This Day (Lagos)

13 December 2007

Nigeria: Climate Change - Need to Check the Looming Disaster

Lagos — As countries all over the globe are set to meet this month over the dangers of climate change, the UNDP ozone depletion unit has been working in Nigeria for 15 years and has funded a couple of projects aimed at environmental protection. However, experts believe that Nigeria needs to take more urgent steps to protect its territory. Damilola Oyedele writes

Imagine waking up one morning, looking forward to a beautiful day, you tune in to listen to the day's news, "Breaking news: Victoria Island, Lagos is sinking". What would you think? How would the estimate of the loss be calculated; human lives, resources, land mass, economic...? This might seem like a figment of this reporter's imagination, but the reality according to United Nations is that coastal cities like Lagos stand risk of disappearing from the global map, not to the biblical rapturous ending, but of being swallowed by the Pacific, Atlantic and the rest of the oceans. Environmental analysts are screaming at the top of their voices that unless something drastic is done, the effects of man's activities that have contributed to the depletion of the ozone layer would soon catch up with the planet and there is an urgent need for adaptation.

Visible signs of global warming are already being manifested in rising temperatures and its consequences such as more frequent and longer droughts, incessant flooding, severe storms, melting glaciers, changes in rainfall pattern and others.

Analyst say nine planets would be needed to efficiently absorb the percentage of Green House Gases being emitted by various activities like gas flaring, use of bio-mass energy (1.6 billion poor people use wood and animal dung for fuel). The effects of all these destructive activities would be manifested in increased incidents of flooding, exposure to droughts, and storms.

The UNDP Human Development Report (HDR) 2007/2008 states in clear terms that "climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity and it is the world's most vulnerable populations who are most immediately at risk. The actions of the wealthiest nations- those generating the vast majority of green house gases- have tangible consequences for people in the rest of the world, especially in the poorest nations."

Consider these statistics: in Siberia, temperature increases of 3.6 degrees Celsius- more than twice the global average- is already severely affecting the way of life of the indigenous people. The thawing of permafrost which covers 60 per cent of the Russian federation will increase vulnerability to flooding while the melting of permanent snowfields and glaciers in the mountains of Central Asia threatens the livelihoods of millions.

Annual damages to GDP for countries like Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa and Vanuatu could range between 2-7 per cent and 17-34 per cent. In Lebanon, a 1.2 degrees centigrade increase in temperature is projected to decrease water availability by 15 per cent because of changes in run-off patterns and evaporation. In Lower Egypt, a one metre rise in sea level could displace six million people and flood 4,500km square of farmland.

The UNDP HDR 2007/2008 reports that the United States alone emits more carbon dioxide than 50 of the world most developed countries, and there is a need to 'climate-proof' its development, not only for the sake of its citizens, but to prevent catastrophic reversals in health, education and poverty reduction for the world's poor.

Perhaps, frightened by the UNDP HD Report which has stressed that the world has a narrow ten year window of opportunity to act, the US, which before now is one of the two countries that refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, would join global leaders in Bali, Indonesia, in December to negotiate future action against climate change. The report also emphasizes that US approach of focusing on cutting green house gas intensity, rather than overall emissions is not enough. "While the transition to cleaner energy and lifestyles will have short term costs, there may be economic benefits beyond what is achieved by stabilising temperatures." It advocates that the US has to cut gas emissions to 30 per cent by the year 2020 and at least 80 per cent by the year 2050 by committing to an increased usage of renewable energy sources, especially wind and solar.

Although Africa emits only two per cent of world total emissions, it would suffer the effects of the depletion of the ozone layer most, because the continent lacks the resources to manage such magnitude and intensity of impending devastations. It is being estimated that Africa's agriculture would be affected by 26 per cent resulting to a loss of 26billion dollars. This would affect the food security of a continent that is already suffering bouts of famine and drought. It is also being estimated that 600 Africans would go hungry and 200 million would be forced out of their homes due to flooding, and another 400 million would be exposed to diseases like malaria and dengue fever.

