4 January 2016

Rwanda: What 2016 Has in Store for Climate Change Agenda

opinion

2016 has started with a sense of optimism about climate change following the adoption of the Paris climate agreement last December.

This is the first ever international commitment to take concrete measures to reduce emissions and help vulnerable countries adapt to the impacts of a changing climate by also providing enough finance for poor countries to implement the agreement in 2020.

Rwanda welcomed the deal aimed at limiting the increase in global temperatures to below two degrees with the ambition to reach lower than 1.5 degrees Celsius-below pre-industrial levels especially for countries most vulnerable to climate change effects.

But there are key climate issues still to watch this year.

The Rwanda Meteorology Agency (RMA) asked government departments in charge of disaster management to prepare for above normal rains with El Niño since September last year with the country's western half predicted to have above normal rainfall (more than 430mm), where Western, Southern and Northern provinces were expected to be most hit.

El Niño is a Pacific-wide phenomenon that has had global consequences.

Experts say that although the El Niño system lasts only a few months, its effects last decades in most parts of the world.

Last week, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) warned that the effects of the current El Niño weather phenomenon could be as bad as that of 1998, the strongest ever.

El Niño has triggered havoc with world weather systems and is responsible for flooding across the world, including in most parts of Europe.

Though, it has left other nations suffering drought as a result of higher-than-average temperatures.

In East Africa, it has caused flooding in Somalia that is expected to displace at least 900,000 people and drought in Ethiopia, leaving eight million people in need of food aid.

Even in Rwanda, El Niño is still talked about.

MIDMAR announced in October that since last January, disasters due to heavy rain, landslides, lightning caused deaths of 68 people and destroyed 1,147 houses, 652 hectares of crops, killed 32 animals, while 48 bridges were damaged.

The cost of the damage was estimated at over Rwf4bn and said then that 41,127 households (85%) out of 47,474 had been shifted from high risk zones, but about 6,345 households still need to be relocated.

However, the eastern part of the country has been marked by persistent drought which has affected crops and killed animals.

All districts in Eastern Province, except Rwamagana and Ngoma, faced possible shortage of food and animal feeds due to the ongoing drought spell, where over 20,000 heads of cattle were at risk as some farmers sold their cows for as low as Rwf10,000 each, down from Rwf200,000.

But with the ministry of Disasters management and refugee affairs (MIDMAR) National Risk Atlas, a new document with maps providing a comprehensive disaster risk profile of the country, we should expect better coordination of all disaster management initiatives in a proactive manner and thus reduce risks.

The atlas presents results of the hazard assessment and mapping of five major hazards that prevail in Rwanda: drought, landslides, floods, earthquakes and windstorms.

In such efforts to cope with and minimise effects of disasters due to climate change, Meteo Rwanda Agency adopted SMS use in early disaster warning mechanism to facilitate sending automatic messages to people and different rescue stakeholders.

MIDMAR to reinforce the initiatives also announced a new drive to integrate local and indigenous knowledge with science and technology in an effort to increase disaster resilience started in the two districts of Rubavu and Rutsiro, registering 44 people with indigenous skills to be exploited.

These are expected to contribute to early disaster warning system which still need enhancement to disseminate reliable information to reduce vulnerability to disasters.

Rwanda green fund -Fonerwa provided Rwf1.6bn to support Meteo weather and climate services.

Meanwhile, strategies have also been placed for climate finance.

With the Fund for the Environment and Climate Change (FONERWA) launched in 2014, this year is likely to see more projects approved in Rwanda.

Alex Mulisa the fund coordinator recently said the fund has already mobilised $100m.

Rwanda government officials at the Paris conference in December shared the fund's experience with other governments.

The Green Fund which is the first of its kind in Africa has already approved 30 investments innovative projects for both private and public institutions in climate resilience with more than Rwf30bn.

The adaptation and mitigation projects to climate change include those in agriculture, water management, forest restoration and conservation, energy and resource efficiency, soil conservation, waste management, reducing car emissions by using control technique, projects to reduce vulnerability to disasters, target to reduce by 30 per cent of refrigerant gases depleting ozone layer among others.

Last year, Rwanda celebrated the 40th anniversary of forest planting season by planting 30 million trees.

Rwanda also joined Africa forest restoration initiative (AFR100) to boost country's forest restoration efforts.

The country has also continued efforts to restore wetlands and water catchments.

Climate finance is also set to get boost after Rwanda's Ministry of Natural Resources was granted accreditation status by the global Green Climate Fund that allows the ministry to access project-based climate finance among only 20 institutions accredited by that Fund worldwide.

Rwanda joined the Vulnerable Twenty (V20) Group of Nations that are climate vulnerable countries to call for more action to reduce global emissions and better financing for climate change.

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