Recent media reports from sections of the regional media suggested that the methane gas deposits within Lake Kivu are likely to explode into catastrophic disaster unless extracted. The New Times’ Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah spoke to the State Minister for Environment, Mr.Vincent Karega about the Government reaction to the reports, Methane gas in Lake Kivu and other environmental plans. Excerpts
What do you have to say about media reports that indicate gas in Lake Kivu must be extracted immediately otherwise it will turn into a disaster?
VK: First of all Rwanda itself decided to extract the gas. Rwanda gave the world information to the effect that there is methane gas with potential to serve various energy needs. So there is no one today discovering the dangers of the gas much more than Rwanda did.
But it is true if this gas is not exploited it can be potentially dangerous at some point like it happened in Cameroon. Our technical personnel looking at these deposits are assisting us to closely monitor the levels which the lake can hold so that for us the excess can be taken out to fill the gap within our energy needs.
We are confident that what we are doing is in fact the proper way of going about this issue of managing this gas in Lake Kivu.
Does that mean Rwanda knows how to mitigate the challenges likely to emanate from the Kivu gas?
VK: Rwanda has worked with experts and the most sophisticated technologies to try and understand how to undertake extraction without putting the environment into jeopardy. We have taken time to understand how to achieve equilibrium between extraction and environmental concerns.
Extraction has been preceded by a lot of research and surveys on the way forward.
All companies in this endevour are bound by strict environmental requirements. Part of this assessment looks at critical issues such as the extent of extraction by each prospective company, risks to be managed and mitigated as well as technologies to be deployed.
People say the lake is located within an active volcano. But that volcano has been there for years. They say that if the lava from the volcano goes into the lake then such an eventuality would create a catastrophic explosion with more serious effects.
This happened both in 1977 and in 2003. However, nothing catastrophic happened.
One thing you should highlight about the Kivu gas is that the biggest concentration of methane is very much in the lake not at the shore.
So by the time the lava goes to the lake before it hits the methane deposits at the centre the waters of the lake does the natural effect of cooling it off and the end result is that nature has a way of bringing in an equilibrium to some of these events.
How is Contour Global’s business model going to enhance environmental sustainability for the Kivu gas?
VK: Contour’s business model has an embedded environmental impact assessment plan that has been handed over to us prior to giving them a go ahead. We were able to asses all the risks and all the technologies and other provisions as provided for in their business models.
All these were critically assessed and the outcome informed the issuance of a go ahead.
As Rwanda heads to Copenhagen for the global climate change conference, is the Kivu gas issue going to be part of the agenda?
VK: As far as linking Kivu gas with climate change is concerned, we will take the Kivu gas to the global meet as part of good news from Rwanda to the world. We have plans to turn this seemingly harmful gas into a new source of energy. As we do that, we will in effect be releasing low quantities of this gas to the atmosphere.
By capturing the methane gas from escaping into the environment thereby damaging the climate system and instead using it to undertake sustainable development, this in itself is a big thing.
In this new endevour, we will act as innovators at regional levels on how changes in such policies can positively impact on climate change and such moves are actually appreciated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
In Copenhagen the parties to the Convention on climate change will not only be looking at country projects, but beyond Copenhagen each country is expected to have plans for embracing a green economy.
How do we adapt to climate change? And how do we mitigate on areas we are likely to undermine climate change? Such plans will have to be submitted to different funding parties. In this sort of arrangement the Kivu methane gas may come up.
What kind of appeal given the complexities involved, will Rwanda make to the UNFCCC to assist in mitigating challenges emanating from the Kivu gas?
VK: Before we think about making any appeals on financing programmes for Rwanda which may not impact seriously on tackling climate change, if the whole world especially the industrialized countries take further steps I think our stronger appeals to the UN bodies and allies is to ensure that we reach a consensus on the levels of reductions in emissions of these gases into the atmosphere from a global perspective. That is number one step.
If we talk about global warming then we need to tackle the more serious causes which are emissions emanating from the western industrialized countries. So their commitments are very key for ensuring a way forward even for us.
