Rwanda’s development, prosperity hinges on green growth, climate change resilience

Rwanda today joins the rest of the world to celebrate World Environment Day, an occasion that has grown in importance and is observed internationally to raise awareness about environment and climate change.

Caption: Model Green Villages are a testimony of how nature and human lives are interdependent

Today, Rwanda will join the rest of the world to mark the Environment Day- an opportunity to think of how our lives depend highly on a healthy environment.

By Mudingu Joseph

Rwanda today joins the rest of the world to celebrate World Environment Day, an occasion that has grown in importance and is observed internationally to raise awareness about environment and climate change.

So the world gathers today to celebrate the Environment Day (WED2017), Rwandans are encouraged to cherish the nature and actively contribute to its conservation given the vital role it plays in ensuring sustainability of life-systems.

This year’s Environment Day is marked under the theme: “Connecting People to Nature”- a theme which implores us to appreciate the beauty and importance of nature and to take forward the call to protect the Earth that we share.

“This year’s theme invites us to recognise the importance of nature in our lives. It is a wake-up call to all of us to re-think our relations to our dear earth and how we can better protect it. It further reminds us that our lives are heavily dependent on our environment and that ensuring a healthy nature will guarantee us healthy lives,” said Eng. Coletha U. RUHAMYA, the Director General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA).

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Caption:The National environment week 2017 was launched on May 27, 2017 in Nyandungu wetland

“We must all work together to find a way of maximising the benefits from our environment and our resources with harmless actions for today’s and the future generations- and, above all, to be part of efforts to protect it”, she added.

Rwanda, through its policies, laws and regulations, has made environment protection a key priority and a centre of its efforts in the quest for building a green, sustainable development.

Every year, from the last Saturday of May, Rwanda organises the National Environment Week which concludes with the celebration of the World Environment Day (WED) on 5th June.

For over a week, a range of activities that aim at promoting and raising awareness on best environment-friendly practices were conducted countrywide from 27th May to 5th June 2017 in all Districts across the country.

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These include among others; Community Work “Umuganda” that took place on May 27th across the country to mark the beginning of the National Environment Week, the launch of Nyandungu Wetland Recreation and Eco-Tourism Park Project, school arts competitions (songs, drawings and poems) on the WED theme and public lectures in Higher Learning Institutions were among the activities.

During the same period, activities aimed at promoting eco-tourisms, promoting renewable energy and Green Homes, mass clean up and greening campaigns were conducted across the country.  At National level, WED will today be celebrated during the community work “Umuganda” and a field tour of ecosystem rehabilitation activities implemented by the Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project, Phase two (LVEMP II).

LVEMP II is a five-year East African project aiming to address the social, economic and environmental impacts of environment degradation in the Lake Victoria Basin (LVB). The project is working to improve the environmental management of selected degraded sub-catchments for the benefits of communities who depend on the natural resources of the Lake Victoria Basin in Rwanda.
In Rwanda, the LVB is defined by the extent of the Akagera River catchment and covers an area of 21, 362 Km2 or 11% of the total area of the LVB.

The project, which is scheduled to conclude this year, has invested in the rehabilitation of major rivers in the country including Nyabarongo and its tributaries (Mwogo, Rukarara, Mbirurume, Mashyiga, Base, Yanze, among others), protection of hillside areas, the protection of Rweru-Akagera wetland complex and other hotspots in its 12 priority districts.

People and Nature

The celebration of the World Environment Day will feature an exhibition on best practices and gains made in environment protection in Rwanda. The exhibition will bring together government institutions including Civil Society Organizations, Community Cooperatives and Private Sector to showcase best practices in environmental sustainability, green innovation for environmental protection/ conservation and climate change resilience. The World Environment Day is the biggest annual event for positive environmental action and takes place every 5 June since 1972.

This year’s theme, “Connecting People to Nature” invites all of us to think about how we are part of nature and how intimately we depend on it. 

This year’s theme invites us to recognise the importance of nature in our lives and is a wake-up call to all of us to re-think our relations to our dear earth and how we can better protect it.

The theme is a reminder to all that human lives are heavily dependent on environment and that ensuring a healthy nature guarantees healthy lives.

The recent growing environmental problems such as global warming are helping us to understand the countless ways in which natural systems support our own prosperity and well-being.

For example, farmers (who make the majority of the Rwandan population) depend on nature (land and water, mostly) in farming; forests act as vast stores for greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide for us to breathe good air while parks, lakes and other attractions provide us with unique entertainment experiences while generating revenues for the country’s development.

Majority of Rwanda spend their days ‘connected with nature’ and their survival depends on natural water supplies and nature provides their livelihoods in the form of fertile soil. For Rwandan farmers, when nature suffers, their lives are directly threatened.

Nature also supports efforts driven to achieve sustainable development. Recent figures indicate that revenues from tourism activities have allowed the completion of more than 400 community projects including hospitals, schools, business development centres and water supply systems for communities living around National Parks over the past 12 years.

Green economy

In its pursuit to achieve sustainable development, Rwanda has positioned environment protection and nature conservation at the centre of its efforts.

Rwanda’s efforts to promote renewable energy, through large scale and off-grid solar, hydro and waste to energy, the promotion of green energy and innovations in the areas of energy use, among others, show that the country is already making the shift away from high emission power production.

