- Africa's Green Economy Summit
Exclusive Interview: Rwanda leading the charge for climate action
Updated: Dec 18, 2022
Watch and read our exclusive interview with Michelle DeFreese, a Senior Officer with the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), who is embedded in Rwanda’s Ministry of Environment (MoE). Michelle is also the moderator of the session on e-mobility at the upcoming Africa’s Green Economy Summit, taking place in Cape Town from 22-24 February 2023.
Read the full interview here:
Tell us about the programmes that you run, what your goals are and where you are active.
I work for the Global Green Growth Institute or GGGI for short, and I have been working with GGGI since 2017. We have our headquarters in Seoul, South Korea. We work closely with a number of member states across the world, and we are intergovernmental. That means that we work embedded with the different ministries, agencies and also subnational government within our host country.
So, for GGGI Rwanda, we are working closely with the Ministry of Infrastructure as well as the Ministry of Environment, and we work primarily on green cities. For us green cities encompasses a number of different areas, including sustainable mobility and e-mobility, as well as circular economy and sustainable waste management.
We also have some projects on buildings and construction and in addition to climate or urban resilience. And so we have a number of different projects that are really multifaceted, multidisciplinary and at the same time, they're all supporting the government of Rwanda in the strategies and the priorities that they have set in the updated NDC (Nationally Determined Contributions) report as well as their own national strategies, including the Vision 2050 document and a number of different strategic documents that we really take into our work and embody and encompass the work that we do.
The work for the different country offices can be really varied and based on the national priorities.
For Rwanda, we are working closely with a number of different ministries, especially on the green economic growth and climate resilient urban development.
So, the GGGI is a South Korean initiative to start with?
Yes, that's correct.
And how did that come about? Is a specific government focus of Seoul?
Yes, GGGI previously started as a think tank and then transformed into a treaty-based international organisation. So, we still have very close ties to the government of South Korea and our headquarters is there.
We take a lot of lessons learned from the growth process that different cities in South Korea have taken, especially Seoul. And this is a way that we can also change the paradigm and make a shift from traditional international development style, growth, and looking more at rapid economic growth that can happen in a way that is environmentally sustainable, using lessons from especially South Korea, but also across different member states.
A lot of times we will have bilateral exchanges between Rwanda and Senegal, or Mexico and Rwanda, and we will share lessons learned that way as well. So, we really aim to take the best technologies, the best lessons learned and to implement them and contextualise them into our country programmes.
What is happening in Rwanda that is particularly inspiring in terms of the green economy?
It is hard to pick just one, but I think most people will see that there is a lot of activity going on at COP 27, a lot of new announcements and funding agreements and funding for the private sector funding for NDC implementation.
So, it is really exciting to see what the government has been able to do, working not only with the government institutions but the development partners as well as development banks, Rwanda Development Bank. The team that has been sent to COP27 has just done a phenomenal job in terms of making the most of all of the existing resources, tapping into new resources and to really propel the economic growth of the country forward in a way that is also environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive.
It really speaks to a lot to the principles of green growth and green economy; it is really just an exciting time for Rwanda. At the last COP, things went really well and the government institutions and the officials that were there did a fantastic job. And then this year exceeded everyone's expectations. Rwanda typically tends to punch above its weight. You know, it's a relatively small country geographically, but at the same time, has really emerged as a leader in so many different climate areas.
When you look at the Kigali Agreement amendment and you look at just the number of different examples of the way that Rwanda is really leading in climate action, not only in terms of negotiation and climate diplomacy, but in terms of action. It is something that is really exciting to see that it is prioritised so high in terms of the list of the priorities of a number of different actions the government is taking.
So, that is something that I find really inspiring and a lot of our other country offices also find inspiring. It is great to see. And we are excited to see how things will actually be implemented once people get home from COP 27. There is certainly a lot of work to be done, but GGGI is always happy to support climate action in any way that we can.
