As the world marks World Cities Day today, The New Times’ Minnie Karanja spoke to Innocent Kabenga, Country Representative, Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) – an institution which is supporting the government of Rwanda to develop the six secondary cities using green urbanization models.
Why is it important for Rwanda to push for green urbanization?
Rwanda is one of the least urbanized countries in the world and this actually presents an opportunity for the country to avoid mistakes made by other developed countries in failing to optimize the benefits of green urbanization in their early stages of urbanization.
For instance, one of the issues that many governments have had to deal with is expensive compensations to private property which is located on land where certain public infrastructures should have been built. Had these governments considered green urbanization in the early phases of developing their cities, they would have properly planned their city for energy efficiencies, inclusivity and sustainability.
With a high population and urbanization growth rate, Rwanda should adopt the principles of green growth in order to sustainably cope with the limited land and natural resources. Already the government here is encouraging urbanization and by using the green growth principles in key urbanization pillars as recommended in the National Roadmap for Developing Secondary Cities, it will promote energy efficiency and efficient use of natural resources.
How strategic is Rwanda’s plan to develop Secondary Cities?
Secondary cities were in existence before they were even nominated. In the case of Rwanda we have one big city: Kigali which has a lot of pull factors compared to other cities and towns in Rwanda. Now because of this, investors establish their businesses in Kigali; therefore the workforce converges in Kigali. In the end we realize that Kigali is getting congested and we need to reduce pressure on the city.
The secondary cities are intended to decentralize development throughout the country by making them favorable for investment.The cities were selected based on many factors such as geographical position and future economic growth outlook. For instance when you look at Nyagatarte, Rusizi and Rubavu, they are all on the border and there is very good potential for cross-border trade and actually this is happening albeit on a small scale. We believethat if they got more infrastructure and more amenities they would be able to scale up the businesses.
When you look at other cities like Muhanga and Huye, these are cities that are really growing and some are traditionally known for specific attractions. Huye for instance is known as the knowledge hub because of the presence of the University of Rwanda.
GGGI is therefore working with the government to develop green urbanization plans that will create the necessary pull factors for private investment.
How can Rwanda make sure that urban development is inclusive and sustainable?
Everything starts with planning. When you plan for a green city you have to think about the economic pillars of the city and make sure that they are non-pollutant to the environment.
When talking about inclusivity, inthe planning process we have to recognize that there are mixed communities living in the city coming from different layers of social classes ranging from the rich, middle class and poor who all need housing, transport and other public and social amenities and services. So the inclusiveness takes into consideration how all these people can effectively access these easily without polluting the environment unnecessarily either by walking, biking or driving only short distances.
Is green urbanization all about environmental protection?
Green urbanization encompasses both economic and environmental aspects. Most of the time when countries plan for their cities, they tend to consider economic benefits more than the environmental benefits.
What we do not realize is that majority of what we use as input for economic development comes from the environment. We pollute the water and cut down trees without planting others and after some time we arrive at a point where it becomes very expensive to correct such mistakes and sometimes it is irreversible like when water bodies completely dry up.
For Rwanda, the landscape of the forested hills which are the sources of our water and the wetlands which help to control floods,these are obviously very crucial to human existence. We hence need to ensure that the natural environment is well taken care of in the planning and implementation phases of urbanization.
There are natural forests and wetlands that are in the city too and can be conserved with proper planning. These can become a source of revenue for the government when conserved in a way that attracts tourists – both local and international.
How are you engaging the private sector to drive green urbanization agenda?
GGGI in collaboration with Singapore BCA is supporting RHA to prepare Minimum Compliance Criteria and Standards for Green Building which will be included into the building code.
We are also engaging architects, engineers and different ministries to explain the concept and benefits of green building. We have completed the draft and we are presenting to government and stakeholders.
We are working with architects and engineers on common understanding that we should build according to the climate of Rwanda, and take advantage of it to have buildings which take full advantage of natural resources and are energy efficient.
Climate financing is a global challenge. What role does GGGI play to support developing countries to get financing?
Financing is very central to achieving green urbanization. Generally there are a lot of risks when it comes to green investment because most of these are public investments. While GGGI is not a financing body, we help governments to identify bankable green projects for financing through our Green Investment Solution (GIS) department.
We work with international financing bodies such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF) which was set up for the purpose of financing countries so that they can meet sustainable development goals and to deliver on the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in the Paris agreement.
We are also support governments where we work to establish National Green Fund vehicles. The kind of funds like Rwanda’s Green Fund (FONERWA) that is dedicated to green investments, green energy, efficient waste and water management, clean transport systems and others.
What green projects has GGGI identified in Rwanda to secure funding?
We are supporting the Ministry of Infrastructure (MININFRA) to secure funds to start implementation work on the six secondary cities and prepare a detailed climate resilient master-plans.
We have also prepared a project for Rubavu Secondary city. We realized that Mt. Rubavu could be a very good tourist attraction site given the Lake surrounding it. This can be achieved if it is well planned to include other recreational facilities in a way that takes advantage of nature without destroying it.
Moving forward we are identifying different projects from other secondary cities to see how we can help the country mobilize resources.
How is GGGI working with FORERWA?
We provide a Technical Support to the Fund’s facility which would enable the fund to strengthen its current demand led project finance as well as move to a more programmatic and strategic approach. The support has led to the development of a business and sustainability plan to enable the fund position itself as the main institution to receive and channel green funds both from domestic and international sources.
What challenges has GGGI faced in implementing the green cities concept in Rwanda?
The main challenge in the beginning had to do with the fact that green urbanization is a new concept here as urbanization is just coming up
Secondly, is that there is some sort of impatience as people want to see results on the ground and do not immediately understand that the process of securing funds takes times as well as implementation.
The time is right for Rwanda to take advantage of green growth and we are glad that the political will to support green growth and green urbanization is there and we have great understanding of our mission and work from all the government institutions and agencies. The green growth strategy prepared in 2011 and also inclusion of green urbanization in EDPRS II are testament of the government’s commitment.