As a country that aspires to rapid economic growth, Rwanda has set a broad and inclusive national target, known as Vision 2020. The idea is to bring all Rwandans into the country’s development journey, integrating green growth and climate resilience strategies.

For more than a decade, Rwanda has taken a proactive approach and put environment and climate change at the heart of all the country’s policies, programmes and plans. It was one of the first countries to ban plastic bags, for instance. And its commitment to nationwide landscape restoration is such that every year, Rwandans plant millions of trees to protect the country’s forests, rivers and wetlands. It’s hoped that all of these initiatives will make Rwanda a developed, climate-resilient and low-carbon economy by 2050.

 2015 GDP Growth rates - African countries

So what else is Rwanda doing for the environment? Here are a few highlights.

1. Plastic bags

Rwanda’s mission to maintain a clean and healthy environment has been going since 2008 when it banned the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags and packaging materials. To date, Rwandans use only bags made from paper, cloth, banana leaves and papyrus, among other biodegradable materials.

It has made a difference. The plastic-bag ban has earned the country a reputation as one of the cleanest countries in Africa. In 2008, Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, was declared one of the cleanest cities in Africa by UN Habitat. It also created opportunities for entrepreneurs who invested in alternative packaging materials (cloths, papers, banana leaves and papyrus).

2. Forest cover

To achieve its goal of increasing forest cover to 30% of total land area by 2020, Rwanda has embarked on massive reforestation and tree-planting drive, and new measures such as agro-forestry and training schemes in forest management are being implemented. These efforts, along with the plastic-bag ban, earned the nation a Future Policy Award from World Future in 2011.

3. Restoration

Rwanda’s commitment to conserve the environment has also been seen through the protection and restoration of degraded ecosystems such as wetlands, lakes and natural forests.

Forests such as Nyungwe, Gishwati and Mukura have been restored and upgraded into national parks. The promotion of these parks, home to a vast variety of flora and fauna, has contributed to the growth of the tourism sector that is currently the principal generator of foreign currency, with US$ 304.9 million and US$ 318 million revenue in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Located in the northern part of Rwanda, Rugezi wetland (which had dried up because of human activities and climate change) was rehabilitated in 2005. Its restoration led to the recovery of water levels, increased hydropower production in Burera and Ruhondo lakes and a boost for the country’s fishing sector. For this, Rwanda received a Green Globe Award in 2010.

4. The Green Fund

As one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change, Rwanda is acutely aware of the challenges that lie ahead. Therefore, to achieve its vision of a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy by 2050, Rwanda has established the Green Fund, a groundbreaking investment fund, the largest of its kind in Africa.

The fund supports the best public and private projects that have the potential for transformative change and that support Rwanda’s commitment to building a green economy. The fund has mobilized around $100 million to date and is a leading example of the impact that well-managed climate financing can have.

5. Green politics

For a country to achieve sustainable development, environmental sustainability must be taken into consideration. This applies to policies, legislation and programmes alike. Over the past years, the government has taken measures to ensure national development is in harmony with the protection of the environment.

Thanks to Rwanda’s efforts to put the environment and climate change at the heart of her development, the country’s Ministry of Natural Resources was recently accredited by the International Green Climate Fund. This will help the country attract significant climate finance, enough to enable it to maintain rapid economic growth on a resource-efficient, low-carbon and climate-resilient path.

Rwanda will also benefit from a Green Climate Fund off-grid solar project that will drive solar use in East Africa through a new investment fund, KawiSafi, which provides equity to clean energy companies with expertise in household solar power.

As a fast-growing nation, Rwanda has the opportunity to bypass old technologies and environmentally destructive development and build an economy that can withstand a changing climate and that provides prosperity for generations to come.

This article is part of our Africa series. You can read more here.

The World Economic Forum on Africa is taking place in Kigali, Rwanda from 11 to 13 May.

This article was amended on 10 May 2015, having originally said Rwanda was the first country to ban plastic bags. In fact, it was Bangladesh, in 2002.