Appositely, or may be paradoxically, or perhaps, paradoxically apposite, a virus that attacks respiratory pathways has reminded the world of the urgent need to cut air pollution, which costs millions of lives globally every year.
It is a challenge to which Rwanda has become the first to respond, making the country one of the world leaders, if its ambitious targets are met.
From 30th November to 11th December 2015, France hosted 196 countries at the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference. The meeting was the twenty-first yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the eleventh session of the Meeting of the Parties (CMP) to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
The Paris agreement committed the nations in attendance to substantially reduce their carbon emissions, in a collective effort to initially reduce global temperature increase to two degrees Celsius, above pre industrial levels, by 2030, with further reductions to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
There are fears that with the adverse economic impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic, governments will set aside environmental considerations, as they try to jump start their economies.
Rwanda is a signatory to the Paris Agreement. By submitting ambitious emission reductions to the UN early, the country signals a clear intent to abide by its emissions reduction commitment, despite the damage to the economy under Covid-19.
In its submission to the UN, Rwanda undertakes to cut its emissions to 16% by 2030, compared to the so-called business as usual baseline.
Business as usual scenarios are points of reference based on historical norms. The already ambitious target rises to 38%, if as promised in the Paris Agreement, richer, more advanced nations, which are also the greatest polluters, support the country with financial, technical and technological support.
Rwanda is the first African country to commit itself to such tough reductions in emissions. It is an onerous commitment. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the country’s economic growth climbed above 10%, the World Bank described Rwanda as being in the middle of an economic boom. Without effective, radical interventions, emissions were projected to double.
To alter that trajectory, there will be greater use of hydro and solar energy, introduction of new standards for vehicle emissions, greater use of electric vehicles. Farms will be encouraged to rely more on biogas.
The UN welcomes Rwanda’s clear leadership, not least because the example may encourage the nations of the Commonwealth to adopt similar commitments. The country is due to host the 26th meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) in 2021, a meeting due to have taken place this month, but was pushed forward, because of Covid-19. Climate Change will be one of the main issues on the agenda.
But Rwanda will need more than a pat on the back from the UN, and the International Community generally. Upwards of $11 billion will be needed to adopt the economy to meet these ambitious targets.
The country’s commitments come amidst warnings that the ‘emissions gap’ has grown significantly. The Emissions Gap Report is produced annually by the United Nations Environment Programme, to measure the gap between nations’ commitments, and implementation of those commitments.
Because of the failure to narrow this gap, it now means that countries will need to do more, in a shorter period of time, to ward off certain disaster, if global warming rises above 2% Celsius.
In short, the world needs more countries to follow where Rwanda leads.
“As the first African country to submit a strengthened climate commitment in 2020, Rwanda is demonstrating the kind of leadership that the world needs right now” said the Vice President for Climate and Economics, at the World Resources Institute, Helen Mountford.