The first time I read a story about the possibility of selling bottled fresh air in one of UK’s tabloids, I dismissed it as a foolish idea advanced by someone smoking something which is not cigarettes. I was wrong. Some countries are actually now selling fresh air.
How this is done is very simple; well-to-do people living in countries whose air is heavily polluted are moving into low carbon cities just to enjoy the fresh air, coming with them, ‘air’ dollars.
How did we get here?
Let us look at the case of China. For over 30 years, China has been the factory of the world. It is difficult not to find a Made in China product in any household in Africa and other parts of the world including the heavily industrialised nations like the United States of America.
This historic economic growth has catapulted China to the world’s second biggest economy but it has come at a cost. The pollution levels in the heavily industrialised provinces in the South, East and West of China have greatly impacted on the quality of life.
You don’t have to look further than your house or office widow to realise this. The heavy smog has affected visibility; you need nose musk to walk on the streets.
Air quality has dropped substantially in many places suffering environmental pollution, and acid rain is becoming more severe despite the advancement of technology, especially in the southern part of China.
The old geezers will tell you that the food no-longer taste the same, alluding to the deteriorating quality of soil.
China has woken up to the threat with a realisation that the current development model is not sustainable, that it has exceeded the environment capacity. The logical move has been economic restructuring and new standards of air quality which are hard to implement in the short run.
Wang Fan and Lui Dongping, in their book, ‘Tales of Danish Zero Carbon’ note: “The earth is our only home and its resources are limited. To meet human development needs using its limited resources, we must fully develop a sustainable recycling system,”
China is now emphasising clean energy production and investment in renewable energy sources like wind and solar energy. Heavy polluting industries have been closed while others moved from cities like Beijing.
How can Rwanda avoid this path?
It has been a case of cleaning up after polluting for China but should Rwanda wait to follow the same pattern, especially as it aspires to industrialise? Rwanda will have to be wiser.
Rwanda can continue the path of industrialisation and urbanisation but still do so in a more sustainable manner.
Two important related events have happened over the past few days. Far away in New York, on September 26, on the sidelines of the Climate Change Summit last month, President Paul Kagame signed a major deal with the European Union.
The deal will see Rwanda, together with five other African countries benefit from a €3.3 billion ($4b) that will be invested in the development of sustainable sources of energy.
And, on October 2, this paper reported on a funding deal of $9.5million to Rwanda by the World Bank for the conservation of Gishwati and Mukura forests in north-western part of the country.
These are two landmark deals that are a big boost to the country’s target to promote green growth and sustainable development and environmental conservation as envisioned in the country’s second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy.
The country will need to mobilise more investment in clean and sustainable energy sources, for example, increasing the share of solar, methane power and hydro power.
The focus should not only lie on generation of clean energy but also on how to use the energy more efficiently. As Rwanda continues to urbanise, new high buildings are coming up. This is good progress by any measure but they can also be a source of pollution.
Figures show that buildings are the world’s largest contributor to carbon dioxide emissionss at 41 per cent, far more than transportation, at 33 per cent and manufacturing, at 26 per cent.
Our buildings need to be energy efficient, with proper waste treatment systems. So the next time we celebrate the inauguration of another high rise building it should be about how environmental friendly it is, not how much it glitters.
We will want to see more environment friendly modes of transport like reliable and convenient public buses, incorporating bicycle lanes and more pedestrian walks in future city road designs.
With low carbon emission, fresh air and proper tourism packaging, there is no reason why, for example, Chinese tourists have to trek to Seattle or Denmark to get fresh air. Rwanda can ensure a better living environment for its citizens but also attract tourists and earn ‘air dollars.’ It is no longer a pipe dream.
The writer is a Foreign Resident Correspondent in Beijing, China