County Climate Action in Kenya: Lessons in Alignment, Community and the Enabling Framework


The Institute for Law and Environmental Governance (ILEG) and adelphi aided Kwale County in the development of its climate policy and legislative framework, and worked closely with county stakeholders and the national government to ensure that the Kwale communities’ priorities are successfully financed and implemented.

By Paola Adriázola, Francis Oremo and Benson Ochieng


Few countries can say they have undergone a governance transformation as sweeping as Kenya’s in recent years. The 2010 Constitution overhauled governance in the country by creating 27 new counties and set out the vision for two levels of government – national and county – to work as distinct but interdependent spheres and equal partners in the spirit of consultation and collaboration. This was a 180-degree turn from the centralised governance that had characterised Kenya since 1963.

Central to the 2010 Constitution are the objectives of promoting social and economic development and ensuring community participation in governance. Several of the mandates devolved to counties are absolutely fundamental for tackling climate change and its impacts – like county planning and development, agriculture and water, solid waste management, and disaster management[1] – so it should come as no surprise that climate is seen in the country as a key local development issue.

In order to support multi-level collaboration, the V-LED project (“Vertical Integration and Learning for Low-Emission Development”) has been involved for the past six years with Kwale County and actors from national government, facilitating dialogue and supporting county capacities. As a result, Kwale County is in the process of adopting a strong, vertically-aligned and cross-sectoral climate change policy and a climate change bill that will allow it to access more climate finance.

Looking at the achievements of the project, a key question is: what has contributed to the successes, and what do we recommend to others working in this space supporting climate governance in decentralised settings? These are the three key success factors we draw from our work with Kwale in the past six years.

1. Align with key country priorities

In 2010 – when counties took over the mandate of delivering services to its citizens – the newly-created counties had little experience in service delivery and climate-resilient low-carbon development. The national and county government levels in essence started negotiating how they would engage each other in climate governance, and bring in the grassroots level together. A huge experiment in collaborative governance ensued.

In order to operationalise vertically-aligned, climate-proof development in Kwale County, the V-LED project has provided a setting for multi-sector, multi-stakeholder and multi-level dialogue on matters related to climate change and development since 2015. In doing so, the project helped put into practice the national vision and development agenda in one county through the lens of climate change development planning.

The experiment worked: repeatedly, in the absence of official institutional mechanisms for resolution of conflicts and communication between the national government and the counties, we see the demand of actors for engagement with each other. V-LED fills this gap for climate in Kwale.

2. Ensure meaningful multi-stakeholder engagement

One of the most crucial success factors has been the timely and meaningful involvement of the community in Kwale for at least three reasons. First, it ultimately results in improved conditions for accountability, legitimacy, public participation and efficient allocation of resources. Secondly, the process of involving the community’s voice enables the county government to create a fit between community priorities and national aspirations. Crucially, by involving and training the community, citizens are empowered and come to appreciate the role they can play. As a result, communities are better able to design climate-smart projects, for example in agriculture and waste management. Building local knowledge is an important part of promoting good governance in Kenya in general.

A central activity in the V-LED project has been the organisation of horizontal learning exchanges between different counties. In a capacity constrained environment, with counties facing the uphill road of newly established institutions, these networks can allow individuals to draw on collective experience and expert skills to resolve challenges experienced in the field. These meetings not only ensured information flow and stakeholder engagement, but created an “overflow effect” in which, for example, the neighbouring county Taita Taveta was inspired to also adopt its very own climate change policy and county fund regulations.

3. Help establish the groundwork first

It is important to first put in place the right framework to enable climate action. The “right” framework is one that is aligned with overall national considerations and guidelines (as noted above) and is wanted and crafted by the county government itself. In the case of Kwale, the project conducted a needs assessment and found that the county requirements were to establish a county policy and a county legislative framework.

In a process of two and a half years and with V-LED support, the Kwale government created an interdepartmental Climate Change Unit to lead the formulation of the climate change policy and bill. The unit was composed of key county staff to draw from their vast knowledge: the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources, Water Services, Finance, Agriculture, the National Drought Management Authority, Meteorological Services and the Office of the Governor. As a result, Kwale is aiming to have its cross-departmental framework for ambitious action in place in 2021.

The next steps

As the V-LED project draws to a close, we see clear priorities to continue the work supporting county climate action in Kenya. Once the climate change bill is enacted as law and the policy adopted, Kwale will be able to establish its County Climate Change Fund, for which a proportion of the county budget will be set aside. The adoption of the policy framework will also open up Kwale access to the National Climate Change Fund. The involvement of the National Treasury – the focal point for climate finance and development planning in Kenya – through V-LED’s support in county-level development planning processes, budgeting and development agenda-setting has established a good foundation for climate-finance access by Kwale.

A key priority going forward will be to establish a structure and adequate capacities to track the performance of climate projects at the county level in order to ensure transparency in Measuring, Reporting and Verification (MRV). Finally, in order to live up to the vision established by the 2010 Constitution, the institutionalisation of processes for public participation and community engagement in climate change budgeting and planning is also key. The V-LED partners on the ground are committed to continue the work on strong climate governance supporting Kwale County.

The Vertical Integration and Learning for Low-Emission Development project is implemented by the Institute for Law and Environmental Governance (Kenya), adelphi (Berlin), and Sustainable Energy Africa (South Africa). We believe that local and regional governments are crucial to addressing climate change. Our work seeks to strengthen the capacities and governance structures that will enable them to play an effective role in forging just, low-emission futures and opportunities for resilient communities. The project is supported by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) as part of its International Climate Initiative.


[1] As well as implementation of national natural resources and environmental policy, county roads and traffic, tourism and others. For the complete breakdown, see Schedule 4 of the 2010 Kenyan Constitution.