Over 230 people lost their lives in Rwanda in 2018 alone in incidents linked to climate change. Properties worth billions of Francs were also destroyed as torrential rains, lightning strikes and landslides had their toll on the country.
But, at the same time, the Government continued on its path to help address climate change, increasingly playing a major role on the international stage in efforts designed to mitigate climate change and create a safer world for posterity.
From hosting the inaugural Africa Green Growth Forum and achieving the 30 per cent national forest cover target, to adopting the Paris Agreement rulebook and announcing the plan to ban single use plastics, 2018 was a busy year for the country as far as climate change is concerned.
The New Timeslooks back at the stories and events that shaped conversations around climate change in the country last year as well as the main issues that could inform future interventions.
The Africa Green Growth Forum
In November, Rwanda hosted the inaugural Africa Green Growth Forum, attracting over 1,000 delegates from across the continent to share experiences in green growth and climate resilient development.
Participants included investors, policymakers and financial experts among others.
Themed “For a Green and Climate Resilient Africa”, the forum highlighted the importance of sustainable economic transformation and green growth as a priority for Africa, hence calling for private sector investment in green growth.
Partnerships were established between stakeholders working in Africa’s green growth sector and provided a platform for partners to engage and build relationships that accelerate the green growth agenda.
It is through this meeting that it was revealed that under-construction Bugesera International Airport is in the process of being certified as a one of the first green airports in Africa.
Climate Change Conference
In December, 198 parties adopted the Paris Agreement rulebook during the Climate Change Conference (COP24), held in Katowice, Poland.
Several environmentalists described the feat as “robust” for the international community toward climate action, while others stated that it was historic and for vulnerable countries including Rwanda in their pursuit to mitigate climate change. While making Rwanda’s case in Poland, the Minister of Environment, Vincent Biruta, stated that Rwanda welcomed the arrangements in the Paris Agreement Work rulebook—which will guide the implementation of the historic Agreement.
He said that the guideline would go a long way in translating the spirit of cooperation into concrete action.
Specifically, Biruta said, the directory would address the key challenges of adaptation, finance as well as loss and damage especially for the vulnerable countries like Rwanda.
Reaching 30 per cent of forest coverage
Under the National Strategy for Transformation, Rwanda aims to increase and sustain the country’s forest coverage to 30 per cent (714,102 ha).
During the tree planting season in October, the country raised forest coverage to 29.8 per cent. Plantation forests occupy 17.9 per cent while natural forests are 11.9 per cent.
Throughout the 2018/19 tree planting season 38,119 hectares of agroforestry, 4,800 hectares of classic forestry and 225,440 fruit trees were planted across Rwanda. This is in addition to some 670 hectares of degraded forests, which rehabilitated.
Ratification of the Kigali Amendment
On December 27, 2018, some 65 countries ratified the historic Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol.
This meant that the Kigali Amendment has more than tripled the threshold of 20 countries needed for it to enter into force.
The amendment has been described by experts as a key pillar of Global Climate Action and will avoid up to half a degree of warming by 2100.
The agreement seeks to eliminate toxic hydrofluorocarbons, the greenhouse chemicals better known as HFCs—that usually used in refrigerators and air conditioners, among other coolants—which are blamed for heating up the planet—causing severe health complications to humans.
The fifth state of the environment report by Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), showed that only 16.6 per cent of the population lives in urban areas. However, the country has one of the highest annual urban growth rates worldwide — estimated at 4.5 per cent— which by far exceeds the worldwide average of 1.8 per cent. Rwanda seeks to achieve 35 per cent urbanisation by 2024.
The report also states that the living conditions in the country’s urban areas are still relatively poor, stating that making access to modern fuels remain extremely low with almost 95 per cent of urban households using solid fuels, such as charcoal, for cooking.
About 60 per cent of Kigali’s urban households live in unplanned areas, many of which are located in fragile ecosystems where land is cheap, such as steep slopes and swamps, and they lack access to safe water, sanitation, electricity, health services, waste management and proper roads.
