Kamanzi speaks out on ‘Climate Change’ and Rwanda’s bargain at Copenhagen
The Copenhagen summit on ‘Climate Change’ is scheduled for next month. Expectations are high that this ground breaking conferences adopts a comprehensive pact with strategies on mitigating effects of Climate Change. Ahead of this conference, The New Times’ Edwin Musoni interviewed Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Stanislas Kamanzi on Rwanda’s position on this subject. Below are excerpts.
Soon Rwanda will conduct a national tree planting week, how unique will this particular event be?
We have counted almost 20 million trees that are going to be planted and these encompasses forest species and agro forest species. We are hoping to cover almost 18,000 hectares throughout the country.
This event comes ahead of forthcoming Copenhagen conference on climate change; I think this will be a very important contribution of Rwanda in terms of compensating the carbon footprints of those who will be traveling to Copenhagen.
Definitely there will be a meeting on Carbon dioxide and planting trees means providing future carbon sinks and I want to use this opportunity to dedicate this tree planting event to that endeavor in terms of contribution to emissions of greenhouse gasses.
But, as far as we are concerned as Rwanda, this is going to contribute to increasing our area covered by forests which is in line with our EDPRS and Vision 2020 target where we plan by 2012, to increase our forest coverage by 3.5% and by another 10 percent in 2020.
Does the country have a forestry recovery programme?
We can’t say forestry recovery programme because as part of our land use and forestry policies, Rwanda has set up a clear vision with regards to bridging the gap between the rational needs from the forests and what can be availed in terms of forest production.
The need mount to 8 million cubic meters and the production available amount to 2 million cubic meters. This means that we need to fill this gap as quick as possible so whichever forest we talk about here is not about recovery its about bridging that very important gap.
Talking about the formalization of the policy into an implementable plan, currently we are working on a national forest plan which would be based on the already finalized district forest management plans.
In addition to that, we have also proceeded with the national forestry inventory which encompassed forests that cover over 1.5 hectares.
It is based on that fact that we are going to elaborate our national forestry plan which will give a plan for the future interventions.
I want to also insist that forestry has suffered a lot in the past as a result to the fast growing population in the country and competition with other land uses especially agriculture which has been very instrumental to development.
You know we have many places that were initially covered by national forests but were unfortunately cleared to accommodate human settlement and agricultural land uses here I would mention the case of Gishwati forest.
We all know that until mid 90s it was covering a huge area and now it is almost 1200 hectares which is a very small area compared to the initial surface area.
There have been reports that Rwanda loses about $2.6m annually due to the fact that 80 percent of her inhabitants utilize firewood for domestic purposes. Would you confirm these reports?
Unfortunately this has been a total wrong representation of facts by the media. The figures that were cited in terms of a loss came out when we were emphasizing the contribution of forestry towards national economy.
Annually forestry contributes to the national GDP a tune of Rwf 2.6 billion which amounts to 5 percent of the national GDP.
Definitely people do need wood and charcoal for domestic use and it has a value and we want to make it clear that the perception is not about the loss linked with tree felling but instead it should be perceived as earnings and a contribution to the growth of the country.
However, I would like to make another clarification and that is the objective of forestry development. On one hand we want to protect our environment but one should also look at forests from a financial point of view—it’s an investment from which one should expect returns.
A tree grows and at a certain time it needs to be harvested for different purposes like production of biomass energy and other customary uses that generate money.
So felling trees is not a problem, the problem would be illegal or inappropriate felling of trees if you wipe out all the forest in the country that would a catastrophe but forest harvesting within a planned framework is very much welcome. Actually that is something that we have always highlighted as an incentive for investors henceforth relieving government since it has been the main player in forestry sector management.
Do you have cases of illegal or inappropriate felling of trees?
Yes, it has happened unfortunately in these past days and I would say it’s unfortunate because most of most of these inappropriate cutting down of trees is linked to some development projects and programmes such as crop intensification and the new grouped settlement (imidugudu).
Talking about development, Rwanda is aimed at sustainable development and sustainable development should be based on sound environment if you don’t take care of your environment you can’t achieve sustainable development.
So, this is an opportunity for one to call upon people to stop illegal activities that hinder development.
There are people that were settled in the former Gishwati area, some of these people have since refused to be relocated, how is the government approaching this issue?
By the time you are asking me this question they are being relocated and as of Monday last week we were remaining with 19 families that were being prepared for relocation.
So this something that has already been sorted out and presently the people that used to stay in the forest area are now building up their houses in their new sites.
Are there plans to recover the lost part of Gishwati forest?
There was an assessment that was carried out and it indicated that there are zones which are referred to as very high risk zones that were previously used for agricultural and settlement purposes.
The plan is now afforesting them systematically. It unfortunate we will not be able to afforest them with indigenous species but we are going to use exotic species that are suitable to those areas.
On the issue of global climate change, what signs is Rwanda beginning to experience?
We have been witnessing a lot of disturbances in our usual weather trends with delays in rainfall seasons or sometime a situation where there is too much rain in a very short period or lengthy droughts.
In the Western Province we have not had a single droplet of rain in a month of November which is not normal.
Now, if we talk of delayed rainfall, we are talking about problems in agriculture especially in this situation where our agriculture is fully dependent on rain. Same if the dry season comes earlier than expected.
The west has been called upon to financially compensate developing nations for the damages caused by climate change, what is the official stand of Rwanda in this debate?
