William Ruto’s Climate Defining Moment

Kenyan President William Ruto
Kenyan President William Ruto

Every leader experiences a pivotal moment that charts their new agenda, goals, and aspirations. For Kenyan President Ruto, his moment was his speeches at the  2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27). Held in November 2022, COP27 put Ruto in the international spotlight. The conference focused on six central themes, all of which are central to Ruto’s climate change policies: the development of clean technologies, water and agriculture, biodiversity loss, energy transition, decarbonisation, and finance. Ruto presented two key speeches– one to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on behalf of both Kenya and the African group (the largest regional group that represents 54 UN Member States from the African Continent), and the other at the launch of the African Carbon Markets Initiative (ACMI). At COP27, President Ruto stepped up and represented the African continent as a whole, headlining himself as a key climate change conscious leader. 

The backdrop in which Ruto presented his speech to the UNFCCC was contextually significant. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, European nations and fossil fuel firms began a ‘dash for gas’ across Africa, looking for oil and gas projects to invest in. This provided Ruto with a clear opportunity to hold a firm stance against what he saw as the unethical actions European nations and fossil fuel firms – stating that “we [Kenya] have taken a position that as a country we are going green and we are well on course”. Ruto chose to invest in renewable energy rather than accepting and locking into fossil fuel projects fueled by the ‘dash for gas’, which would have turned Kenya into a high-carbon, high-cost, and high-pollution energy system. 

There is, however, another side to the story. Around 80% of Kenya’s 2.85 billion barrels of oil reservoir remains inaccessible for commercial exploitation because of limitations in extraction technology. As such, Ruto publicly framed Kenya’s decision to reject European nations and fossil fuel firms’ investment opportunities as his climate change friendly policy, but behind the scenes the decision was likely taken because of Kenya’s inaccessible oil reserves. 

That same speech permitted Ruto to publicly oppose, in the international spotlight, against what he perceives as  the ‘injustices’ faced by Kenya and the entire continent . He brought to light the issues Africa is facing from climate change-induced disasters, stating that “high water stress is estimated to affect about 250 million people in Africa and is expected to displace up to 700 million people by 2030”. President Ruto also referenced the consequences of such disasters on Kenya’s budget allocation decisions and the trade-offs the government it forced to make, stating that “two days ago, we went to distribute food relief to 4.3 million affected Kenyans in an emergency programme that has forced us to re-allocate funds budgeted for education and health.” From this, he commented on the fact that the consequences of environmental disasters are primarily caused by nations outside of the African continent, emphasising the inequality that exists between developed and developing nations.  

President Ruto also positioned himself as a straight-forward and frank climate leader by criticising the inefficiency of COP summits and their lengthy discussions, stalling, and delaying tactics, which he described as “cruel and unjust”. He called for leaders, delegations, and nations to stop “skirting around” time-sensitive issues, arguing that doing so will make us spectators to the horrors of climate change.

Ruto’s speech at the launch of the ACMI during COP27 was also significant in shaping him as a climate leader. His speech reaffirmed Kenya’s support for the African Carbon Markets Initiative, which falls in line with Ruto’s goal to use international investment for development to increase his popularity as a leader. The ACMI aims to support the growth of carbon credit production and create jobs in Africa, contributing to its economic prosperity, livelihoods, and environmental preservation. The ACMI aims to reach 300 million credits retired annually by 2030, which could help Kenya supplement its domestic revenues for climate policy, develop its climate change mitigation market, and implement nationally determined contributions. During the COP27 conference, over $200 million was secured in advanced market commitments from global corporations and seven African nations signed up to develop country carbon activation plans, including Kenya. 

Ruto’s advocacy and commitment to the ACMI gave him the platform to advocate for Africa’s potential as an investment and the opportunities it could provide to other countries with regards to green energy, sustainability, and climate change mitigation progress. In his speech, he called for developed countries to “decarbonise their production by directing industrial investments to Africa and making use of clean energy to manufacture for the world”. He further stated that his goal was to promote the opportunities Africa could provide with regards to green energy, decarbonised manufacturing, smart agriculture, and green building technologies. Kenya through Ruto is a significant contributor and driving force behind the ACMI where nearly a quarter of Africa’s carbon credits come from Kenya- the most of any African country, with about two thirds of the credits being land based and being as a result of clean cookstove projects. Kenya is also predicted to generate the most carbon credit annually- 20 to 25 million credits and 500 million dollars in revenue by 2030.

Ultimately, Ruto argues that, as the chair of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC), he bears responsibility for creating plans to counter the severe climate change crisis that would be in form of a continental summit to involve all climate change leaders to support this change. The African Union Assembly of Heads of State established the CAHOSCC, thereby defining its chairship. Prior to this, the committee had seen a succession of African leaders from countries such as South Africa, Gabon, and Egypt at its helm, with Uhuru Kenyatta serving as the immediate past chair. Since 2013, the chairmanship of the CAHOSCC has been characterised by a rotational system, with each term lasting two years, with the country chairing the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) body also chairing the CAHOSCC.

IExRAIA Summer Research Program:

This article is an excerpt from a report on William Ruto produced as part of a research program RAIA on climate leaders. For a full picture of Ruto’s climate leadership read the full report. This project was fully financed by IE University’s IE School of Politics, Economics and Global Affairs.

Authors: Chiara Cassina and Ruby Wanjikũ Gachara

Editor: Michael Duffy

Project Lead: Joshua Dario Hasenstab


The shared Account of RAIA members and Alumni