Paddy Ezeala argues urgent need to do more to save the Nigerian environment

Climate variability or what is generally known as climate change has been prominent in global discourse in recent times. The upcoming 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) provides us an opportunity for introspection with regard to our response to this issue of climate change. The conference with the theme, Food Systems Resilience is taking place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) later this month.  By extension, it is also an opportunity for us to take stock of the state of our environment and evaluate our responses to the various challenges confronting us.

The consequences of climate change are manifesting starkly in Nigeria and in fact across West Africa and, the world. We can no longer pretend that nothing is happening. We are all affected.

The Sahel region of northern Nigeria, especially the areas bordered by Niger and Chad, is under the severe menace of desertification. Fertile land areas from which the people derived sustenance through farming and other economic activities are speedily witnessing increasing loss of vegetation. They evoke the image of aridity, which is an apt metaphor for a state of wholesale degradation begging for remedial action. The situation of Lake Chad is emblematic of the extent of damage being wrought by climate change in Nigeria. The Sahel is listed as a region of high vulnerability to climate-driven hazards and increasing health threats to climate interactions in the ”10 New Insights in Climate Science” report developed by Future Earth, the Earth League and the World Climate Research Programme. The truth is that if we want wetlands to remain wet, and green lands to remain green, then we must not desert dry lands. Climate change adversely affects the health of entire ecosystems. Several environmental extremities are linked to climate change. The frequency and intensity of these extreme weather events associated with climate change have sometimes led to humanitarian challenges.

Northern Nigeria remains the food basket of the country. Any attempt not to address the environmental issues with the seriousness it deserves would spell disaster for the entire country. We are elated, however, by the Great Green Wall initiative aimed at wedging the incursion of the Sahara Desert into the country. Environmental degradation worsens the living condition of a people and in some cases occasions migration which in turn has its own other environmental and sociopolitical consequences.

In southern Nigeria, it is as if war has been declared on the natural environment. Not even protected areas are spared. Massive and uncontrolled logging has been taking place in many states in Nigeria as if we are in a lawless situation. The level of illegal logging in Cross River, Edo, Ogun and even in some North Central States is disturbing. The citing of a foreign privately-owned charcoal producing factory in Nsukka in Enugu State has not helped matters. Even the adjoining states have been affected by the massive logging instigated by this destructive Foreign Direct Investment.

Between 1981 and the year 2000 Nigeria lost 3.7 million hectares of forests. At present, less than 4 per cent of Nigeria’s untouched rainforest cover is left. More frightening is the fact that the loss is still continuing at the rate of more than 3.5 per cent annually. This implies a colossal loss of bio-diversity. For instance, 484 plant species are threatened with extinction in Nigeria. Out of the 7.5 million hectares of forests lost globally on annual basis according to Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Nigeria accounts for the loss of 350,000 hectares; with 1.5 million trees felled daily due to illegal logging. If not for the existence of protected areas, especially, the National Parks, these figures would have more than doubled. This situation is made hopeless by the almost total absence of measures aimed at encouraging forest regeneration. Related to this is the absence of a valuation system to place a value on forest resources so that when forests are destroyed through individual or corporate negligence, adequate compensation would be paid.

The point should be made that there is need to develop more environmentally and socially equitable approaches to forest management in Nigeria. The wanton destruction of forests across the country must be checked.

Forests perform a broad range of critical environmental and climatic functions, including the maintenance of constant supply of water. Forests harbour species and at the same time have very deep economic, aesthetic, industrial and religious significance for humans. However, economic development pressures often lead to the conversion of forest ecosystems without consideration for both the long-term economic costs and the implications of the immediate loss of bio-diversity, ecosystem structure and function.

We should be able to harness the potential of the forests in the development of eco-tourism and scientific research rather than continue with illegal logging and wildlife trafficking. Nigeria’s remaining rainforests harbour about 4000 different species of plants, including those that have been found to be effective in the development of alternative medicine. There are also animals, including birds that can be found only in Nigeria. These include the Ibadan malimbe, the Anambra waxbill, the Jos indigo bird, the white-throated monkey (Cercopithecus erythrogaster pococki), the Niger Delta pigmy hippo and the Niger Delta red colobus monkey. The question remains: What has been done to protect, harness and develop these natural endowments? In other words, we should be able to fashion a sustainable development strategy that ensures the prosperity of humans while living in a way that synchronizes with the natural environment.

Back to the main issue; climate action plans known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) is in response to the Paris Agreement. The Federal Government of Nigeria submitted an NDC in 2015 which was updated in 2021. The country promised to contribute 20% below business-as-usual carbon emission levels by 2030 and even 47% with international support. It is anticipated that by 2050 Nigeria will be a country of low carbon, climate-resilient and high-growth circular economy with an emission reduction of 50% compared to current levels; on the way towards achieving Net zero emission.

During COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, former President Muhammadu Buhari put a 2060 date to Nigeria’s achievement of Net zero. He had also promised at Climate action Summit at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in September, 2019 that the federal government was going to mobilize Nigerian youths to plant 25 million trees. No one knows to what extent this promise has been kept.

In conclusion, the principal actors in Nigeria’s collective climate action must be commended for their resilience and doggedness in contending with the exigencies of international climate policy, diplomacy and economics. However, while we work to reduce carbon emissions, we must work to protect carbon sinks. The carbon sequestration capacity of our forests is reducing as the forests shrink. Our rainforests are severely in danger of complete depletion. Many people do not know that forests absolve excess water thereby preventing or controlling flooding and even soil and gully erosion. They also release water in times of aridity.  We all know that black soot is enveloping many parts of the Niger Delta as a result of crude and illegal refining of petroleum products; gas flaring has been a long-standing menace, and the mangrove forests and wetland ecosystems of the Niger delta are being destroyed by oil spillage while the Sahara Desert has continued to encroach into the country. Against this backdrop, therefore, and while we tag along with the international dynamics in climate negotiations, we must note that our natural environment is imperiled and urgent action is required.

We must do something!

 Ezeala is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Development Agenda magazine

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