County Governments and the Environment


Human beings are dependent on the environment for their survival in the universe. A threat to the environment is not only a threat to the survival of the human race, but also a threat to the survival of life itself on this planet. Over the last two centuries, human activities have drastically reduced the forest cover, led to the rise of the sea level, a drastic reduction of the polar ice and the extinction of species of animals and plants that have existed for millions of years.

Just like a boomerang, the short term gratification that irresponsible actions gain from the environment is met with calamities and disasters that the human race could not contemplate a few decades ago. The principles of Eco-justice have been adopted by both National and supra-national organizations. The right to a clean and healthy environment has been recognized by the United Nations, the European Union and similar organizations. 177 countries have recognized the right to a clean environment through their constitutions as of 2012. Kenya adopted the right to a clean and safe environment, in 2010, through a constitutional referendum.

Environmental provisions in the constitution

The right to a clean and healthy environment is recognized in article 42 of the constitution of Kenya.  Every citizen has a right to have the environment utilized in a manner that benefits the current generation, as well as the future generations. The state is supposed to enact measures, either through legislative action or otherwise, to ensure that the constitutional obligations to the environment are met. An aggrieved citizen can sue the state or the party responsible under article 70(1) if the right to a clean and healthy environment is not met.

 Chapter five of the constitution of Kenya outlines the manner in which land and the environment shall be utilized. Chapter five has vested a heavy responsibility on the Legislative branch of the government to enact measures to ensure that the sustainable use of the environment. The responsibility to ensure that the environment is clean and healthy is also borne by every citizen. A breach of that right attracts a penalty from a court of law.

The National Government and the County Government

The national government has a greater responsibility in relation to the environment than the county government. However, the sovereign power of the people of Kenya is exercised both at the national level and the county level. The National Assembly is expected to enact the major legislation concerning the environment. In conformity with the principles of devolution, the county legislative assemblies are expected to come up with legislation on the environmental issues in their jurisdiction. The county assembly legislation should be in conformity the national legislation.



Obligations in Respect to the Environment

The obligations of the county governments are outlined in part two of the Fourth Schedule. According the fourth schedule, the county health service is responsible for the collection and the disposal of solid waste. The county governments have the responsibility of controlling air and noise pollution. The counties are also entitled with the responsibility of implementing the national government policies on soil and water conservation.

The major backlog of conserving the environment falls on the county government.  Air pollution and improper waste disposal are the greatest contributors of environmental degradation.  The county governments have been in operation for over a year, and a lot of focus has been placed on political control rather than meeting the constitutional obligations to the environment. The majority of the county government have absconded their duty in relation to the environment and have become the agents of environmental degradation.  The majority of the county government lack comprehensive policies on waste disposal.

The county governments have significantly failed to curb air pollution. The companies that day in day out emit toxic gases to the environments are either owned by politicians or their sycophants. Therefore, without a firm environmental policy on pollution, the county governments only appear as toothless dogs in the face of the companies that are responsible for the pollution of the environment.

The government is busy concentrating with solving the youth unemployment puzzle.  With sixteen million youths unemployed, part of their labour force can be directed to cleaning the environment and eliminating improper waste disposal. The county government of Nairobi has tirelessly tried to provide a healthy living and working environment.  Nevertheless, there are some streets in Nairobi City County that are dirtier than any other place in Kenya. The County government of Machakos has transformed the streets of Machakos city and its environs from garbage disposal sites to a clean business haven.


It is easy to be deluded that the responsibility to provide a clean and healthy environment falls to the county governments. The constitution makes it clear that every citizen has a duty to ensure that the environment is safe. The sovereign power of the people of Kenya is exercised by the organs of the state on behalf of the people of Kenya. If private citizens are irresponsible with the environment and neglect their obligations to the environment, the county governments will be unable to fulfil their constitutional obligations to the environment.

Francis James Kioko,

Parklands Greens- Parklands Campus,

School of LawUniversity of Nairobi