Case study: Kenya’s emissions

By Matt Burdett, 8 February 2018

On this page, we look at Kenya’s contribution to international greenhouse gas sources and emissions, especially in relation to economic development.

Note: This case study is about the causes of Kenya’s emissions. For more information about the Kenyan government’s attempts to deal with climate change, see “Case study of government response to climate change: Kenya” and for non-governmental strategies to deal with climate change in Kenya see “Case study: Kenya’s non-governmental response to climate change”.

  • Between Kisumu and Awasi, Kenya: Kenya’s largest source of emissions is from cattle, known as pastoral agriculture. Image source: Westfall, 2009.

Kenya compared

Kenya is a very small emitter of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases compared to the world as a whole, as shown on the map below:

  • Worldwide CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita), 2014. Source: World Bank, 2014.

The following table shows Kenya’s per capita emissions compared to other selected countries. Again, the message is clear: Kenya has very low emissions indeed.


Tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita emitted per year













El Salvador




  • Tonnes of CO2 per capita, annually. Source: Datablog, 2009.

Despite being low, Kenya’s emissions per capita fluctuate significantly within a small range but have remained very low since the country became independent from the UK in 1963. It seems likely that this is linked to the increase in digestion and excretion by cattle in years with higher dry season rainfall.

  • Kenya CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita), 1960-2014. Source: World Bank, 2014.

Kenya’s emission sources

Kenya’s economy is largely based on agriculture, coming second to the services sector in terms of gross domestic product. Manufacturing and construction are a very small proportion of emissions sources, accounting for around 2% of total emissions. The majority of the greenhouse gases emissions – over 62% – are from agriculture. Of these, about half of the emissions are from ‘enteric fermentation’ which is a digestion process in animals resulting in methane being exhaled and belched from the cattle, while the decomposition of manure also releases methane (Takle and Hofstrande, 2008). This means that pastoral farming (raising cattle) is Kenya’s largest single contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Kenya’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, 2013. Source: Government of Kenya, 2013.

Kenya’s emissions in relation to economic development

Kenya is a low middle income country (LMIC) according to the World Bank’s classifications (World Bank Data Team, 2016). The gross domestic product (GDP) of Kenya has been gradually rising and there is a correlation with the emission of greenhouse gases.

  • Kenya’s GDP and and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, 1990 to 2013. Source: Government of Kenya, 2013.

However, part of this increasing economy is due to an increasing population, which is why the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted increases steadily while the per capita amount actually fluctuates.


Datablog, 2009. Carbon emissions per person, by country. Accessed 8 February 2018.

Government of Kenya, 2013. National Climate Change Action Plan 2013 -2017. Accessed 7 February 2018.

Takle and Hofstrande, 2008. Global warming – agriculture’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Accessed 8 February 2018.

US Aid, 2017/ Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Kenya (2013). Downloaded from Accessed 7 February 2018.

Westfall, 2009. Kenya cattle drive (between Kisumu and Awasi, Kenya). Accessed 8 February 2018.

World Bank, 2014. CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita). Accessed 8 February 2018.

World Bank Data Team, 2016. New country classifications by income level. Accessed 8 February 2018.

Case study: Kenya’s emissions: Learning activities


  1. Describe the global distribution of countries with low levels (6.5 metric tonnes per capita) of greenhouse gas emissions. [3]
  2. Suggest reasons why a country might have low levels of greenhouse gas emissions. [4]
  3. Describe the variation in Kenya’s greenhouse gas emissions per capita from 1980 to 2014. [3]
  4. Outline the relative importance of difference causes of Kenya’s greenhouse gas emissions. [6]
  5. Define ‘pastoral’ farming. [1]
  6. Explain the link between pastoral farming and greenhouse gas emissions. [4]
  7. Suggest why Kenya’s emissions per capita fluctuates while the total emissions increase. [2]

Other tasks

Use the World Bank data centre to find out about the emissions for a country of your choice. Write a paragraph comparing your chosen country to Kenya. Consider:

  • Temporal variations (trends through time)
  • Levels of economic development
  • Population size and growth rates