This Day (Lagos)

30 August 2009

Nigeria: Climate Change - Combating the Enemy Within

opinion

Lagos — Observers believe Nigeria's development is climate constrained. From rapidly expanding desert in the North to recurrent floods, erosion and ocean surge in the South, climatic change represents a clear and present danger. Despite mounting evidence, responses from government and civil society in Nigeria remain inadequate. However with the passage of the bill on climate change by the National Assembly, a coalition says time to combat the danger is now.

The "greenhouse effect" is one aspect of challenges facing the world today. Africa and of course Nigeria is not exempted from the rampaging menace. Just as the glass walls of a greenhouse keep the interior temperature higher than that outside, the earth's atmosphere traps some of the energy radiated from the earth near the planets surface.

Scientists and campaigners say that the presence of "greenhouse gases" (like water vapour and carbon dioxide), keeps the planet's average temperature at a hospitable 15°C. With no greenhouse effect, the earth's average temperature would stabilise at about -18°C. Though not all components of the atmosphere are greenhouse gases, however; in fact, oxygen and nitrogen, which together make up more than 95 per cent of the atmosphere, are not greenhouse gases. In as much as the greenhouse effect is not in dispute-but it lies at the heart of the study of global climate change.

There's no doubt that increases in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases strengthens the greenhouse effect and contributes to global warming. What remain uncertain are the precise effects of a strengthened greenhouse effect on global temperatures. Because there is still much to be learned about how the world's climate will react to increased greenhouse gas concentrations, the range of possible climate futures projected by the experts is an indication of uncertainty about how much the world will warm over the coming century-not of whether that warming is happening.

Unfortunately, Nigeria has over the years been a victim of huge climate devastation. From the north, desert encroachment is eating up farm lands; in the south west, ocean surge is causing havoc on property and environment; in the south east erosion is eating up villages and farmlands, while in the south south oil pollution has continued to render havoc to aquatic animals as well as human lives.

Ironically, as the climate change continue to cause havoc on the environment and economy, experts and campaigners speak with different voice, especially in Nigeria. It was as a result of this that some experts and organisations dealing with issues on climate change said that speaking with different voices cannot achieve anything for the country. Early this year, some of the experts came together under the umbrella of Nigeria Climate Action Network with the sole objective of addressing climate change together.

According to the chief coordinator, Mr. Ewah Eleri, Nigeria Climate Action Network (Nigeriacan) is a coalition of groups and individuals in Nigeria working to promote government and individual actions to combat climate change. Members work to achieve this goal through the coordination of information exchange and civil society strategy on national and international issues. Members come from the public and private sectors, civil society organisations, international development organisations and individuals.

He said that Nigeria's development is climate constrained. "From rapidly expanding desert in the North to recurrent floods, erosion and ocean surge in the South, climatic change represents a clear and present danger. Despite mounting evidence, responses from government and civil society in Nigeria remain inadequate.

"Nigeria requires powerful coalitions to promote the development of policy instruments, increase access to climate change information and forge clearer positions on international negotiations. This will form the basis for climate change adaptation and mitigation at individual, social, and corporate levels, and better position Nigeria in the international climate change arena," Eleri emphasised.

Nigeria can, he told THISDAY in Abuja after the coalition's maiden conference/workshop in Lagos recently, brings together influential change champions under the umbrella of a coalition that will identify innovative entry points and resources that assist in mainstreaming climate policies and programmes. A key strategy is to recognise policy change opportunities where quick gains can be delivered through the proactive efforts of critical voices and media interventions. Ending gas flaring, Eleri added will create the basis for sustainable electricity supply, reduce environmental problems in the Niger Delta and help mitigate climate change.

He said the overall purpose of Nigeriacan is to strengthen Nigeria's response to climate change adaptation and mitigation through strengthening current efforts to change policy and institutional frameworks on climate change, and ensuring that these processes are well informed through effective consultation mechanisms; engaging with the private sector and other stakeholders; and ensuring that Nigeria's position on international issues on climate change is better understood and articulated. He added that preserving the country's forest is key to sustainable development.

