Will the UN Climate Change conference save us from danger

The UN Climate Change conference that started Monday 7th December in Copenhagen, Denmark has steered a lot of talk and expectations in many countries with regard to the decisions that we be adopted by over 98 heads of states that have confirmed attendance. The subject of climate change has gained momentum and attention over the past months and this has awakened our minds to think more on an issue that indeed is seriously affecting the planet earth and the way of life.
Source: The little green data book, World Bank 2009
Source: The little green data book, World Bank 2009

The UN Climate Change conference that started Monday 7th December in Copenhagen, Denmark has steered a lot of talk and expectations in many countries with regard to the decisions that we be adopted by over 98 heads of states that have confirmed attendance.

The subject of climate change has gained momentum and attention over the past months and this has awakened our minds to think more on an issue that indeed is seriously affecting the planet earth and the way of life.

The question I pose to myself and you therefore is the extent to which we have put effort to learn and understand the issues of climate change and how they affected our lives here in Rwanda.

A report published by Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) entitled “Economic Analysis of Natural Resource Management in Rwanda”, highlights ample evidence that links increasing population pressure, degradation of the environment and unsustainable use natural resources to poverty.

In the past two decades, we have witnessed increased droughts, temperature rises and environmental related diseases. One example of the consequence of climate change in Rwanda was in 2004, we experienced very low levels of rainfall leading to a big drop in hydro power supply in the country. We were forced to use thermal power which is not only costly but also pollutes our environment.

As a matter of fact, the cost of power increased from 48 Rwandan francs to 120 per KWh representing an increase of 250%.

There is a growing scientific consensus that rising concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases are gradually warming the Earth’s climate.

The amount of damage associated with that warming remains uncertain, but there is some risk that it could be large and perhaps even catastrophic.

Reducing that risk would require restraining the growth of CO2 emissions—and ultimately limiting those emissions to a level that would stabilize atmospheric concentrations.

While most emissions in developed countries result from fossil fuel combustion, deforestation and land use change is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries like Rwanda.

The latest audit of global carbon emissions by the Global Carbon Project, found that carbon dioxide levels from human activities are increasing by about 2 per cent per year, or 1.3 tons of carbon per capita, and the biggest percentage of greenhouse gases are emitted by developed countries.

So why is that developed countries are worst polluters of planet earth? Economic growth and urbanization move together, most economic activity is concentrated in urban areas, thus cities have a key role in climate change.

Also, affluence and lifestyle choices determine greenhouse gases emissions, the amount of pollution by an average American who drives a big ford car, stays in house that is air conditioned and has heating system cannot be compared to an average Rwandan who has neither of the two.

It is therefore fair to say that the worsening climate conditions in the developing countries and the rest of the world are mainly attributed to the actions and lifestyles of developed world. We should thus expect more responsible decisions by the leaders of the developed nations at this conference.

Evidence to my argument is shown in the graph below, in which the size of the bubble correspond to the amount of pollution of a given country.

The issue of carbon emissions and green house gasses has been a major talking point since the Kyoto protocol, scientists say rich countries must reduce carbon dioxide emissions 25-40 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.

Developing countries are also being encouraged to adopt clean technologies to achieve sustainable development. There is still less will and commitment especially on the side of developed countries to achieve the required targets.

The recent proposal by president Barack Obama to reduce US emissions by the equivalent of 4 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and China’s offer to nearly halve the ratio of pollution to GDP over the next decade, appear modest compared with scientists’ demands. We can only hope for better proposals from these two countries which are considered among the highest polluters of the planet environment.

The other proposal from the Kyoto protocol was the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which provides an arrangement for countries to trade “carbon credits”, whereby low polluting countries can receive some sort of monetary compensation from high polluting countries.

A country like Rwanda can accumulate carbon credits by undertaking green projects like the current investments in methane gas, geothermal and solar energy as a future source of power.

Though this proposal has not been that effective, it sounds fair and encouraging. We can only wait to see if a concrete mechanism will be agreed in this conference on how less polluting countries (especially the poor ones) can benefit from such an arrangement.

In case of Rwanda, this could be a future source of foreign exchange!

As the rest of the world awaits eagerly for the resolutions of the Copenhagen conference, it’s the right time for us in Rwandan to arise and given the due attention to this topic.

We at the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research Rwanda (IPAR) feel that this topic is worth further discussion and enlightening, we argue the relevant authorities and specialists in this area to educator us more on this crucial topic.

Let’s all put some effort to read more about the issues of climate change, we alert you to follow what is happening in Copenhagen between the 7th – 18th December at official website of this conference http://en.cop15.dk/

i.murenzi@ipar-rwanda.org

The author is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR)-Rwanda

 

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