Is pollution-free environment achievable?

Pollution, by definition, is something introduced into the environment that harmfully disrupts it.

While nature sometimes produces its own damaging pollutants – wildfires send up billows of smoke and ash, volcanoes belch noxious gases – humans are responsible for the lion’s share of the pollution plaguing the planet today.

However, humans can take action and turn things around.

Just last week, Rwanda introduced electric cars, as one of the most recent strategic innovations to enhance environmental protection.

The launch of electric vehicles, introduced through a partnership between Volkswagen and Siemens, is a hugely welcome development to our country. 

They will contribute to existing measures for environmentally friendly transport services. Perhaps, little by little it will abate air pollution level.

A couple of months ago, the government made a similar initiative where it signed an agreement with a Dutch NOTS Solar Lamps Company to start a solar factory.

The aim is to mitigate power shortage to many households, especially for those who may not afford hydroelectricity.

Aside from being an alternative solution to hydroelectricity, solar energy is one of the forms of renewable and is a scientifically-recommended mitigating solution to climate change.

Harmful carbon dioxide and methane emissions from fossil fuels, our traditional energy source, are leading contributors to global warming and decreased air quality.

But generating electricity with solar panels produces no greenhouse gasses whatsoever.

As a golden rule, every States has a duty to promote activities specially designed to environmental protection as well as to protect individuals from environmental degradation.

Such an obligation primarily flows from a constitutional right under Article 22 of the Rwandan Constitution, which say ‘everyone has the right to live in a clean and healthy environment’.

The constitution places a duty on relevant State authorities to care for the environment.

The right to a safe, healthy and ecologically balanced environment as a human right in itself, but entails the duty to protection.

This duty is equally reflected in under Articles 6 (right to life) and 17 (protection of the family) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

To this effect, recently, the UN Human Rights Committee urged UN member states to live up to their regional and international obligations with respect to environmental protection.

That any such a violation infringes on people’s fundamental right to clean environment.

It was underlined that strengthening the recognition of environmental protection as an element of human rights protection.

Given that it’s incredibly indispensable to be in a pollution-free environment, the government has developed pieces of legislation and policy responsive to air pollution.

For example, the new law n°48/2018 of 13/08/2018 on environment, under Article 15, says “any installation likely to create risks or cause pollution, vehicles and engine driven machines, commercial, craft or agricultural activities must be conducted in accordance with technical principles established by competent authorities in order to protect and preserve the atmosphere.”

Arguably, the provision invokes the application of the polluter pays principle that if anyone degrades environment must pay the price. The polluter may either be punished, or be ordered to restitute or rehabilitate it.

Additionally, the principle requires to prepare environmental impact assessment for activities that, in all probability, have adverse effects on the environment.

More particularly, the law n° 18/2016 of 18/05/2016 governing the preservation of air quality and prevention of air pollution in Rwanda determines modalities for the preservation of air quality and prevention of air pollution.

In order to abate pollution effects, this law sets out air quality standards such as prescribe criteria and procedure for measuring air quality and air pollutants; establish ambient air quality standards in order to curb the impact of air pollutants; establish occupational air quality standards for various sources of air pollution which can cause harm to public health; establish quality standards that regulate emissions of air pollutants from different sources contributing to air pollution; establish specific quality standards that regulate industrial activities with a view to avoid or minimize environmental pollution that may result from such industries; determine stack heights of chimneys for air emissions; and prescribe any matter in relation with or affecting air emission quality standards.

To this effect, everyone is duty-bound to safeguard and preserve the air quality. In other words, a person whose activity pollutes air is under obligation to comply with the air quality standards, as noted above.

For compliance purposes, as we’re all beneficiaries to clean environment, we’re, therefore, required to take action for full enjoyment of the right to a healthy environment.

Moreover, adequate measures indicate how certain activities would abate and eliminate the emission of air pollution.

These include the use of the relevant equipment, facilities and trained personnel for dealing with the emission of air pollutants.

Even as the government has done enough to put in place relevant legislations and policies, achieving air quality would need synergized efforts—by the government agencies, private entities, NGOs and individuals—to implement these measures. The more these players re-commit to this noble cause, the more likely to achieve the overall objective.

And without such an undertaking, achieving quality air would prove elusive. Here, the principle of cooperation, recognised in environmental protection, ought to apply.

The writer is a law expert.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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