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In an important first for Africa, climate data ‘Made in Kenya’

The Mazingira Center is already making discoveries.
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The Greenhouse Gas lab at the Mazingira Center. The Lab measures GHG emissions that will be presented as evidence to policy makers. S.Kilungu photo
The Greenhouse Gas lab at the Mazingira Center. The Lab measures GHG emissions that will be presented as evidence to policy makers. S.Kilungu photo

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Kenya - NAIROBI, Kenya—The first research center of its kind in Africa is expected to generate more cost-effective and precise greenhouse gas emissions measurements for Kenya.

Even better: It could lay the groundwork for other similar efforts across the continent.

The Mazingira Center—named for the Kiswahili word for “environment”—in Nairobi is already churning out data. Until now, Kenya—like most developing countries—has had to rely on generic default emission factors provided by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to prepare its biennial reports on emissions and removals of greenhouse gases in the country for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The East African country did not have the sophisticated equipment needed to measure actual greenhouse gas emissions from different land uses and in different scenarios, and so had to rely heavily on mostly foreign—and generally costly—consultants to perform these calculations for its greenhouse gas inventory, a key element in national communications with the UNFCCC.

But there’s more than pride and money at stake when it comes to taking homegrown measurements: Early returns show that Mazingira’s measurements are more accurate—and thus vastly more useful—than what the country had been using before.

The state-of-the-art lab enables scientists to measure emissions from a full range of sources in Kenya, including livestock; manure management systems; smallholder farms; and land uses such as forests, tea and timber plantations.

A BOOST FOR EMISSIONS REPORTING

This is especially good news to Charles Mutai, Deputy Director of Kenya’s Climate Change Secretariat and the person in charge of reporting his country’s greenhouse gas inventory to the UNFCCC.

“Calculation of the emission factors and greenhouse gases from livestock is a very, very good initiative down here in Kenya,” he said. “It’s a first in Africa … and I am happy that it came at the right time, just when we are preparing our national reporting application to UNFCCC, which will inform the 2015 climate agreement.”

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The research and data being produced at the Mazingira lab is the result of collaboration between the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which hosts the lab.

“I’m excited that there are facilities that can help our greenhouse gas reporting system and also our general reporting to the UNFCCC,” said Stephen King’uyu, who is acting Deputy Director for Mitigation and Adaptation in Kenya’s Climate Change Secretariat in the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, after his first tour of the lab. “This means we can shift from using default values [for emission factors] to values that are a lot more representative of our national circumstances.”

EARLY RETURNS

Early results from the Mazingira lab suggest that the actual emissions from manure in Kenya may be substantially lower, by a factor of four, than the default emission factors currently being used for Kenya. According to ILRI / KIT scientist Klaus Butterbach-Bahl, such discrepancies in actual versus default emission factors can go either way—that is, a greenhouse gas inventory for Kenya done using Tier 2 emission factors (a more complex mix of default and locally specific data) could wind up being lower or higher than what is currently being reported to the UNFCCC.

However, in the global efforts to tackle climate change, what is important is the accuracy of data on emissions, and that can only be improved with quality data produced locally.

According to King’uyu, the data produced in Kenya on greenhouse gas emissions from different land uses and livestock may also be useful for neighboring countries that share geophysical and socioeconomic features in calculating their greenhouse gas inventories. He also noted that in the future, with such calculations being made using samples and data produced locally in the Mazingira lab, Kenya may be able to save money on expensive foreign experts currently engaged for this work.

“Other countries in the region look to Kenya to set the pace,” he added. “And this is what we will be able to do when we can calculate our own greenhouse gas inventory.”

The Mazingira facility in Nairobi is the first research center of its kind in Africa. Photo courtesy S. Kilungu

TRAINING GROUND

CIFOR scientist Mariana Rufino sees the climate change work being done in Kenya as part of an effort to provide Kenya with support for its National Climate Change Action Plan, drawn up in 2013. In addition to the crucial data that can be produced and analyzed thanks to the sophisticated equipment in the lab, which she said can improve the quality of data and thus the greenhouse gas inventories, it will also provide an extremely important training ground for young technicians and scientists from Kenya and elsewhere in Africa.

Already there are 20 students and technicians from Kenya and eight other countries working in the lab and on the projects using its facilities to produce data and analyze samples.

The Mazingira facility in Nairobi is just the beginning, Rufino says. The intention is that it will eventually become a central hub for environmental excellence in Africa, with a network of smaller satellite climate change laboratories across the continent, the first of which is already up and running in Cameroon.

“CIFOR has expertise in forests and trees so our partners benefit from our forest knowledge,” Rufino said. “But we cannot have expertise in everything, so we work with partners to fill the gaps and tackle climate change problems.

“Our partners in Kenya are also interested in how to offset emissions from the livestock sector, and we all know that forests can be one of the best solutions for this.”

For more information about this work, contact Mariana Rufino at  m.rufino@cgiar.org or Klaus Butterbach-Bahl at k.butterbach-bahl@cgiar.org.

The Mazingira Center is supported in part by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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