Climate change is real in Rwanda. But not everyone has had a chance to experience its reality as I have done. I grew up on a farm in a semi-rural area of Kigali. There, I lived with my mother and two brothers. The farm once produced enough coffee, bananas, potatoes, beans, sorghum, and livestock to pay the school fees of five children, myself included.
Recently, I told my mother that she should stop farming. It was a serious proposition. At harvest time she can barely fill a 50kg sack of beans. Several decades of farming without soil resting and access to fertilizers depleted the soil. And now climate change makes rainfall totally unreliable. The result is a half-full sack of beans.
But the education I received during those better days, followed by university scholarships, has taught me much. In 2020, I served as the Government of Rwanda’s lead expert updating the national climate action plan.
Officially called the “Nationally Determined Contribution,” (NDC) the plan describes how Rwanda will develop economically even while we limit our output of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) and adapt to climate change. Every country in the world is expected to develop an up-to-date NDC, stating their firm commitments to controlling climate change.
Rwanda is one of the only so-called “Least Developed Countries” (LDCs) who have committed to significant reductions in emissions. Most LDCs hesitate to do so, believing it would place an unfair burden on their economic development.
Rwanda believes the opposite. By limiting GHG emissions the country asserts it will not only contribute to global climate goals, but also leapfrog the most polluting aspects of industrial development and build a strong economy based on clean energy, green technologies, new forms of climate finance, and the conservation of natural ecosystems that support everything else.
This will benefit not only the economy, but also people’s health and well-being.
A new report of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underscores the urgency. It warns that many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands of years. Some are irreversible. However, strong and sustained reductions in emissions of GHGs would limit climate change.
All LDCs aspire to rapid economic growth. But pursuing this growth based primarily on fossil fuels would ultimately backfire. The resulting increase in CO2 emissions would contribute to worsening impacts of climate change, and reliance on coal, oil and gas development would pose unprecedented pollution to water resources and degrade critical landscapes, including forests.
Increased fossil fuel-powered transport would result in the release of large quantities of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide, which are among the causes of human respiratory illnesses.
It is true that LDCs have contributed the least to climate change. Together, we are responsible for only 5.75 per cent of global emissions of GHG. In contrast, the world’s high-income countries are the biggest contributors to GHG emissions—and they must deliver the most aggressive mitigation strategies.
But this is not a reason for inaction by LDCs. While each individual country’s contribution is small, collectively we can have a powerful impact on climate change mitigation.
Today, working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Rwanda, I lead our partnership with Government counterparts in implementation of the new national climate plan. It includes measures to increase hydropower sources, solar energy generation and e-mobility to reduce dependance on fossil fuels.
The climate plan is designed to address the needs of farmers like my mother and of youth. Farmers need new technologies, whether solar-powered irrigation systems, drought-tolerant seeds, or productive livestock breeds that feed on new varieties of easily digested forages, cutting back on the emissions of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) that come from cattle.
Unemployed rural youth need options to innovate and work in new green industries that will create jobs while solving problems.
We are just beginning. Implementation requires a groundwork of collaboration among government ministries: of Environment, Energy, Agriculture, Finance, Education and more. It also requires work with global partners, such as UN agencies, the European Union, bilateral aid agencies, embassies, and others across the globe to access climate finance and accelerate technology transfer.
Based on their own circumstances, each LDC should commit to mitigation targets within their NDCs – their updated climate action plans. These plans are past due. They will form the basis of the upcoming global climate summit, COP26, planned for October 31st to 12th November 2021. That summit is a make-or-break moment in the global fight against climate change.
Farmers like my mother are persistent. They keep trying, no matter the apparent odds. The world’s LDCs should be just as persistent in our pursuit of cleaner, greener development, and our insistence on receiving the support we need to forge ahead.
The writter is Immaculee Uwimana, an environment and climate change expert with the UNDP in Rwanda where she leads implementation of the national plan to combat climate change and build a green economy in partnership with the Government of Rwanda.