You are talking about implementation and Rwanda being a pioneer in this space. What are they doing right and what are you worried about in terms of implementation because that can sometimes be the clincher?
That is a good question. I think in terms of what is being done right, it is hard to point to just one thing. I think that the importance of climate action has been really instilled at multiple levels, so it is not just the top down or bottom-up approach. It really encourages community-based action, but also action at the national policy level. It includes action at the different agencies, involving the development partners, so partnerships are key, but also that it is really infused throughout multiple layers of government, as well as at the community level.
What is really exciting is you have things that are indigenous to Rwanda, such as National Tree Planting Day. It is something that other countries could emulate and replicate. So, there are lots of home-grown examples of ways that Rwanda is really instilling climate action at multiple levels, not only into the government but also throughout society and really involving youth. That is something that I think is really admirable and inspiring as well.
In terms of implementation, there are a number of challenges in terms of when you work with multiple partners. Sometimes coordination can be difficult. There are challenges in terms of dealing with the potential for duplication and overlap, but at the same time, there are mechanisms in place to help with coordinating and strategizing with the different development partners.
Sometimes it is difficult when different organisations have their own siloed way of doing things or they have really specific deliverables that they want to achieve within their own project, but at the same time, there are mechanisms to help with that and to encourage development partners and organisations to share information, as well as to find synergies where possible.
So, it is not perfect, but I know that in terms of implementation, we haveve come a long way as an organisation for GGGI, but also in terms of how we coordinate and communicate with other development partners and other organisations. There are sector working groups that help to facilitate the exchange of information and try to identify potential synergies where they are, but at the same time implementation is, I don't want to say messy, but it is difficult to coordinate. However, at the same time, when you have so many different actors that are just really trying to push for climate action and are working in the same space at times, it is natural to have some duplication. At the same time, there is no shortage of work.
You mentioned COP 27. We are doing this interview in the week of COP 27, and now we are also preparing for the Africa's Green Energy Summit in February during which you are part of the programme. What are you most looking forward to in February next year?
Yes, I think there are a few things. One is the opportunity to engage with stakeholders that I do not necessarily normally get to engage with: some of the participants from other countries, also participants in countries where we do have a country office so that I can encourage them to be in contact with our GGGI country office there. I am also looking forward to sharing just the optimism that I have and the inspiration that I feel from the examples that we have here in Rwanda.
For me, that is something that I look forward to most because I think that seeing is believing and not everyone has the opportunity to be here in Rwanda and experience what is happening in terms of the progress that the city of Kigali is making and all of the measures that are being taken to ensure climate action are taken seriously and the impact is directed at where it is needed most. So, I think those are the two things: just sharing and engaging with different stakeholders and participants that I do not normally get to engage with.
Then, also sharing the message of what is possible and rethinking what is possible, because that is something that I have really come away with in terms of my experience working and living in Rwanda. And it is something that I feel like is also needed in the climate space, more optimism. I know there is plenty of research and newspaper articles that are really making the point that we are running out of time, which you know is absolutely true, everyone accepts that, but at the same time there are fantastic examples that we can share and also just this sense of optimism that if we do come together and we do focus on working together for climate action, we could do fantastic and amazing things.
Let’s talk about the particular track that you are part of in the Africa’ Green Economy Summit.
Yes, it is on e-mobility. I will be sharing some of the lessons learned from the work that we have been doing, but also encouraging the participants to exchange ideas and exchange lessons learned because it is new technology being adopted by certain countries and other countries have been implementing e-mobility projects for a number of years, decades. So, it is something that I feel like we can all learn from.
The technologies are changing and there are more models that are on the market and there are also new ways to ensure that the capital expenditure costs for countries are lower, especially for developing and emerging economies, and this is something that GGGI is taking stock of in our e-mobility projects that are taking place in Mexico, Peru and Sri Lanka. So, we have a lot of lessons learned from emerging economies that can help with shortening the learning curve for some of the other participants.