Sir David King is the UK Foreign Secretary Special Representative for Climate Change, a position he assumed in September 2013. Previously King served as the government chief scientific advisor from 2000 – 2007, during which time he raised awareness of the need for governments to act on climate change and was instrumental in creating the Energy Technologies Institute. King was in the country for a two-day visit, last week. He spoke to The New Times’ Solomon Asaba on a wide range of issues, including environmental resilience strategies.
Why do you think climate change should be a concern for most countries around the world?
The British government believes that climate change is the biggest challenge that civilisation has met. And for the past 12 years, we put full-time climate attachés around the world plus a British International climate fund worth $7 billion to facilitate a transition into a green economy.
However, besides Britain the transition into a low carbon economy is necessary for all countries and we shall engage them to achieve an agreement on Climate in Paris come December this year.
This year is important for our future than any year since 1945 when the United Nations was established. I know East Africa very well and particularly Rwanda where I have spent five years before and we all need this.
For long, global warming has been an issue and I believe the aim of the development goals, is to see a decline in environment degradation around the globe for which Rwanda is a part.
Would you say we are on course for this development?
It’s important to understand that development in all parts of the world cannot be separated into single pieces, we have to look at development holistically and this is something that includes climate resilience, managing the transition towards a low carbon economy as well as managing climate variability.
We have to pull this together with our partners in development. The worry is that if you do not include climate change in the process of development, cannot guarantee managing improved wellbeing of humans in the future.
European countries are slowly adopting the Doha Agreement on Climate change yet this came as part of the efforts to reduce harmful emissions, what else are you doing to reduce these emissions in the atmosphere.
Personally, I have been involved in the drafting of British policies and I have worked with several governments, the [Tony] Blair government, the [Gordon] Brown government and now the present coalition government and I can say, the European Union has essentially followed the British position.
We declare that we will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 compared with 1990, we have for example already reduced this by 29 per cent today and by 2028 we will be at 52 per cent reduction.
Additionally, we are already on the path of massively reducing our dependency on fossil fuels and switching to alternative energy sources. We are also not only creating electricity from non fossil fuel but aiming at moving the ground transport away from using oil so that, by 2050, powering ground transport will be from electricity on the grid and also have vehicles using electricity.
The campaign seems to be about saving energy, how helpful is the energy efficient gain adopted in Europe to Rwandans?
Right across Europe, we have achieved the process of energy efficiency gain which is a straight forward win-win situation. When you use less electricity you create less carbon dioxide and in the process you save money.
We are in the vanguard of this process, that involves commitment of 80 per cent reduction captured in a climate change act of parliament of 2008, that commits all future governments in Britain to stay on this path.
However, the European Union has declared that we will reduce it at least by 40 per cent by 2030. We introduced effective subsidies for renewable high tech, just like the Germany introduced it in 1989 in form of feeding tariffs.
This means if you have a house and you produce electricity, you can sell it to the grid and you are guaranteed a high price. As a result of that, the cost of installation has come down from 70 dollars a watt to 0.7 dollars a watt, now East Africans can install that because the European taxpayer has produced a lot through a competitive market hence bringing the cost of installation down.
What is your advice on the industrial diversification that governments in East Africa are promoting yet sometimes they come at a cost of environmental safety?
We are not suggesting anything to bring down the rate of economic improvement in Rwanda or Africa. Our programmes focus on switching from fossil fuel since the cost of installing renewable energy sources is now cheaper.
In sunny parts of the world, especially within the tropics, we can already roll out cheaper electricity with good efficient smart grids. We are also planning to roll-out cheaper storage grids to promote a new form of energy as one way to create a market that is carbon-dioxide free.
There is a programme you are currently working on to mitigate climate change around the globe, how does this programme work and how do you intend to push it and how do we benefit?
We have been passing the global applet programme which is designed to create a sense of excitement around innovation into low carbon energy provisions. It is to coordinate the activities of governments around the world in research demonstration, all the way to bring even private companies around the world on board, it is a big project that is worth 15 billion dollars a year.
We know that here you have led the way in banking and payments using smart cards, it is still possible for a real opportunity here to leap from the old technologies and spearhead the development of new technologies.
How possible is climate resilience on a continent that is considered a dumping ground for electronic wastes?
There is a strict set of regulations in the EU, we control behaviour of our private companies meaning they cannot pollute the environment without penalties. We would encourage African governments to follow that regulatory behavior.
Climate resilience also calls for the impact coming down in a few decades, so country by country we need to develop the best possible strategy for the change. The first thing is to know what the impact will be in Rwanda or any other country before understanding it. We don’t need to isolate climate change from other development activities.
How do you perceive the environment in Kigali for the past two days you been around?
I am engaged in the development of future cities, where we can work with cities around the world to develop human well being within a green economy. There are one million people in Kigali today, probably in 2030, there will be five million people, which calls for more development.
But there is a real opportunity to create a city that will become big and sustainable. I know Kigali well and I love it. One of the strange things is that many cities of Europe were designed when most people had no cars.
Because the most expensive houses are in high density living areas, people are paying a lot of money to live there because it is convenient in terms of walking distance, we can take this model in Kigali so that in future since it’s still both very beautiful for walking and cycling.
I think Kigali can become an epitome of modernisation in Africa as long as the best practices are adapted from around the world. For example, former Barcelona mayor is now living in Nairobi we can work with him and find out how he handled the transformation, also the Mayor of Bogota is moving around the world, we can work with him to find examples of best practices.
Is there any plan between the UK and the Rwanda government to work on climate resilience?
Rwanda was the first developing country to have a policy for the green growth and climate resilience in 2010 after Ethiopia. The British government worked with Rwanda for more than five months and the policy is embedded in every development policy here. We want Rwanda to be the model for the development of the green global economy.
The Rwandan government has already embarked on these policies, if you buy diesel from Middle East as it comes through Mombasa, you make the most expensive electricity, the indirect cost is the road damage that makes it more costly.
The alternative is already happening, developing geothermal energy, solar energy a primary energy source within Rwanda, implying that you are saving foreign currency.
At the moment there about 160MW of maximum electricity but the ambition is to go up to the gigawatt. If it goes hand in hand with the economy it will go with the rest even other activities like agriculture like the one cow per person have to be climate resilience. Policy still stretches into every part of development for example how you can create homes that do not require air conditioners.
Isn’t there a threat of electronic waste now that ICT is growing in Rwanda since there is no treatment factory for e waste?
The fact that Rwanda is a center for ICT activities, electronic recycling would be an important activity. When you are economically developing its important to look at the repair but this is still also a problem in the developed countries that are now looking at a circular economy which focuses more on reuse.