Rwanda 2016: Strides made towards environment conservation

Delegates during Montreal Protocol meeting in Kigali. (File photos.)

2016 has already gone down in history as a year that Rwanda made tremendous achievements as far as environment and natural resources sector is concerned.

From construction of model green villages across the country to successfully hosting major international environmental events such as the Africa Carbon Forum 2016, the Bonn Challenge Meeting and the COMIFAC Ministerial Council, among others.

The New Times met with some key players to recount the top stories that shaped 2016 in environment and natural resources sector and to give you sneak peek into 2017’s sector projection and plan.

President Paul Kagame’s Champion of the Earth Award for Policy Leadership

Of course, this is the most recent milestone not only for President Paul Kagame but to the nation he leads and Rwandans in general.

On December 3, the United Nations Environment Programme honoured Kagame with the 2016 Champion of the Earth award for Policy Leadership.

The prize is the United Nation’s highest environmental honour and was given to President Kagame in recognition of Rwanda’s outstanding achievements in environmental protection.

According to Minister of Natural Resources Vincent Biruta, one of the key reasons of this accolade was how Kigali managed to successfully host the 28th meeting of the parties to the Montreal Protocol (MOP 28) that led to the adoption of the Kigali amendment to that international protocol.

Adoption of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol

In October, Rwanda successfully hosted the Montreal Protocol meeting that passed the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which could cut up to 0.5 degrees Celsius from global warming by the end of this century.

But how did it unfold? A ‘night to remember’

Nobody saw it coming – at least for us the fourth estate – that a meeting would last for over 24 hours. Ridiculous, isn’t it? But the end result was historical, for lack of a better word.

It was a Friday morning, and everyone was headed to the Kigali Convention Center for the ‘last day’ of the 28th meeting of the parties to the Montreal Protocol.
Having covered dozens of such meetings, I thought it would end on time and delegates would do everything possible to ensure that they are able to catch the next plane back to their home countries. Little did I know that environmental matters are discussed rather differently.

8a.m, 10am, 12pm…6pm and no deal had been reached. No signs that a closing ceremony was going to be.

Amidst speculations that the amendment to phase-out Hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) won’t be reached in Kigali came an announcement from United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) officials; “We would like to inform you that a few details are yet to be agreed upon, we will have to wait for extra hours for parties to reach an agreement for the Kigali amendment,” he told journalists.

Throughout these long negotiations, India, China and the United States of America were held in seemingly endless negotiations. In fact, John Kerry, the U.S Secretary of State, who was in Kigali, is said to have met India’s government representatives more than three times in one day before the deal to amend the Montreal Protocol was reached. Some people argued that Kerry was forced to extend his stay in Rwanda by 2 hours plus for him to negotiate the deal to amend the protocol.

8pm, 10 pm, 12am and yet another announcement came calling. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we ask you to take your seats into the main auditorium for the closing of the final session of MOP28.

2am, 4am, 6am, 6:55am the chairperson of MOP28 and Rwanda’s minister of Natural resources, Biruta gavelled, announcing the closure of the deal to amend the Montreal Protocol in Kigali. This sent the entire room (if not the entire expectant world) into jubilations.

“That night will remain historical in many ways. After a long night of discussions and negotiations, it was remarkable seeing all parties reach an agreement to phase-out the potent green house gas,” Biruta told The New Times last week as he reflected on the even.

Kigali Amendment was eventually signed that Saturday morning, and all parties agreed to phase down HFCs, which have been partly blamed for climate change and global warming.

“As president of the 28th Meeting of the Parties, Rwanda was instrumental in bringing together the 197 countries to sign what is hailed as the single largest contribution the world has made towards keeping the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius,” Biruta added.

Establishment of the Gishwati-Mukura National Park

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Gishwati-Mukura National Park

This is perhaps one of the major actions that Rwanda has taken to preserve and conserve nature. Turning the Gishwati and Mukura forests into a National Park aims to protect the country’s ancient rainforests known for a wide range of flora and fauna, including primates, chimpanzees and mammals among others.
Gishwati-Mukura is now the fourth National Park in Rwanda and it boasts of about 60 species of trees, including indigenous hardwoods and bamboo.

