Seven ways you can help mitigate climate change

Often times, issues relating to climate change, green growth and pollution feel like rocket science to many. With terms like ‘Co2’, ‘greenhouse gas’ and ‘climate resilience’, it can be hard to get your head around how hotter weather will affect you and what you would do about it. In this article, we take you through steps through which global warming is affecting Rwanda and what we can do to respond to this challenge.

Often times, issues relating to climate change, green growth and pollution feel like rocket science to many.
With terms like ‘Co2’, ‘greenhouse gas’ and ‘climate resilience’, it can be hard to get your head around how hotter weather will affect you and what you would do about it. In this article, we take you through steps through which global warming is affecting Rwanda and what we can do to respond to this challenge.

Since 1970, Rwanda has experienced an average temperature increase of 1.4°C. This is higher than the global average, and we can expect an average increase in temperature of up to 2.5°C by the 2050s if humans continue to emit dangerous warming gases into the atmosphere.

The Rwanda Meteorology Agency recently reported that 2015 and 2016 were the hottest years in the last 50 years since they started keeping records and that they predict higher temperatures going forward.

These changes in the climate have led to wide- ranging impacts such severe flooding that has claimed lives and destroyed property. It has also resulted in prolonged droughts as many farmers in many parts of the Eastern Province will tell you.

Information from the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs shows that between January and June of this year, disasters destroyed 2,154 houses, 55 classrooms, about 2,225 hectares of crops, 14 bridges and 22 kilometres of roads.

Many of these disasters can be traced back to changes in our climate, fueled by human activity which produces carbon dioxide, methane and other powerful global warming gases.

Though Rwanda is yet to publish a comprehensive report on how much the country has spent on addressing climate change, Rwanda Green Fund (FONERWA) has disbursed about Rwf30 billion in the last five years to various environmental protection projects, from renewable energy and sustainable building materials to landscape restoration and e-waste processing.

While there is a dedicated effort to address climate change, there are things the public and private sectors, civil society and all of us can do to reduce our impact on climate change and be prepared for its impacts.

Seven ways you can help mitigate climate change effects

1. Smart and green transportation

Around the world, transport contributes about a quarter of the pollution that causes climate change. This comes from cars, trucks, buses, planes and ships burning fuel made from oil. Building a sustainable economy means ensuring transportation is clean and green.

In Rwanda, the City of Kigali has a plan to increase public transport options. The city is also building bike lanes and sidewalks with every new road. This will help get people out of their cars and use bikes or walk, which produces no pollution at all!

But to truly become a green city, Kigali and secondary cities, can invest in smart public transport such as electric buses and motorbikes. This would help to reduce the country’s contribution to climate change, and improve the quality of our air.

For individuals, think about reducing your car usage or travel with your friends - a trend called ‘car-pooling’. Those who fly can think about how they can reduce their carbon footprint by flying less, reducing stopovers and offsetting their emissions by planting trees– an option offered by many airlines.

2. Buy Made-in-Rwanda

The process of making a product and then transporting it to the point of sale requires a lot of energy. When we buy products made far away, they come with the hidden cost of more emissions that cause global warming.

Locally made products, however, don’t need to travel as far so have fewer ‘carbon miles’.

The International Maritime Organization estimates that carbon dioxide emissions from shipping were equal to 2.2% of the global human-made emissions in 2012 and it expects them to rise 50 to 250 per cent by 2050 if no action is taken.

Since many of the things we consume in Rwanda are brought to the country by ship and then truck, we can prioritise Made-in-Rwanda products to keep our environment safe.

3. Sustainable eating

People think that eating only has health implications. But the reality is that what we put on our plates also has a huge impact on climate change. The production of meat based products, for example, consumes a huge amount of energy and produces vast amounts of global warming pollution.

Livestock farming produces more greenhouse gas than all of the world’s transport combined. This is a result of land clearing, methane (a powerful warming gas) produced by cows and sheep, and a range of other factors.

Having a vegetarian diet can reduce the water needed to produce food by as much as 80 to 90 per cent, and reduce your risk of the health problems caused by eating meat.

Even if you don’t think you can give up brochettes, it’s a good idea to buy food produced locally, which doesn’t have to travel far from the farm gate to your plate. This will help to reduce your personal contribution to climate change.

4. Plant trees

As the world underscores trees as a natural offset for carbon emissions, Rwanda believes that forests are a “Pillar of Sustainable Development”. This is why seedlings will be planted on more than 50,000 hectares as part of the 2017/18 Forest Planting Season, which kicked off last weekend in Nyagatare District.

During the season, a total of 3,253.95 hectares of forests will be planted, a total of 45,729.95 hectares of agroforestry will be planted and an area of 768 hectares of degraded forests rehabilitated. To support the sustainable management of state forests, 5,350 hectares will be transferred to private investors through concession and co-management agreements.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide (a gas that causes climate change) and produce the oxygen we breathe. Without trees, life on earth for humans would not be possible. So over the next few months, plant a few trees in your area as part of Umuganda. The planet and your lungs will thank you for it!

5. Use less plastic

While Rwanda has successfully implemented the ban on plastic bags, there is still some way to go to address the problems caused by plastic pollution. From air quality to ocean toxicity, non-biodegradable plastics contribute to eco-system disruption. At the current rate, there is likely to be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050– an unacceptable situation.
So, next time you are at a restaurant or supermarket, think about how you can reduce your plastic use. This could be as simple as not asking for a straw, or buying products that aren’t wrapped in plastics.

6. Cleaner cooking

Charcoal remains the preferred fuel for cooking in most Rwandan households, but the negative impacts on our health and the climate are severe.

Around the world, more than four million people die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with fuels like charcoal. More than 50% of premature deaths due to pneumonia among children under 5 are caused by the soot inhaled from household air pollution. Using charcoal reduces also causes deforestation and soil erosion as trees are cut down to make the fuel.

A charcoal trader in Kimihurura, Kigali. File.

To address this, the Government has a target to reduce charcoal use from 94% to 50% of all households by 2020. Using liquid petroleum gas (LPG) and other alternatives including solar and thermal applications could reduce wood consumption.
Improved and more efficient cook stoves are a big part of the solution. Save80 stoves, and Inyenyeri stoves (which burn compressed wood pellets) use significantly less wood and have been introduced to the local market to help address this issue.

While the challenge of climate change is vast, and Rwanda’s global contribution negligible, there are things the country and everyone living here can do to be ready for the changes caused by global warming. By working together and supporting each other, we can ensure Rwanda develops in a way that is sustainable for generations to come.

7. Invest in renewable energy

With a fast-growing economy, there is no question that Rwanda needs to scale up its energy production. However, with power generation contributing a large percentage of the pollution that causes global warming, Rwanda needs to be smart in producing electricity and efficient in using it.

One of the easy ways the country can reduce its carbon pollution is to transition from diesel generators. Not only do they contribute to climate change, but the smoke that results from burning the diesel is dangerous to our health and is reducing air quality, especially in Kigali.

One practical solution is to invest in renewables such as solar and hydro, and pair these investments with the latest battery technology that can store the energy and have it ready to use during peak hours.

In Australia, for example, US company Tesla is building the world’s largest lithium-iron battery to store power from wind farms and solar plants. The 100-megawatt battery will be able to power 30,000 homes.

In Rwanda, storing power produced from solar and methane could be a viable solution to ensure consistent power when consumers need it most-even when the sun isn’t shining!