25 June 2012

Rwanda: While Rio Summit Yields Little Results, Rwanda Makes Efforts to Reduce Pollution

Although not part of the group of countries required to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, Rwanda has put an emphasis in recent years on activities that contribute to the reduction of such gases emitted and protection of the environment in general.

While the countries at the Earth Summit, which took place last week, focused on how sustainable development can be achieved in the best way that also protects the environment, it is important to know what Rwanda, as a developing country, is doing to reduce its environmental impact even as it continues to grow.

According to the second national communication taking into account the United Nations Framework Convention On Climate Change (U.N.F.C.C.C) published in 2011, which studied the level of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, in 2006 Rwanda's overall direct emissions of CO2 were over 8 tons, up from 7.7 tons in 2005.

"Reducing our emissions does not mean that the level will not go up because we still need to develop and develop our industries," explained Alphonse Mutabazi, manager of the climate change program at the Rwanda Environment Management Authority REMA, adding that what needs to be done is ensuring that the development does not fall into the pattern of doing 'business as usual' but focuses on being mindful of the emissions created and making sure their level stays as low as possible.

The government, in its efforts to reduce emissions, has been promoting quite a few projects that contribute to desired reduction. One of them is the use improved cooking stoves that save the amount of wood or charcoal needed.

But for citizens, they will just buy any stove that claims to save energy only to later find out that it is not the case. According to Mutabazi, it is not easy to distinguish between stoves that really do save energy and those that are said to save energy but don't.

This will only be seen when it is in use, so he advises people to get them from people whose work has been proved to be effective. "I would say that there are people who say they make improved cooking stoves and it turns out to be just words," he said.

Another program that was devised is the introduction of alternative sources of energy like biogas in rural areas, which helps not only in cleaning the environment by using cow dung, but also limits the use of wood as fuel thus contributing to tree conservation. But the installation of facilities to produce biogas is expensive and could not be afforded by just anyone.

"The minimum size of a biodigester that can be built is 4 cubic meters, which will require at least 2 cows," highlighted Prime Ntaganda, a technician who deals with such projects. He explained that acquiring the cows and getting all the facilities ready will cost over Frw 2 million. To Ntaganda, it is clear that the demand for the technology is still low, at least based on his experience in the district of Huye.

For Mutabazi, it's not only the price but also the sustainability of the program which may present the biggest challenge. As he says, there is no guarantee that there will always be enough dung to permit the production of the gas every day, or the human energy it takes to maintain everything.

Fuel from rubbish

Even though they are currently not widespread, briquettes made from rubbish and which serve as alternative fuel are very important not only in their use but also reducing the amount of waste and reduction of methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more polluting than CO2 and which is produced by decomposing waste.

But perhaps the program that encourages the most projects and programs, whether by individuals or institutions, which are aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the causes of climate change, is the Clean Development Mechanism CDM, a program that allows developed countries to meet the emissions reduction targets set by the Kyoto Protocol in a cost effective manner while helping sustainable development in developing countries.

Yves Tuyishime, carbon market and CDM investment promotion officer at REMA explained that the way the system works is that developing countries come up with projects that reduce gas emissions, document it, then implementation and verification can take place. Upon approval of the verification report, the executive board of CDM issues the requested number of certified emissions reductions.

"Those can then be sold to any developed country that needs them and those reductions will be accredited to them," said Tuyishime adding that those countries will then have met their emission reduction requirements without having to reduce their industrial production. He pointed out that at this moment, they are just dealing with projects that reduce emissions and have not yet started dealing with the ones that absorb the gas like the forests.

Given the increased number of vehicles circulating in the country, burning fuel and adding to the amount of greenhouse gases released in the air, the country is considering establishing a policy to reduce that, even if in small amounts. This will be done through a limit of the age of used cars allowed to enter the country.

According to REMA, it is a known fact that the older a car is, the more polluting it becomes, especially when not well maintained. The standards of air pollution of the country state that if a car is beyond 10 years old, it will not be allowed to enter the country.

A 2011 study on air pollution in Kigali showed that the majority of greenhouse gas emissions in the country were CO2 (87%), where transport dominated at 52% and industrial processes followed at 28.5%.

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