Launch of IUCN Regional Hub in Kigali

On March 21, this year, The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) launched the Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) Hub for Eastern and Southern African Region in Kigali. The launch of this hub was in line with Bonn Challenge goals in the region. The hub is expected to cover over 24 countries of the region with the mandate of providing resources in terms of financing and the technical capacity to restoration projects and programmes.
Rwanda committed to restore 2 million hectares of degraded land & forests by 2020, Burundi committed 2 million hectares, Uganda 2.5 million hectares, Tanzania pledged to restore 5 million hectares while Kenya is still finalising their commitments.

Rwanda had set to have at least 30 per cent forest cover by 2018, but this target will be met earlier, as figures indicate it has reached 29.6 per cent.
The Bonn Challenge is a global effort to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.

Ratification and Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement

In October, before the Climate Change Conference (COP22), in Marrakesh, Morocco, Rwanda joined more than 80 nations to ratify the Paris Agreement on Climate Change – a historic international treaty that aims to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius with an ambition to keep increases below 1.5 degrees.

Biruta emphasises that the Paris Agreement will provide the much-needed international support to help vulnerable countries like Rwanda to both mitigate further growth in greenhouse gases emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The Paris Agreement entered into force on November, 4, 2016, thirty days after at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.

Joining Climate and clean air coalition

In Morocco, Rwanda also joined the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC); a voluntary international coalition of governments, international organisations, the private sector and non-governmental organisations that aims to: reduce emissions of SLCPs, including black carbon, methane and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are responsible for a substantial proportion of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere and, thus, warming; avoid millions of premature deaths; promote food and energy security; and address near-term climate change created in 2012.

It is important to note that, in Marrakech, Rwanda joined countries to call for substantive and quick action on climate change.

Adoption of the air pollution law

One yet another big event that shaped 2016 was adoption of the law governing the preservation of air quality and prevention of air pollution in Rwanda.
The air pollution law was published in the official gazette in June this year, the Law N° 18/2016 of 18/05/.

Mining sector

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Workers in Rutongo mines.

On the other hand, as much a lot was happening in conservation, millions of dollars were also being generated from the mining sector.
Here, we take into account how the mining sector trailed through the year 2016.

According to Biruta, the mining sector contributed $149m to the export revenues in 2015.

‘Looking at the performance of 2016, we anticipate achieving over $152 m dollars from the mining sector in terms of export revenues.

Rwandan appointed new DG of RCMRD

Dr Emmanuel Nkurunziza, the director-general for Rwanda Natural Resources Authority (RNRA) and the Chief Registrar of Land Titles, was appointed as the new Director General of the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD).

Nkurunziza’s appointment was announced during the 10th conference of Ministers from RCMRD member state, held in Kigali in November. He replaced Dr. Farah Omar Hussein who served RCMRD for past 8 years, and will officially start his duties in Feb 2017 for a four year term, renewable once.

The conference was presided over by the Natural resources minister Biruta.

A sneak peek into 2017

According to Biruta, several activities are aligned for 2017 in terms of environmental protection and mining sector. They include; systematic monitoring of development projects to enforce the implementation of environmental management plans for projects that have environmental impact assessments and environmental audits certificates; and putting in place an air pollution monitoring system among others.

He added the ministry, together with other stakeholders such as Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) and Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA) will, ‘conduct environmental audits on public buildings to promote resource efficiency and cleaner production.

“We want to have a green economy, and this will require us to take serious actions, such as this audit. This will inform policy and encourage property developers to consider green building as the most appropriate way for sustainable development,” Biruta said.

Regarding critical degraded ecosystems rehabilitation; Biruta put hopes in the newly created Nyandungu Eco-Tourism Park, which seeks to make the City of Kigali ‘eco-friendly and more fun to live in.’

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A woman plants a tree during Umuganda in Masaka.

Source: The New Times

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