© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Paying for the climate in Nigeria
By Stephen Aina
The second law of thermodynamics, as posited by Isaac Newton, states that “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. On the surface, the law can pass for a line in poetry. Nevertheless, the scientifically inclined will effortlessly conjure imaginary scenes where an object is being acted upon by a force at varied angles of inclination.
The foregone paragraph is never an attempt to dive into the intricacies of physical science, but was adumbrated to emphasize the need for caution as the society strives to derive greater level of luxury from the environment. The rapidly changing environment and periodic colossal damages to lives and properties induced by natural disasters are enough to pique the human instinct that the business-as-usual scenario and dispositions to the environment is no longer fashionable and can only lead to distasteful consequences.
The recent happenings across the nation are kind reminder of the correctness of the “rephrased” second law of thermodynamics. It says, the society should not be hopeful of eating tomorrow the cake it neglected to preserve today. Heatwaves, flash floods, crop failures, and many more natural tragedies typify a cake that is going bland. Meningitis has debilitated many precious lives in the extreme north and flash floods play second fiddle to none in the destruction of lives and properties across Nigeria.
The common denominator to natural disasters is that the least privileged citizens are always at the receiving end of climatic vicissitude. Their capacity to mitigate and adapt to climate vagaries is abridged, often, by their non-literate status, visionless leadership at all tiers of government and empty community extension efforts. Even though climate change further impoverishes the poor, the rich are beginning to reckon that they are also not fully immune to back-kicks from the environment. Recent flooding in the metropolitan areas of Lagos state defiled the superfluity of luxury to wreak towering havoc on properties in addition to the discomfort and pains visited on residents of stately estates. Water levels in some areas climbed up as high as 1.9 meters, high enough to submerge and damage choice cars and appliances.
Indisputably, the floods only paid the estates a courtesy visit, even though uninvited, as the genuine landowner that was displaced through indecorous blockades (debris) on culverts and the serial cut-and-fill operations on wetlands to accommodate the grey of concretes. Future deluge could be more devastating!
As the dust raised by the floods settles, it is important not to lose the lessons. That for every action or inaction, the environment will yield in response to the level of perturbation and the people, either poor or rich, may have to bear the consequences.
Some states, with Lagos leading the efforts, have shown noble commitment towards sustainable use of the environment, but much can still be done in the areas of wetland management, stream channelization, tree planting and waste management. As efforts are in speedy gears to turn states into mega-cities and make states wear the appearance of Dubai, the environment should be at the heart of every developmental stride and decision-making bearing in mind the peculiarities of each state.
A report released in 2016 by the World Health Organization (WHO) on urban air quality recorded Nigerian cities among the worst polluted cities in the world with particulate matter (PM) concentrations 32 times higher than the recommended level. Onitsha ranked as the worst city in the world apropos of air pollution. In parallel, the air in most cities is too dirty and lethal for the human lungs. An estimate by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) puts possible annual premature deaths from polluted air to about 712,000 in Africa.
Again the poor among the society who spends more time outdoor to eke a living are the most impacted — even though the well-to-do are also not spared. The affluent who adopt the abatement option and rituals of confinement to air-conditioned spaces often lock themselves out of the healing ingredients and ample freshness in the natural air. The affluent tend to become heat-intolerant and suffer the risk of respiratory infections from contaminated air filters. In addition, air conditioners operate on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to achieve cooling. This chemical is carcinogenic at high concentrations and a more potent greenhouse gas creating an island of heat around mansions and castles of the affluent.
Economic growth and development come at certain costs to the environment and such costs are to be borne by everyone, particularly business firms whose activity add considerably to biodiversity loss and reduction in environmental quality. Business owners operating fleets of industrial power sets and automobiles, including those regularly discharging effluents and greenhouse gases into the environment, are expected to blaze the trail of climate financing in Nigeria.
Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other nature advocates in developing countries may soon experience financial stress following the United States (US) hostile stance on the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation. Despite existing alliance by few state governors to neutralize President Donald Trump’s hasty pronouncement and sustain the US commitment to the Paris Agreement, the executive order is weighty enough to create spiraling aftermaths on the accessibility of climate funds to developing countries.
Sequel to the aforesaid, developing local content for financing climate change mitigation and adaptation programmes is essential to the survival of the conservation sector and also vital to sustaining the gains of conservation efforts in Nigeria. Climate financing in the local context will provide the needed bail-out for NGOs, Community-based Organizations (CBOs) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to engage in effective advocacy campaigns and create job opportunities to curtail rural-urban migration.
Beyond the glamour of political correctness, and exchange of pleasantries and handshakes by stakeholders from both the public and private sectors at workshops and summits, business firms and moguls in Nigeria are encouraged to show dedicated commitment and support to programmes designed to create awareness, plant trees, rehabilitate shorelines and conserve biodiversity. This may, however, not happen until relevant laws with pathways to environmental protection are activated and enforced.
The burden of responsibility is now on major greenhouse gas emitters, conservation agencies and the ogas at the top to forge doable alliance to drive climate and biodiversity financing in Nigeria. A shift from the usual profit-driven and tight-fisted left-handed approach to business to the liberal and ethical right-handed posture to environmental business is required.
Otherwise, a future where consumers will become sufficiently literate in environmental matters as to avoid certain services and products from firms that are not branded as ecofriendly will be desirable in the campaign for a safer planet. Until such moral resolution reinforced by quality control acts is attained, the least privileged citizens will continue to involuntarily “pay” for the offences of many firms to the climate. This is a livid case of heightened climate injustice and amounts only to double jeopardy as consumers equally pay to secure goods and services from the firms.
Since literacy in the common sense does not always translate to environmental literacy, key stakeholders in the conservation sector should soon develop blueprints adaptable to different genre of businesses to sensitize firms and clients alike on the need to embrace the ideals of a green economy. An economy that seeks to minimize the attendant environmental and social risks from all economic production activities. Every citizen has the right to clean air and water.
With the average global CO2 concentration now 15% more than the recommended safety threshold of 350 part per million (ppm), the world is on the precipice of a climate crisis. Nevertheless, the imminent plunge is needless and can be reversed, albeit slowly, if the tenets of climate justice are ingrained and imbibed enough to guide the discharge of social responsibilities by corporate organizations in Nigeria.
A number of options are available to firms with high carbon emission rates to reduce their carbon footprints, an ostensible environmental risk and harbinger of global warming. None of the options towards a low-carbon future are without financial obligations and dedicated sacrifices. Heavy polluters can transit to becoming carbon neutral institutions by exploring biological options to counteract the onset of climatic extremes in Nigeria. Carbon offsetting provides firms with an inexpensive option of reducing their carbon footprints through investments in forestry. The forests can offer both immediate and long-term respite to the nuances of climate change including damping the capacity of runoffs to wreck havocs through canopy interceptions.
Carbon credits can be voluntarily purchased by firms to create a market scenario where monetary transactions are consummated to incentivize owners of sustainably managed forests to perpetuate forests on their lands for carbon sequestration. Forests are potent sinks for carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Firms can likewise choose to collaborate with communities and relevant conservation outfits to set-up, own and manage bio-sequestration farms in any part of the country to offset emissions in excess of the limits allowed by safety regulations.
On a final note, greenery reformation is the next anticipated and desired revolution in Nigeria. It is a revolution long overdue to cushion adverse back-kicks from the climate. A revolution to provide massive job opportunities and stem the unsavoury surge of social vices. A revolution to pay for the accumulated years of climate offenses, either voluntarily through investment in the green reformation or involuntarily as victims of climate change.
God bless Nigeria
Aina is of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), Lagos. He can be reached via [email protected]