Rwanda has everything to gain from the fight against climate change

It was with a sense of pleasant surprise that I found that Rwanda was hosting the 3rd Pan-African Conference to discuss climate change and the challenges it poses to our economies.

It was with a sense of pleasant surprise that I found that Rwanda was hosting the 3rd Pan-African Conference to discuss climate change and the challenges it poses to our economies.

The meeting, which is starting today at the Serena Kigali Hotel, is extremely timely, more especially as the theme is connected to the challenge of fulfilling the UN Millennium Development Goals.

Climate change has, in my opinion, not been given the kind of front-page coverage that it deserves. It’s been surprising that, while first-world economies are getting hot and bothered about the fact that the world is getting warmer, we in Africa are acting as if it’s of no consequence to us.

Sadly, that’s as far from the truth as anything I’ve ever heard. The basic fact is that it’s our continent that will bare the brunt of the changing weather patterns that climate change will cause.

Because our economic future, as a continent, is founded on our ability to fully utilise our agricultural potential, I find it scary that not enough people are taking climate change seriously.

But while Africa will suffer quite a bit if it continues putting its head in the sand, ignoring its impending doom, there is a way that we, Africans, can turn the climate change issue to our advantage.

The Kyoto Protocol is an interesting and, oft misunderstood document; at least to the general public. Most people that listen to the news know that the document attempts to curb western nations carbon-dioxide emissions; however, the question is just how many people know that poor nations, that don’t emit as much carbon-dioxide and other gases, can gain quite a lot from participating in the Kyoto process.

Among the various Kyoto Protocol mechanisms, which are aimed at first world nations, is a single mechanism that is aimed at helping poorer nations. This mechanism is known as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). 

Without going into all the nitty-gritty of the CDM, I will attempt to show what the CDM is all about and how we can benefit from it. The Kyoto Protocol attempts to limit carbon dioxide emissions of the large western economies to 1990 levels.

This is tricky, because, as economic production increases in these nations, emissions of global warming gases increase as a direct result of burning fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and petroleum. So, what do these nations, or companies do?

Remember that they aren’t supposed to increase their emissions, yet they want to increase production so that they can increase their profit margins. This conundrum is solved through the CDM process.

The industrialist are given documents, called emission credits, to continue with their polluting as long as they invest a bit of money in ‘green projects in third world countries.

These green projects can be reforestation programs, sustainable ‘clean’ energy initiatives and other means of decreasing carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere.

The largest solar energy project in Africa situated on Jali hill right here in Rwanda, which was built with the assistance of the German government, is a great example of the CDM.

Rwanda got a ‘free’ source of green energy and a German industry got to continue burning fuel. 

The CDM mechanism, if exploited fully by African nations and Rwanda in particular, is an important spoke in the Millennium Development Goal’s wheel.

The CDM can help in the fight to eradicate extreme hunger, improve maternal health and ensure environmental sustainability.

The transfer of clean technologies to poorer nations, such as the Jali project, can in one fell swoop contribute to each and every MDG.

Sadly however, many African nations haven’t properly marketed themselves as destinations of ‘green’ dollars and, if we continue on this path, I’m afraid that the Asian, South American and Central American and Caribbean nations will beat us to the punch.

Where will that leave us? We’ll be up an environmental creek without a paddle; and it would be our own fault. I hope that today’s meeting finds real solutions to make Africa such a destination before we are beaten to the punch. 

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