You might be aware that Africa is going to Copenhagen with one single voice. Each each country has its own vision with regards to climate regime.
As far as Rwanda is concerned, we believe that the world should seriously embark on reducing substantially green house gasses.
This goes by adopting green technologies and other production practices that are environmental friendly.
This is something that we will enforce. Some countries what to put it as a condition that European countries should cut emission and even compensate for what they have caused as damage in the past for them to be able to embark on that same trend.
The issue of compensation shouldn’t be a condition. People have to go in a synergic manner in making sure that this is dealt with and avoid going into a blame game.
So in Rwanda we think that unconditionally mitigating climate change is paramount for our world to be able to overcome the negative impact of climate change.
As far as we are concerned, we endeavor indeed to have this translated into concrete actions-ensuring that we go green production and protect our environment.
So what is the position of Rwanda on this issue of compensation?
Well, let’s not talk about it in terms of compensation because it’s not that easy for some people to disperse money to other countries given the nature of technicalities involved in this subject.
Instead we believe that that there cooperation opportunities by way of equity and social economic justice where by these countries contributing immensely to pollution of the atmosphere partner with developing countries which don’t pollute.
They would partner in terms of helping in developing adaptation programs that would assist in coping with the negative impact of climate change.
This goes with financing those programs. We are talking about agriculture that depends on rainfall---if we can’t have predictable rainfall regime we should embark on something else that would help us sustain our agriculture and this would be for instance by way of irrigation schemes which are very costly.
We would expect developed countries to assist countries that have such programs so that they can be financed in a sustainable manner.
Now, how do we ensure that emissions are not increasing? You go by proper technologies which unfortunately we don’t have in this part of the world.
When we talk about mitigation we are talking about developing carbon sinks which need to be protected and managed in an appropriate manner. Therefore instead of talking about writing cheques for countries we should instead be talking about partnership.
How sure are you that in Copenhagen you will have a deal? And if you don’t how sure are that you will have partnership?
Sure, the level at which the negotiations are indicates that it will be unlikely to have a legally binding deal. Now, if the West decided to ignore the effects of climate change, their economies will definitely keep on growing but until when?
If you don’t do it now then you spend a lot of money and resources in future trying to clean up what you messed up.
I don’t think the populations of the developed world will always support their governments in this endeavor and for this to be fixed there will be some costs.
So the most sustainable way to deal with this issue is going by those partnership---get the developed world to know that they need to go as one and prevent those climate-related catastrophes from happening.
Developed world should have interest in cooperating with the developing world because it’s a moral obligation.
So the logic here is for partnerships to be built up rather than for each single geographic or economical entity to go their way. That won’t be healthy and it will not be in the interest of either parties.
Global leaders have been very optimistic about Copenhagen but in case there is no deal reached, what will be the next option?
Whether there is a deal in Copenhagen or not, Rwanda will be going for that and will promote any new approach to deal with climate change.
On this issue of the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement what is the current state of signing the agreement?
It is unfortunate that it remains a stand still. We had hoped that since May that we would move quickly following the extraordinary meeting of the Nile Council of Ministers that took place in Kinshasa and one that took place in Alexandria, Egypt in July.
From Kinshasa we had decided that we go ahead and sign the agreement as it had been agreed upon by the negotiators and endorsed by the council of ministers except as regards article 14 b that was claimed by Egypt and Sudan.
Kinshasa had provided for a room where by this outstanding issue would be discussed in a way that would accommodate each and everyone’s interests.
Unfortunately, later on Egypt and Sudan disassociated themselves with the decision from Kinshasa. Since we are looking forward to a cooperative framework agreement that takes on board all the partners within the NBI, in Alexandria we had given ourselves an additional six months for all the countries to consider ironing out their own issues and see how they can adhere to the general consensus and this came up as Egypt was taking over the new chair of the Nile Council of Ministers.
Unfortunately, what I observed recently is that the initiative or the way leading to concluding the negotiations is splitting into two different directions.
On one hand we have seven downstream countries which believe that we should go ahead and sing the agreement and have the Nile Basin Commission established as a permanent commission. On the other hand we have Egypt and Sudan still stuck on these historical rights.
From Alexandria we had also mandated our technical advisors, together with the negotiators to come up with clear proposals leading to the final signature of the CFA which we had hoped would take place in February. Their team met Kampala sometime last month and unfortunately the same difficulties arose.
Precisely, we are having on one side a group of countries that are willing to proceed with the negotiation and on the other side two countries that are not willing to go by the same direction.
Our hope was that Egypt in their position as the chair on the Nile-Com would actually be cooperative and clear the way towards the signing but there indications that it won’t happen easily.
What if these difficulties persist, would the seven countries go ahead and sign without Egypt and Sudan?
It is something that can be considered, why not, provided that it is still in line with the international regulations on trans-boundary water bodies.
It is something that can be considered but we hope we don’t go that direction, either way we can think of another arrangement which would be joined later by countries that want to cooperate with those initiating it.
Don’t you think it’s high time you involve Heads of States to take on the negotiations of this particular agreement?
You see, the nature of the treaty is much more based on technical grounds. It has no political considerations that would involve Heads of States.
When we talk about water resources within the Basin, there is no way you can deal with that through politically based conceptions, it doesn’t work.
Its technical and we have to go about it technically. The involvement of Heads of States would come in to bless what technicians have done.
We are pushing so hard to have work done in a more appropriate way and we don’t want our Heads of States to handle matters that are supposed to have been solved on a technical point of view.