These sums up the fact that any progresses that have been hitherto, recorded by the continent on poverty eradication, nutrition, health and education would suffer retrogression.

Nigeria, as Africa's super power emits more green gases than the rest of the continent put together due to activities from its oil resources. Shell Petroleum Company has already rebuffed the Federal Government directive that gas flaring must stop by 2008, saying it is not possible. The response of the National Emergency Management Agency has proved over time that Nigeria is ill-equipped to handle disasters, so what hope for the country?

The Federal Ministry of Environment is vigorously pursuing environmental education and enlightenment to develop an environmentally responsible populace, compliance, monitoring and enforcement of existing laws and regulations which will all comply with the Environmental Impact Assessment Laws.

As a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, Nigeria has created a Special Climate Fund to finance projects which relate to capacity building, adaptation, technology transfer, climate change mitigation and economic diversification which was recommended for countries highly dependent on income from fossils fuels such as Nigeria. A Special Climate Change Unit has also been created in the Ministry to implement the Convention and the protocol activities including the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)

The ministry is intent on achieving zero gas flaring and this was demonstrated in the registration of a CDM project by Nigerian Agip Oil Company in Rivers State, calls have been made to other oil and gas companies to follow suit.

Having identified that the main challenge towards its goal is the non- compliance, monitoring and enforcement of environmental standards, the Federal Government set up the National Environment Standards and Regulations Agency (NESREA) in July, this year to ease environmental concerns. NESREA, as a matter of urgency is developing and reviewing existing environmental laws and standards, developing programmes that will comply and intensifying environmental education and awareness.

National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) had earlier been established in 2006 to co-ordinate and monitor the implementation of the Federal Government policies on the national oil Spill Contingency Plan in accordance with the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation, 1990 which Nigeria ratified.

To achieve an integrated waste management system, the federal Government recently awarded a public private partnership contract to Messrs Strata Engineering Services; government contributed N250m, private partners will contribute between three to five billion naira, while benefiting states will make available fifty hectares of land for the project. Aqua-dozers, 'a sea and river cleaning machine' have been acquired to clean the debris in the waterways and ensure easy flow.

State governments are being encouraged to popularise and ensure implementation of the National Erosion and Flood Control Policy which was launched July this year, and to conduct regular awareness campaigns to educate residents on the consequences of blocking waterways and drainages with refuse or structures.

The UNDP Ozone Depletion Unit has been working in Nigeria for 15 years and has funded a couple of projects aimed at environmental protection, but Nigeria needs to take more urgent steps to protect itself. The major problem is that the most officials who get sponsored to 'environmental protection' trips are hardly environment analyst or experts, most just go for the 'estacode' which accompanies such trips , and the delegates are changed every year like it is just an opportunity to go holidaying abroad, not for serious issues.

Again the report has clearly shown that most signatories to the Kyoto Protocol are failing to meet their targets for cutting green house emissions highlighting the discrepancy between politically agreed targets and current energy policies. They have mainly publicised targets and schemes, but few can claim success through specific programmes.

UNDP is stressing that it is social injustice for these wealthier nations to leave the poorer nations to bear the brunt of these emissions alone with the meagre resources available to them, it has been suggested that they should contribute 0.2 per cent of their annual GDP into climate change adaptation policies. They also have to cut their emissions by half by the year 2020.

UN is advocating that the world must reduce its total percentage of GHG by 80 per cent by the year 2050; that is not to say even if green house gas emissions are stopped today, the effects of that which has been emitted would not be felt; The world has to adopt adaptation strategies.

The theme of this year's HDR is Fighting Climate Change: Human solidarity in a Divided World. In Bali UNDP would propose some adaptation strategies which include; putting a proper price on carbon through a combination of carbon taxation and an ambitious global expansion of cap and trade schemes, strengthening regulatory standards by adopting and enforcing tougher efficiency standards on vehicle, building and electrical appliance emissions.

Recommendations would also be made to support the development of low carbon energy provision and to make adaptation part all plans to reduce poverty and extreme inequality.

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