The second National Communication released by the government in January 2010 showed that in 2005 the majority of greenhouse gas emissions in Rwanda were CO2 at 87%, and transport produced 52% of the emissions.
In order to keep the air clean and contribute to the fight against climate change, the government through the Rwanda Bureau of Standards (RBS) has set standards on air pollution for industries and others for cars.
Emission standards regarding cars were compiled, together with other required standards a car must meet to be allowed to circulate, in a document titled 'Testing of motor vehicles for roadworthiness' that was approved and adopted on May 4 this year.
For Samuel Mporanzi from the engineering section of the standards unit in RBS, having such standards is very important for the different organs that are charged with the control of cars on the roads as well as those entering the country. "Before standards are set, there is no idea what to look for or what measures should be acceptable or not," he remarks.
In the smoke emission and exhaust system section, the standards state generally that during a control, a car should be rejected if "in the case of any type of engine, the exhaust smoke emission is so dense during a road test that it would in the opinion of the examiner, hinder other road users," or if "the engine emits excessive smoke or fumes."
These are just a few factors that may be considered. "But people need to keep in mind that the quantity of the smoke does not necessarily show the exact emission of harmful gasses," Mporanzi points out, saying that a car may not emit much visible smoke but the amount of gasses which are dangerous for the health such as CO (carbon monoxide), HC (hydrocarbons) and NOx (nitrogen oxyde) emitted may be high. Therefore, the standards also specify exact limits for such gasses.
Emphasis will be put especially on cars entering the country, to see if they conform to the standards set by RBS. "Before we set the standards, people could bring in very old cars and they would be allowed entry because no one was looking at that," Mporanzi remarks, adding that Rwandans are importing cars that other countries are no longer using and which are in fact good for the dumpster.
According to the new regulations, still voluntary at this stage, a car should first be checked for roadworthiness before it can get a numberplate. For example, starting in July this year, a passenger car using gasoline should meet the standards known as Euro IV, which were applied in Europe starting in 2005, and were in recent years replaced by Euro V. Most cars currently imported are of Euro II, which was replaced in 2000.
"These standards focus on the emissions of harmful gases," explains Mporanzi. "But we are still at the level of raising awareness about the standards, and they may change at some point if it is noted that we set the bar too high or too low."
For Remy Norbert Duhuze, the director of the environmental regulations and pollution control department at REMA, the application of the standards will help not only in reducing the trend of accidents by ensuring that they are safe to circulate, they will also help to "reduce emissions caused by cars within acceptable limits." This should reduce the impact the gases emitted have on people's health, as they are among those that cause cancer.
But implementation and enforcement of the standards by the competent authorities may still face serious hurdles. One of them is the fact that vehicle importation is not yet organized, with each individual importing whenever and however they want, making it hard to control the standards when a car is in customs. "It would be easier if there were just companies importing, then that company can be told not to bring low standards car," Mporanzi says.
As for enforcement, adequate equipment to measure all the standards is very expensive, and staff skilled enough to use the equipment is scarce. According to Theos Badege, spokesperson of the National Police, they currently have a machine that will allow them to measure the amount of gasses emitted.
But the biggest challenge, as Mporanzi highlights, comes from the fact that Rwanda is part of the EAC and the standards are only national at the moment. "We signed common market agreements with the others, and when certain cars are not imported in our country, they still will be in the other countries, and are likely to come circulate here," he explains.
Duhuze points out that this is one of the reasons slowing down the implementation of the emissions part. "But there is hope that we may start as soon as the regional standards, currently being discussed by the different EAC members, are approved and harmonized with national regulations," he says.
Mporanzi specified that the harmonization process is in progress, with the first regional meeting having taken place in Nairobi June 12-13 this year, and once consensus is reached with other member states, the standard will be implemented across EAC region.