Adopted in 2011, Rwanda’s National Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy (GGCRS) has 14 programs of actions including Sustainable intensification of small scale farming; agricultural diversity of markets; sustainable land use management; integrated water resource management; low carbon energy grid; small-scale energy access in rural areas; disaster management and disease prevention;  green industry and private sector development; climate compatible mining, resilient transport systems; low carbon urban systems; ecotourism, conservation and Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES); sustainable forestry; agroforestry and biomass; climate data and projections.

The strategy has been developed with a vision in mind for Rwanda to be a developed climate-resilient and low-carbon economy by 2050.
Since 2015, Rwanda has held high-level policy dialogues on Rwanda’s green growth and climate resilience strategies to review the progress the country has made toward sustainable green growth and climate resilience and assess the challenges facing it on this path as well as to chart the way forward.

Green villages

In order to respond to climate change and community’s concerns, Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) in partnership with other government and non-governmental organisations and actors initiated Green Villages across the country to relocate the poorest families who are also the most vulnerable to climate change.

The villages integrate greening components such as rainwater harvesting system and waste treatment systems that provides biogas energy for cooking and fertilizers to boost agricultural yield for the residents. Every house in the green villages is connected to electricity, among other components.

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Caption:Gashaki Green Village

A number of Green villages have been built by REMA and partners across the country including Rweru Green Village (64 houses) in Bugesera District, Gashaki Green Village (50 houses) in Musanze District, Gacaca Green Village (16 houses) Rugarama Green Village (76 houses) in Burera District, Bugarama Green Village (34 houses) in Rusizi District, Rubaya Green Village (45 houses) in Gicumbi District and Muyebe Green Village (105 houses) in Muhanga District, among others. The Model Villages are home to families who were relocated from disaster prone areas.

Increased agricultural productivity, resulting from rainwater harvesting, the use of biogas residue as a fertilizer, tree planting and terracing, has increased food security for these communities. Having water closer to hand and biogas for cooking has saved time, and women and children can now spend their time on more productive activities including school work.

Rwanda’s Green Villages are demonstrating how integrated sustainable natural resource management can help reduce poverty, enhance environmental sustainability, empower communities and improve quality of life.

Adoption of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol

In October 2016, Rwanda successfully hosted a ground-breaking international meeting that passed the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which will avoid up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming by the end of the century. As host and president of the meeting, Rwanda was instrumental in bringing together 197 countries to adopt what is hailed as the single largest contribution the world has made towards keeping global temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius.

President Paul Kagame’s Champion of the Earth Award for Policy Leadership

On 3rd December 2016, the United Nations Environment Programme honoured President Paul Kagame with the 2016 Champion of the Earth Award for Policy Leadership. The prize is the United Nation’s highest environmental honour and was given to President Kagame in recognition of Rwanda’s outstanding achievements in environmental protection

Ratification and Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement

In October 2016, Rwanda joined more than 80 nations to ratify the Paris Agreement on Climate Change – a historic international treaty that aims to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius with an ambition to keep increases below 1.5 degrees. The Paris Agreement will provide the much-needed international support to help vulnerable countries like Rwanda to both mitigate further growth in greenhouse gases emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The Paris Agreement entered into force on November, 4, 2016 during the UN Climate Talks in Morocco at which Rwanda was hailed as a model for climate action.

Air pollution control

The adoption of the law governing the preservation of air quality and prevention of air pollution in Rwanda marked a big step towards preventing air pollution in the country. The law was published in the official gazette in June 2016. In partnership with Rwanda National Police the Ministry of Natural Resources launched in 2013, an awareness campaign to control vehicle emissions and machines using petroleum products, a move aimed at preventing air pollution at an early stage. In June 2016, mobile car emission test REMA is slated to install an air pollution monitoring system in Kigali and across the country which will generate reliable data to inform decision making

Ecosystems restoration

Ruhondo, Burera, Mugesera and Rweru, Karago Lakes were rehabilitated and their buffer zones were protected. A 5-year project under REMA “Supporting Ecosystem Rehabilitation and Protection for Pro-Poor Green Growth Program” (SERPG) that aims to preserve the country’s natural resources and boost its green economy was launched in 2014 in Bugesera for the rehabilitation of Cyohoha Lake using a community-focused approach.

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Caption:Removal of water hyacinth in Cyohoha lake 

The Rweru-Mugesera wetlands complex was rehabilitated under support of the Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project Phase 2 (LVEMP II) and today the complex is in the process to be designated as a RAMSAR Site.

The rehabilitation of Mount Rubavu by levelling the steep slopes into horizontal terraces for soil erosion control and planting of ornamental tree species was done under REMA. Today, Mont Rubavu is being turned into an eco-tourism site, managed by local communities themselves.

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A forest landscape restoration program under the Landscape Approach to Forest Restoration and Conservation (LAFREC) Project worth 9,5 M USD is under implementation in the Western Province for Forest-friendly and climate-resilient restoration of Gishwati-Mukura landscape. The main component of this project include the Upgrading and sustainable management of Gishwati and Mukura Forest Reserve, forest restoration and land husbandry in the Gishwati-Mukura landscape, sustainable and resilient livelihoods; flood forecasting and preparedness among others.

With financial support from FONERWA, REMA is also working to turn Nyandugu Wetland located in the heart of Kigali City into a state-of-the-art ecotourism park. The Nyandugu Urban Wetland Ecotourism Project (NUWEP) will cost 2.4 billion Rwandan Francs for a period of five years.

In addition, with the aim to control erosion and improve agriculture production, hillside areas were protected- mostly with progressive or bench terraces and agro-forestry- across the country. Major river courses were- and continue to be- protected with the aim of reducing their pollution.