20 Jul 2018 Story Climate change

Rwanda’s new cool endeavour

As the world braces for more extreme weather and overall higher temperatures, the Rwandan Government is once again determined to set the trend, preparing to be among the first to help fulfill the pledge made two years ago in Kigali, where 197 countries adopted the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol – a legally binding deal to phase-down the production and use of highly potent greenhouse gases used, among others, in cooling systems. Rwanda was the third of 39 countries to ratify the Kigali Amendment

In a warming climate, demand for cooling and refrigeration is expected to increase worldwide. Both are essential to human health and well-being, particularly in densely populated urban areas where the heat island effect pushes the temperature up by several degrees compared to neighbouring rural areas. However, current cooling systems carry hidden costs: not only are they often inefficient – wasting up to 80 per cent of their energy – they also use human-made fluorinate gases (F-gases) such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) as cooling agents. F-gases are almost 10,000 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide and are projected to represent nearly 20 percent of climate pollution by 2050, if left unchecked.

With the Kigali Amendment set to enter force on 1 January 2019, this balance between energy efficiency and the urgent need to phase down HFC’s has been an item of intense scientific research and political debate.

Most recently, parties to the Montreal Protocol gathered in Vienna, where delegates reviewed the latest findings from the body’s Technology and Economic Assessment Panel, which had been tasked with delivering an exhaustive review of all opportunities for energy efficiency with phasing out HFC’s.

In Rwanda, UN Environment’s United for Efficiency initiative is partnering with the Ministry of the Environment, the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), and the Ministry of Infrastructure to help transition the local refrigeration and air conditioning market toward more efficient and climate-friendly products. The Rwanda Cooling Initiative (R-COOL) is funded by the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program (K-CEP), a philanthropic programme whose mission is to increase the energy efficiency of cooling and phase down F-gases. K-CEP supports six global projects, two regional ones, and 31 national programmes. For UN Environment’s United for Efficiency Programme (U4E), the R-COOL is one of 20 market transformation projects implemented in emerging economies worldwide.

Demand for cooling and refrigeration in Rwanda is projected to soar as the population and economy continue to grow amidst a warming climate: the number of household refrigerators and A/C units is expected to increase substantially in the next 15 years.

“The scope of R-COOL is to develop and help implement a National Cooling Strategy for Rwanda,” says Morris Kayitare, Project Lead for the Rwanda Cooling Initiative. “The strategy will include mandatory minimum energy performance standard (MEPS) for air conditioning and refrigeration products sold in the country, product labels to help consumers understand the energy use of the products that they are considering, and a financial mechanism to encourage the purchase of the highest performing products – which may be more expensive at the store but cost far less over their lifetime through savings on utility bills. There are several options on the table, such as loans, pay-per-usage schemes, or fiscal incentives. Based on the results of the market assessment study that we expect to complete in the next few weeks, recommendations will be provided to the Government of Rwanda for consideration and inclusion in the strategy.”

Once in effect, the National Cooling Strategy will help save consumers and businesses money on their electricity bills, reduce peak electricity demand, and expand the capacity of the grid for new consumers. In a warming climate, these are quite important results: studies have shown that a 1.2°C increase in temperature results in a three-fold increase in energy consumption of buildings, most of which is used for cooling.

Better refrigeration and a more effective cold chain would also help prevent food spoilage. The agriculture sector accounts for 31 per cent of Rwanda’s GDP, yet 50 per cent of its production goes to waste, causing smallholder farmers to lose up to 15 per cent of their income.

As the country adds ever more households to the electricity grid – now at approximately 40 per cent of the population today with aims to grow three-fold over the next decade – the project will also help ensure that existing electrical generating capacity is able to reach more people, since less of it will be wasted by outdated cooling products.

“With the policy framework in place, we will move on to raising awareness on the new standards and on how to comply with them. The change will concern all Rwandans, from large businesses such as restaurants and hotels to individuals.” The project will run for two years and will also include a national product registration system that will enable country officials to monitor the market and update policies as necessary.

Rwanda is known internationally for its unwavering commitment to environmental protection. The country was the first to successfully ban plastic bags in 2008 and it is now considering banning plastic entirely, starting with plastic bottles. The R-COOL project once again goes to show that leadership, commitment, and political will are key ingredients to successful societal transformation.