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Africa has historically been associated  with lack, inadequacy, helplessness and an unending need for aid.  Some have even gone so far as to label it “The Dark Continent “, suggesting stark hopelessness across the continent “despite international intervention” (The Economist, 2000).  Climate dialogue on Africa has generally followed the same narrative, focusing on the obvious impact of climate change from starvation in Madagascar, the drought in Zimbabwe or the land-slide causing flash floods in Rwanda. International media is inundated with images of black African children starving in Somalia or herds of needle-thin cattle gathering at a dried out waterhole in Botswana, ignoring the resilient efforts of Africans through innovation,  philanthropy and policy to fight back these impacts of climate change. This has created what Chimamanda Ngozi calls “a single story”, which she warns creates stereotypes about a people, stereotypes that could be used to disposes and malign (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2019). Rwanda, a low-income country at the centre of the East-African community,  has defied narratives of a dark continent and has displayed exemplary leadership in driving an inclusive and just transition to a green economy. The country has set itself as a worthy case study not just for other African countries,  but for the international community on how economic growth does not need to come at a compromise to environmental protection. 

The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story

Climate Policy: The Sturdy Foundation 

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Rwanda has successfully integrated  climate resilience  strategies into its national development roadmap, Vision  2050, fully  embracing  the  idea of  “green  growth”  in  its development  agenda to be  a low-carbon and climate  resilient economy by 2050 (Biruta, 2016). In October 2011, the country launched the National Strategy for Climate Change and Low Carbon Development. The strategy was aimed at guiding the national green policy in an integrated way, mainstreaming climate change into all sectors of the country’s economy and positioning it to access funding to help it achieve climate resilience and low carbon development. By cementing its climate change policy this way,Rwanda has made addressing climate change a political priority. This contrasts the lack of political will from countries like America to not only to address climate change, but to,in the least, recognise its existence given the undeniable science proving it. 

Early this year, Rwanda became the first African country to submit its revised Climate Action Plan (Farand, 2020) which includes stronger, more measured commitments  in line with the 2018 Paris Agreement which aims to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius by 2030, ahead of many of the largest emitters who have not yet submitted their updated contributions. In the plan, Rwanda commits itself to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by atleast 16% by the turn of the decade and up to 38% with technical and financial support from the international community (Republic of Rwanda, 2020). In its current trajectory, Rwanda’s carbon emissions are expected to rise from 5.3 million tonnes in 2015 to 12.1 million tonnes in 2030 (International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2020). With this new plan however,the government would reduce  its carbon emissions by 4.6 million tonnes in 10 years. Some of the strategies detailed in the plan include the development of hydroelectric and solar energy, re-engineering industrial processes to make them more energy efficient, setting vehicle emission standards for the public and promoting the use of electric vehicles. Rwanda has committed $11 Billion worth of domestic and international financing to this new strategy (Tih, 2020). By creating a strong policy framework laden with accountability mechanisms at every level of government, Rwanda defies the narrative of an Africa in a constant governance crisis with ever-failing policies.

Climate Finance: Money in the Bag

In order to operationalise its initial green transition, the government has established  The  Green Fund worth  over  $100 million  to  finance qualifying  public  and private  projects  that meet its  agenda of transforming  the country  into  a  green economy (Republic of Rwanda, 2020a). Through the Fund, the government has provided over 69 000 households with off-grid clean energy, created over 137 000 green jobs since its inception and protected over 19,500 hectares of land from soil erosion (UNFCC, 2020). Investments from this fund have also reduced carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to 18 500 tonnes. By making strong climate policy the bedrock of its climate agenda Rwanda has created a good enabling environment that positions it to access finance made available for supporting the developing world to adapt and mitigate against climate change shocks through mechanisms like REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation). One good example of  how Rwanda has successfully leveraged climate finance is its portfolio with the Green Climate Fund where it has successfully secured over $50 million worth of climate finance (Green Climate Fund, 2019). 

African countries are often said to be a wormhole for development finance, where money invested hardly achieves the intended returns (Mosley, 1996). Rwanda has proven this stereotype wrong by creating sufficient  institutional capacity for the finance it attracts. By creating a climate-focused institution that manages funding and develops projects from community level to public and private sector levels while ensuring that staff have requisite expertise to attract domestic and international finance, Rwanda has successfully created what is often called Africa’s largest demand-based climate fund, proving that Africans can indeed handle money. 

Green Energy: Powering Transformation

Through its strong policy framework and energized climate finance strategy, Rwanda is among the few countries globally that have successfully adopted green energy to power its public grid. Hydropower contributes over 48.3% of the country’s installed capacity of power (Rwanda Energy Group, 2020) while a 2018 report by ClimateScope reported that by 2017, the country had installed over 185 000 independent home systems and atleast 300 000 solar lamps country wide. This is in line with its agenda of electrifying 48% of households through clean, community-based off-grid energy by 2024. This, according to the report, ranked it 5th most attractive country in the world for investment in green energy. In light of this, it is not surprising that Rwanda has been able to secure $49 million from the Climate Investment Fund for electrification projects through off-grid systems like solar home systems (Climate Investment Funds, 2015). Early this year,  Minister of Infrastructure, Honourable Claver Gatete launched a $35 million project to connect about 445 000 households with solar energy (Rwanda Energy Group, 2020). If successful,  the project, named the Subsidy Window and the Guarantee Framework, would benefit approximately 1.8 million people. So much for “The Dark Continent”, right?

African countries, along with many other developing countries in the global south, are the most vulnerable to climate change. This article does not intend to erase that fact. It really is no surprise that whenever climate change and Africa are mentioned in an article or media report, poverty, death and famine are almost certainly the focus. However, significant efforts have been made across the continent in response to the plight of climate change. Rwanda has exemplified such efforts from its effective climate policy frameworks, robust climate finance campaigns to its ambitious green energy projects. Such narratives, of a continent actively participating in the global climate action agenda at various levels, are seldom told in favour of narratives of a helpless continent perpetually in need of aid. We therefore need to mainstream such African success stories to inspire hope for a climate resilient continent driven by Africans. What other positive climate narrative about Africa can you uncover? 

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Tags: Climate Change, Climate Policy, Climate Finance, Governance, Rwanda


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