Number two is adaptation for vulnerable countries including Rwanda.
In situations such as ours, we have people trying to eke out a living by digging out the forests and by relying on biomass for energy which bears more pressures to forests.
In all these situations, we need to change their livelihoods by providing cheap means of energy that is clean and by bringing better agricultural techniques and by controlling water sources.
In all these solutions we will need more resources. But more important is how do we understand all these in Rwanda?
How do we plan and mainstream all these into our budgetary frameworks. How do we rank environment as part of the economy? Do we take it as a question of high preoccupation or it comes as part of a mere addendum to the overall development agenda.
Are you aware that Rwanda can make additional revenues in form of carbon credits just by making it known that capture of the Kivu gas can be used by industrialized countries to settle their emission deficits pursuant to the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC?
VK: Sure we are very much aware and as such we are building our institutional capacities to manage our own local carbon assets through having a carbon policy.
Already Rwanda is a beneficiary to the new system of business of climate change through a carbon asset project developed by Electrogaz.
But it is a demonstration that more opportunities exist across board within areas such as afforestation and land use management.
Give an outline of concrete project ideas that demonstrate this kind of understanding within the business of climate change
VK: Number one project idea which is actually out of the drawing table is what is called the KP One that the Government did. We have not at the moment packaged the carbon assets for this project, due to the fact that our main focus right now is not centered on the carbon asset per se. Our immediate concern is to extract and manage the gas while generating power for Rwanda.
Developing the carbon flow for KP One will follow later on but it is an opportunity to seize and it is very much feasible.
The other credible project is one developed by Rwanda Investment Group (RIG) through a special purpose vehicle known as Rwanda Energy Company.
I believe that once credible demonstrations by these early bird companies is established then there will be other options which will be exploited in areas such as domestic applications such as cooking or other industrial uses such as powering of cars or fertilizer production.
As we speak we have also entered into a bilateral framework with the DRC to step up extraction.
The Methane gas resource has the potential to change the lives of those living around Lake Kivu. Does Rwanda have enshrined within the Methane gas extraction policy a component specifically designed to benefit the surrounding community?
VK: First of all our community development policies do not rely solely on social activities by companies .Companies produce what they have to produce .
They then pay taxes upon being told to do so and then the Government channels these taxes and other resources to programmes such as social developments.
We have done this borne of out of learning mistakes done by other African governments which had similar resources whereby these Governments allowed the extraction companies to undertake exploitation within a situation whereby after repatriation of profits such companies are given symbolic responsibilities to build a school here or a road over there.
Such small gestures we have learnt are not actually directly beneficial to the host countries with such resources.
What is suitable for us in this light is to have these extraction companies creating jobs, to create revenues and to build assets available for the local economy.
In this context we will work hard to ensure that the masses can have access to cheap sources of energy.
How can Rwanda which is seemingly through this Kivu methane gas, is sitting on huge African wealth, be used to enhance regional energy security while undertaking sustainable development for her people and the continent of Africa?
VK: Rwanda like all of Africa is sitting on wealth. Africa is blessed with diverse natural resources. What Africa actually needs is a continuous focused leadership that should be able to turn these resources into commodities that we can utilize for the betterment of our lives.
In the Rwandan context all the opportunities are now being tapped a case being in point is the methane gas resource.
Probably I can only say that we have been lagging behind on this. We ought to have done these things hundreds of years back.
It did not happen. But since we know that it has to happen we now have action plans to guide us plus commitments accompanying such actions as a country and as a leadership.
What is your parting shot on Kivu gas being an opportunity and a challenge?
VK: I take it on the positive side. This gas deposits have been existent for generations with no actions taken. We are proud as Government that we are taking the calculated risks of tapping on it.
By so doing, we are proving to the world that we can turn this potent gas into a valuable resource, into an asset.
That is already happening.
Number two is that we are very much aware that if poorly exploited, the gas can be damaging. So we are putting all the measures to ensure that safety is enshrined in extraction.
Lastly I must say that Rwanda is a country with determination and Rwanda is moving in the right direction. Exploitation of the gas is now a reality. We now have tangible results.