At the same time, rapid urban growth is reportedly increasing the demand for land, housing and associated urban services.
The study recommended to Policy Makers to, among other things; strengthen land use planning; increase green space and promote urban agriculture and forestry; build efficient transport and industrial infrastructure to reduce air pollution; and, assess environmental and social impacts of planned construction activities
Other recommendations includes; implementing green building policies and strategies, adopting a smart city approach, ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation, implement environmentally sound waste management and ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Colletha Ruhamya, Director General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), said that it is important that policy makers emphasise on urban investments “with the environment in mind.”
She added, “The pressure on the environment can result in eroding soils causing landslides; polluted waters, which can lead to waterborne illness; and increased traffic that fouls the air and affects respiratory health. Unplanned urban growth threatens the very land and waters that support human life and allow for economic growth.”
Mountain gorillas of Susa group ,one of gorilla families in Volcano National Park. Sam Ngendahimana.
Push to phase out single use plastics
On June 5, Rwanda joined the rest of the world to celebrate the annual World Environment Day (WED), an opportunity for the country to discuss the most pressing environmental issues.
In Kigali, WED was marked by a series of activities centred on the theme: “Beat Plastic Pollution. If you can’t reuse it, refuse it”.
These were part of the wider campaign to phase out the use of single use plastics, especially for beverages, to tackle plastic pollution.
The minister of environment is advocating for more use of glasses, water bottles and cups to reduce plastic waste.
Globally, almost 450 million tonnes of plastic is produced every year.
“It’s especially troubling that 40 per cent of plastic produced is packaging, used just once and then discarded. The scale of the problem can perhaps best be seen in the number of plastic bottles we use: globally, nearly a million plastic beverage bottles are sold every minute. Of this plastic waste, an estimated 13 million tons enter the world’s oceans each year,” the Minister of environment said.
By 2050, it is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.
Most plastics, according to United National Environment Programme, are made from fossil fuels like crude oil, which contributes to climate change.
Government is in the process of reviewing the plastics law to reduce single use plastics and improve efficiency and effectiveness of plastic recycling in the country.
“Single use plastics are damaging our rivers, wetlands, and farmlands. They also pose a risk to our health. Like all rubbish, plastic waste blocks drains and waterways. This increases the chances of flooding and provides breeding grounds for mosquitoes, raising the risk of malaria and other water borne diseases,” Biruta stated.
In May, REMA and the Ministry of Environment commissioned a study to identify sources of air pollution. Report cited vehicle emissions as well as cooking with charcoal and fire as the main air polluters in Rwanda.
The study analysed emissions from road traffic, power generation, to industries and homes. It was carried out by the Mott MacDonald, a UK based consultancy firm.
If the recommendations by the study are to be implemented, the Government could put in place strict rules that prohibit old vehicles from entering the country.
With more than half of the car in the country having been made before 1999, the average age of vehicle in Rwanda is currently 19 years.
“95.2 per cent of cars are more than ten years old which explains why they are the main pollutants,” the study established.
“Older vehicles make a large fraction of Rwandan fleet and are likely to emit more pollutants. It might be hard to lock out old private vehicles but of course the Government has a huge responsibility to apply strict import regulations on vehicles to address this issue,” Dr Jimmy Gasore, from REMA, said that,
The study also called for policies that ensure smooth traffic flows, arguing that idle cars in traffic jams have adverse effects on the quality of air. The proposals include introducing bus lanes to ease public transport.
Rise in Mountain Gorilla numbers
In June, it emerged that conservation efforts to save the endangered mountain gorillas were paying after a new census put the figure at over 1,004, up from 800 in 2011.
The revealed that some 604 mountain gorillas live in the Virunga Mountains—which cover Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda, up from 480.
The 604 mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) documented in a survey is the largest number of the specie ever recorded in the trans-boundary Virunga Massif, one of the two remaining areas where these critically endangered apes are found.