Climate change: Issues Nigeria should focus on

Since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), otherwise known as the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 1992 produced the treaty referred to as the United Nations Convention on Climate change (UNFCCC), which aimed at stabilising the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere without setting mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions by individual countries, a number of follow-up meetings (protocols) have been held to set mandatory emission limits. So far, fourteen of these meetings have been held in different parts of the world to streamline what individual countries should do to achieve the global target of greenhouse gas reduction. Nigeria is a party to the UNFCCC and therefore a stakeholder.

Among the 14 protocol meetings so far held by the 192 members and four observer nations in what is referred to as the Conference of Parties (COP) are the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change (COP-3, December 1997), the Montreal Protocol (COP-11, November 28 to December 9, 2005) and the Bali Protocol (COP-13, December 3-15, 2007). The Kyoto Protocol stands out as the principal framework that set mandatory emission limits, which individual nations are expected to observe.

Thus, since 1997, roughly twelve years after the Kyoto framework was adopted, a number of countries, particularly in the developed economies of the world have for the first time made measurable attempts to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being spilled from their heavy industrial chimneys. The United Kingdom and some European countries are among the countries that have shown much commitment towards limiting carbon emission from their industrial production system and replacing it with green technologies that are environment friendly. Japan has also made useful commitments.

But the United States has been foot-dragging and politicking on this very important matter. The immediate past Bush administration was particularly opposed to the US doing anything on greenhouse gas reduction except countries like China and India followed suite. That position doesn’t seem to have changed much even with the Obama administration. There is no doubt that the US is among the major polluting countries whose industrial production system and lifestyle contributes significant amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Besides, the US is among the countries that have suffered and could suffer more from the impacts of climate change. If the US takes a positive lead on the issue, the other countries in the G20 group would follow suite. But the politics seems to becloud an open-minded and fair assessment of the dangers the entire world faces if nothing is done to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Since the UNCED, the Copenhagen summit is by far the most important gathering of countries, the scientific community, citizen groups and inter-governmental organisations to address the challenge posed by climate change. The conference is critical because that is where a new agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, would be reached. To keep the process going, the parties to the UNFCCC must agree to a Copenhagen Protocol. This is why the conference is critical to the world. Its success or failure would determine the future line of action on the climate change issue by the global community. According to conference sources, representatives from 170 countries are expected in Copenhagen. Altogether, about 8,000 people from diverse groups would gather at the Danish capital.

What is the position of Nigeria in all this? What role is Nigeria expected to play as the most populous among the black developing countries? There is the argument that developing countries should not be placed on the same demands with the developed world in order not to jeopardise their economic development drive. What is being done to project this position at the conference to serve the interest of the country in particular and Africa in general? Small countries like Tuvalu and Costa Rica have already submitted proposals to the conference to protect their country’s interest. Some countries are holding pre-conference consultations to articulate their country’s position. Has Nigeria done anything in that regard? Altogether, the secretariat has received five proposals from Japan, Tuvalu, Australia, Costa Rica and the United States of America.

It is obvious that in the face of growing international concern over the future of the world climate exacerbated by climate change, Nigeria, indeed African countries are not doing much to address the problem. Poor governance, severe economic hardship, corruption, etc tend to engage the attention of those in authority. But the country can’t afford to remain unconcerned in the face of danger that is already taking toll on social and economic development.

Though, Nigeria is not a major industrial polluter that should worry about greenhouse gas emission from her production system, there are other issues that should engage the attention of government about climate change. These include:

  • Green energy. One of the greatest problems facing Nigeria is lack of energy supply. The entire country is virtually enveloped in darkness not because there are no exploitable energy sources but as a result of corruption. As a matter of fact, Nigeria is endowed with vast untapped energy resources. Hydropower, wind, solar and other renewable energy sources need to be tapped. Nigeria and indeed Africa can reap the benefits of climate change by using the opportunity to tap the abundant renewable green energy sources being advocated. Thus, rather than investing in the traditional fossil fuel energy, Nigeria should re-adjust her energy development strategies in line with the greentech standards that helps to fight climate change.

  • Agriculture and food security. It is unfortunate that agriculture is a sector that has been abandoned in Nigeria since the onset of the oil boom in the mid-70s. Incidentally, the country is endowed with a vast ecosystem that stretches from the arid to the rain forest regions. Whereas, climate change induced disasters could impact on agricultural production in both arid and rainforest areas depending on the nature of the swing, the country should evaluate the possible scenarios and determine the impacts on agriculture of a drier or wetter climate. This is necessary in order to adapt the country’s agriculture to those possible conditions.

  • Petroleum resources. The backbone of Nigeria’s economy is petroleum resources. At the same time, 99 per cent of the known petroleum resources are located offshore and in the low-lying Niger Delta region. I have earlier pointed out in this column that in the event of a sea level rise or severe category four hurricanes, the country’s petroleum infrastructure would be devastated and the economy would grind to a halt. These scenarios need to be researched and projected as a basis for putting control measures. The truth is that no one knows exactly the time and nature of the disasters that could be generated. The only option is to project the scenarios of such disasters and work towards mitigating their impacts.

  • Gas flaring. Virtually all the green house gas emissions attributed to Nigeria comes from gas flaring in the oil belt. It is unfortunate that five decades since oil exploitation began, Nigeria has not worked out a strategy to harness the associated gas that is wastefully spilled into the atmosphere. While the government has for the past ten years pursued a liquefied petroleum gas programme designed to harness the wasted gas, not much has been achieved in this regard. It is particularly annoying that all the deadlines government has set so far to stop gas flaring have failed due to lack of commitment, which the oil companies are exploiting. The climate change campaign provides a new opportunity to spur government to intensify efforts to stop gas flaring in the country.

  • Natural disasters. In recent times, the incidence of natural disasters has increased in intensity and frequency. For instance, desertification is encroaching rapidly into the entire northern landscape. Over 19 states from the middle belt are affected. Besides, severe floods, gully erosion and landslides have become recurrent issues in the south. Many villages in the Southeast have been swallowed by deep gullies. Flood incidents have become more frequent in Lagos and many parts of the country. With a swing in climate, these disasters would create national emergencies that will drain huge sums of money. The national emergency organisation should be strengthened to cope with disaster events.

  • Finally, the global action on climate change is being tackled through research and emergency management. Whereas, the emergencies are occasional incidents, the issue of research is a continuous process. The developed countries are investing a lot on scientific research and prediction of the possible scenarios. While some countries have established research organisations that focus entirely on climate change issues, others use their universities to implement the research.

    Sadly, most research organisations in the country are moribund. At the same time, the universities that should spearhead scientific research on climate change are grounded. It is only through research that knowledge about what climate change entails could be known. Nigeria should do something in this regard. It should start by ensuring that the universities are functional and equipped to carry out research like in other countries.