Nigeriacan is organised into three working groups. First is the policy working group because it believes that Nigeria requires clear policies and strong institutions to tackle climate change. Therefore, the policy working group seeks to strengthen Federal and State policy frameworks on climate change through improved mechanisms for consultation and implementation. The group engages with the legislative and executive organs at federal and state levels.

The Information Working Group disseminates quality information and improves access to climate change information in Nigeria, while the International Working Group seeks to strengthen Nigeria's engagement in international processes as climate change transcends national boundaries and requires strong international cooperation. Nigeriacan membership is open to all individuals and groups who are committed to tackling climate change. The coalition actively seeks a balanced representation of individuals and organisations, including vulnerable groups, especially women.

Membership in the Working Groups is drawn from influential individuals and organisations both in the private and public sectors that have functional linkages to various climate change issues. Priority is given to groups and individuals whose positions, interests; knowledge and influence support and advance the climate change agenda. Urban transportation planning is essential in addressing climate change, air quality and public health. NigeriaCAN is funded by Coalitions for Change - a DFID programme supporting coalitions that seek reforms in specific sectors. Partners work to promote funding initiatives and take complementary roles to ensure the sustainability of the network.

The group has been able to achieve so much in its short period of existence. With collaboration and pressure from Nigeriacan, a bill was pushed through the National Assembly. On July 22, the Senate passed the bill to establish a National Climate Change Commission. This marks an important threshold for the Nigeria Climate Action Network's advocacy for the establishment of a strong national institutional framework to address the pressing challenge of climate change. Earlier, the House of Representatives had passed the same bill.

According to Eleri, Nigeriacan salutes the courage of the National Assembly and in particular the passion and commitment of Senator Grace Bent, the Committee Chairperson on Environment and Ecology and the promoter of the Bill, Senator John Shagaya and Hon. Eziuche Ubani who has taken the campaign on climate change to a different level. He reiterated Nigeriacan's continued commitment to support the country in combating climate change.

Measurements from a variety of sources have suggested that the earth's average atmospheric temperature has risen over the last several hundred years-but by how much? Taking the average temperature of the earth's atmosphere is a very difficult measurement problem. First, measurements must be taken in a large and diverse enough range of locations to ensure that their average is truly a measure of global temperature and is not biased toward one region or another.

Second, those locations must be chosen so that individual measurements are not thrown off by sources of unusually high or low temperatures, such as cities (which tend to be "heat islands" warmer than the surrounding landscape). Third, no measuring device is perfect-all measurements include some amount of error, or "noise." Understanding the kinds of errors associated with different measurement techniques is a key element in evaluating the accuracy of a given temperature value.

In addition, the study of climate requires measurements over very long time periods, so sources of paleoclimate data (data on climate from the distant past) are key to understanding climate change. These are some of the functions the National Climate Change Commission will be saddled with when it's established through the endorsement of the bill by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua any time from now.

This is because as undeveloped countries expand their industry, often using cheaper (and more polluting) fossil-fuel technology, their contributions to greenhouse gases will rise and add to their problem-but by how much? The Commission undertakes studies, for example on what extent will the new, cleaner technologies (such as cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells) be developed and adopted by countries around the world? Of course, these kinds of uncertainties make the tough problem of predicting climate change all the more difficult.

Even moderate increases in atmospheric temperatures could alter precipitation levels, making some areas wetter and others drier, and affecting agriculture worldwide. Warmer temperatures could increase the frequency and strength of storm systems, leading to more powerful and destructive hurricanes and subsequent flooding. This strengthens Nigeriacan argument that climate change is not only about the environment, but its tied to the national economy.

