The Paris Agreement — An Opportunity for Rwanda

Rwanda’s Minister of Natural Resources, Vincent Biruta, speaking to beneficiaries of Green Fund projects in Muhanga District in the Southern Province.

By Vincent Biruta, Minister of Natural Resources, Government of Rwanda

Rwanda has joined more than 170 nations at the U.N. in New York to sign the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The agreement turns a new page in the international response to a warming planet. As one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change, it is a great opportunity for Rwanda.

The road to the Paris Agreement was not easy — indeed getting almost every country to agree on something never is. But at the U.N. Climate Talks in France in December last year, we saw the commitment of the international community to do what’s needed to protect our planet. It began in 2011 when the world came together to discuss a new universal climate agreement in Durban. Four years later, and after intense negotiations, the Paris Agreement was finally adopted by 196 countries. More than 170 of them will formally sign it. We hope they will also take the next step and ratify it.

The Paris Agreement is a key platform for a global plan of action that will reduce carbon emissions and limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, with the lofty goal of keeping temperature increases below 1.5 degrees. This stronger target is what the government called for at the Climate Talks in December 2015 because we know that anything less ambitious places Rwanda and other vulnerable nations at unacceptable risk of climate related disasters.

Today, Rwanda already faces increased flooding, severe droughts and more powerful storms that cause damage to property and even take lives. We saw an example of things to come in Musanze, Burera and Rutsiro districts this week, which were hit by floods that destroyed houses and tragically claimed five lives.

With Rwanda already feeling the heat from climate change, to say that the Paris Agreement is long overdue is an understatement. It provides the framework for countries to honour their climate action commitments and calls on governments to make targets more ambitious every five years. This will go a long way to reducing the greenhouse gases pumped into our atmosphere and will hopefully ensure we avoid irreversible climate change. This is good news for the planet.

The Government of Rwanda is also ready to play our part. We have developed a national climate action plan, which details the steps we will take to meet our obligations under the Paris Agreement. This plan builds on the work already underway to develop a green economy and climate resilience. Rwanda was the first country to commit to nationwide landscape restoration through forest planting, terracing, and soil restoration and the Ministry of Natural Resources has been accredited for direct access to funding from the international Green Climate Fund.

To achieve the goals we have set, Rwanda will also strengthen its ties with global institutions that support green growth. Some of these partners include the Global Green Growth Institute, the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) and international financing bodies.

Climate financing, the money that will be provided for countries like Rwanda to deal with climate change impacts, is another important part of the agreement. The Paris Agreement includes a provision to encourage developed nations to work with vulnerable countries on reducing carbon emissions, adapting through climate resilience and technology and responding to the impacts of climate disasters. To do this, the Paris Agreement calls for developed countries to mobilise $100 billion a year in climate finance until 2025.

Rwanda is ready to harness this funding through our own environment and climate change fund — the Green Fund (FONERWA). The fund has already raised close to US $100 million for climate resilience projects across the country. Green Fund investments have created more than 20,000 green jobs that are improving livelihoods and dignity. One of the projects financed by the Green Fund, that we visited last month in Muhanga District, is employing 700 young Rwandans in nurseries to care for seedlings that will protect Nyabarongo River from soil erosion. This demonstrated track record ensures we are well placed to make the most of any climate finance we receive.

The Paris Agreement represents our best hope for preventing the dangerous impacts of climate change. It will enable Rwanda to maintain rapid economic growth that is resource efficient, low-carbon and climate resilient. But it must be not be a hollow agreement. All nations must match their commitments with concrete actions. If they do so, we are confident that tangible results will be achieved.

We look forward to joining the world in signing on the dotted line today and fostering in a new era of climate resilience and green growth so that future generations inherit a planet worthy of their aspirations.