods.

The fact is that Kenya, in common with countries across the globe, has lost major forest areas, at an estimated rate of 5,000 hectares annually and mostly in the water towers.

  • In common with countries across the world, forests were too often perceived as what one might term idle land awaiting allocation for settlement or agricultural expansion, or as standing timber to be harvested.

The functioning of the forests as ecosystems was ignored. The critical values of the forests as providers of many goods and services, essential for ecological stability, economic development and human well-being were taken for granted.

  • The situation was compounded by poor management practices and weak institutions.

The science around the functioning of ecosystems and, as importantly, the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity, have been rapidly maturing. Last year, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) - a partnership and initiative requested by the G8 and developing country environment ministers and hosted by UNEP - launched its final report at the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan.

TEEB estimates that global economic losses linked to forests alone may be costing the world over $4 trillion a year.

TEEB also underlined how more creative costing can demonstrate the inordinate economic, social and environmental returns from investing and re-investing in ecosystems-not least, for the poor where nature and natural assets can represent up to 90 per cent of their GDP, in some communities.

The work in the Aberdares and in the other water towers in Kenya reflects the maturing of an ecosystems management approach that integrates science, economics and policy.

  • Over the last 15 years, UNEP has supported the assessment of major water towers, including Mt. Kenya, the Aberdares, the Mau Forests complex (and Kilimanjaro), to raise awareness of the threats to these ecosystems and trigger policy response.
  • Recognizing the need for management practices that conserve the multiple values of forests, the Government involved additional institutions, such as Kenya Wildlife Service, in the management of indigenous forests in the water towers.
  • Much awaited reforms in the forestry sector were finally reflected in the new Forest Act 2005 that makes participatory forest management (PFM) the central approach for achieving conservation and sustainable management of forests.
  • Public-private partnerships have been established to support major conservation initiatives in the water towers. Private partners include Rhino Ark (Aberdares), Mt. Kenya Trust (Mt. Kenya), Save the Mau Trust, Africa Wildlife Foundation and WWF (Mau Forests Complex).
  • Large-scale rehabilitation of the Mau Forests Complex has been initiated by the Kenyan Prime Minister.

  • Economic valuation of the services provided by the water towers is ongoing. In 2009, KEFRI estimated the yearly benefits provided by the Mau Forests Complex at KES 110 billion. Today, we are launching this report on the Aberdares, estimating its ecosystem services at KES 59 billion yearly.
  • The contribution of the forestry sector to the GDP is being reassessed. Its contribution to the GDP was previously estimated at 1.1%. Preliminary findings from on-going work on Kenya's Natural Resources Account, supported by UNEP, revealed that the forestry sector contributes at least 3.6% of the GDP.
  • New financing mechanisms have been put in place, or piloted, to secure the vital services provided by the water towers. A Water Towers Conservation Fund was established by the Government in July 2010. Recently, WWF and the Water Resources Management Authority established a pilot payment for water services scheme in the catchment of Lake Naivasha, on the foothills of the Aberdares.

Way forward:

Progress in Kenya and across the world towards a Green Economy is happening. The challenge is to accelerate and scale all this up.

Likely positive impacts in Kenya can come from a variety of forward-looking actions:

  • The reform in the forestry sector being fast-tracked and making Participatory Forest Management a reality.
  • Increased investment made to support the conservation and sustainable management of the water towers-as recommended in the report of the Government Task Force on the Conservation of the Mau Forests Complex.
  • The pilot payment for water services scheme expanded to benefit all the water towers of the country. Payment schemes for other ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, should be established.
  • More focus should be given to sustainable rural development, in particular, income-generating activities that are compatible with the sustainable management of natural resources.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Right now, the world is, again, on the Road to Rio-almost 20 years after the Earth Summit of 1992, nations are shaping and sharpening their positions on possible cooperative outcomes for Brazil in June 2012.

Rio+20 is an opportunity to transform the sustainable development agenda into one that is comprehensively implemented in a world that is markedly different than the late 20th century - environmentally, socially, economically and, of course, geopolitically.

Countries are looking at what has worked and what has failed in those intervening years-Kenya's story is an illustrative one.

The kind of initiative we celebrate, today, and Kenya's recent and wider 'smart' policy paths on, for example, feed-in tariffs and renewable energy, demonstrate that the vision of 1992 can be brought alive in an action-orientated fashion.

This can, in turn, inform and inspire other nations as we head towards Rio+20.

Again, congratulations to all the private and public partners for your work in the Aberdares, including supporters from overseas who have played a role in making this a conservation success but, also, a success for human well-being and the future sustainability of the Kenyan economy.




Further Resources

New Study Examines the Impact of 400 km Aberdare Fence


Follow Us

Keep up to date with UNEP events on Facebook, Twitter and You Tube.

Twitter Facebook You Tube

UNEP on Facebook