"Climate change has tremendous effect on the rural dwellers. In the olden days farmers knew when to plant their crops and yam, but climate change in recent times has altered all that. This in essence has an effect on agriculture and inadvertently affects the lives of not only the rural, but urban populace," Eleri told THISDAY.

For example, across large areas of Nigeria's southeastern rainforest belt hundreds of communities are threatened by erosion because of decades of uncontrolled deforestation and other types of pressure on the land. The town of Ekwulobia, Anambra and Umuezeukwu in Isiala Ngwa North, Abia States, or what remains of them, is a testament to the region's environmental problems.

A year ago cracks in the soil from erosion on the outskirts of the villages seemed harmless. But seasonal rains further weakened the fissures, triggering a landslide that swallowed up 400 homes and severed major roads, isolating several communities.

More than 2,000 people affected by the disaster in Ekwulobia sought shelter in the local primary school or with friends and relatives. "We all had to vacate our homes and run as we saw the relentless approach of the gullies with every rainfall," said Silas Okeke, an Ekwulobia resident who lost his home in the landslide. "We were lucky no one was killed."

More than 1,000 severe soil erosion sites scar southeast Nigeria, according to the Environment Ministry. At least 700 of them are in Anambra State, with the worst cases in the Ekwulobia region and a time bomb in Umuezeukwu, Isiala Ngwa. In Nanka, a few kilometres north of Ekwulobia, a 20-year-old march by erosion has created a canyon now marveled at by visitors.

Until 150 years ago southeast Nigeria was covered by thick rainforests, said local agriculture specialist Theo Eze. Soil degradation first began with the indiscriminate planting of palm trees as the European demand for palm oil grew in the mid 19th century and expanded during the colonial era.

"The palm tree tends to generate soil salinity when you have a lot of them, which tends to loosen the soil," Eze said. In addition, with its dense population of up to 1,000 people per sq km, pressure on land in the region is intense. Relentless farming and grazing prevents the soil from recovering, said Eze.

Combined with other poor soil management practices, such as bush burning and large-scale felling of trees, the soil has been left weak and exposed, he said. Seasonal rains wash away the topsoil, and gullies and landslides follow if the process is not checked early.

More than 70 percent of all land in southeastern Nigeria is vulnerable to erosion due to land degradation, according to Uzo Egbuche of the Lagos-based Centre for Environmental Resources and Sustainable Ecosy-stems (CE-RASE). Federal, state and local governments often intervene in dramatic cases, such as when a road is cut.

Eleri also said there is need to address the challenges of gas flaring "if we have to make a head way, we need to use more of this gas to power our electricity and thereby reduce the green house emission. That way we can re-kickstart our economy again. We need to stimulate economic growth and reduce poverty. "We know we have the daunting challenge of poverty, and climate change presents an opportunity to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by addressing the issue of gas flaring because gas is less polluting than other petroleum products, reduce the destruction in Niger Delta. We have a unique opportunity to address the climate change in other for us not to run into danger in achieving the 20-2020 goals. Today, climate change looms large and that is why it was a topic in the recent G8 Summit in Italy. It is important we realign our discussion on climate change in a way we can realise the objective of the 20-2020 agenda," he said.

Nigeriacan said Nigeria has the expertise to achieve and realise these objectives. "We recently convoked a summit in Lagos on climate change for the business community. We used the opportunity to provide evidence, according to research, that there are business opportunities in climate change-renewal and hydropower energy, areas we have not been able to tap into as it's done in developing and developed country. If we don't join the train now, we may be surprised that the world will continue to leave us behind and probably run into economic problem.

"Nigeriacan is providing supporting role to government as either body cannot go it alone. The Ministry of Environment has provided leadership in this area. When HIV/AIDs came into Nigeria, we approached it with denial. I don't want this to happen to the issue of climate change. It touches on all aspects of our national lives, especially those who depend on agriculture. We need to rise up as a people, including the private sector; we need to engage actively with international organisations in other the tackle the problem," Eleri said.

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