Ask President Muhammadu Buhari what he thinks is the chief reason for the violence and insecurity in Nigeria, including the Boko Haram terrorism in the north-east, bloody wars between cattle herdsman and farmers in central Nigeria, erosion in the east and the environmental catastrophe in the costal regions and he will say, almost upon instinct that it’s the climate change.
The new Nigerian president, who promised to tackle the problem of climate change in his inaugural speech, has spun a compelling narrative on the disappearing Lake Chad, the environment around the Chad basin and how these have become the problem of the economy of the neighboring states through the failure of agriculture and joblessness which in turn have provided an easy recruitment into violent extremism. It was a narrative so compelling that it literally arrested the attention of the world as 190 countries met in Paris to agree on the first global agreement on climate change. President of the United States, Barack Obama took it from here, illustrating how the drying up of the lake is becoming a major factor in the migration of Africans to the west, and on account of which, he agreed with our President that the revival of the lake had become a global imperative. It will require 14 billion U.S. Dollars to divert East African rivers to empty into the lake, the kind of money President Buahri told world leaders that his country cannot pay. He therefore asked for global assistance.
President Buhari’s speech at the conference centered on two major planks: one, Nigeria under him has the political will to secure its ecological interests and two, we will work with the rest of the world to protect the environment without compromising industrial development.
Starting with the Lake Chad, the President illustrated his awareness of the risk the changing climate presents to human security by recalling the richness of the waters and surrounding agriculture of the Lake Chad that attracted settlers, allowing the settled communities to enjoy education and comparable economic wellbeing. However, with prolonged drought and desertification, Lake Chad is now one-tenth of its original size,leading to poverty due to the failure of agriculture and fishing causing instability in the region that the insurgency of the Boko Haram has been able to cash in upon. The lake that once spread its territorial waters onto the four countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission has now been reduced to a miserly presence on the Chadian territory, denying thereby direct access to its waters to Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon.
Traders in Baga, the major trading hub which the army just recovered from the Boko Haram said on a good day, five truck-loads of fish are now transported out of town, in stark contrast to the 100 a day that carried fish from the interstate market in the past.
Beyond the drought conditions of the Lake Chad, the President successfully showed the world Nigeria’s vulnerability to climate change as manifested in the various ecological zones.
He cited the problem of soil erosion in the South as a consequence of “climate-change-related heavier and steadier than normal rainfall” that is worsening soil erosion in the subregion. “The recent increase in the number of reported severe landslides in the South-Eastern states of the country is an attestation to the possible climate change-induced changes in erosion intensity.”
The President also reported on the sea-level rise, stating that Nigeria’s coastline is already undergoing ” pronounced morphological changes as a result of natural extreme events, such as sea surges and tidal waves.” He projected that 35% of the highly-productive Niger Delta could be lost if nothing was done to stop the anticipated global warming-induced accelerated sea level rise of between half-a-meter to one meter. Much of Lagos, the nation’s commercial capital will be abandoned if the sea waters rise by one meter.
Forests and other ecosystems, he noted, which are already under significant pressure are being affected by the worsening climate change. In particular, he warned of persistent flooding and water logging that would make the coastal regeneration difficult and the Savannah region of Northern Nigeria becoming vulnerable to the reduction of rainfall. The recent violence wracking Kaduna, FCT, Plateau,Nassarawa and Benue states pitching herdsmen and farmers was equally cited, its primary factor, no doubt being the weather.
The President listed a myriad of other implications arising for the climate change vulnerabilities of Nigeria including a major risk to access to potable water, increased energy demand for cooling; negative implications for tourism, one of the country’s fastest growing industries, as well as consequences for agriculture and food security.
In line with the principles of the Paris conference, Nigeria joined 179 other countries-which together are responsible for 97 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions- to submit voluntary commitments on how and when they plan to cut emissions.
In our specific case, the President submitted a two-stage proposal- an unconditional first phase to cut our own contribution to global warming by 20 percent, and this included a decisive plan to end the flaring of gas in our oil fields and a commitment to extending power supply to parts of the country that don’t enjoy electricity using solar energy and other renewable sources. On account of the latter, President Buhari accepted an invitation by Narendra Modi to join an international alliance of 121 “solar-rich” countries to advance the use of this clean source energy. The second phase of the Nigerian proposal described as equally bold would see the country cutting the emission by a total of 45 percent,however on condition of international support. The measures here include increased level of energy efficiency and a significant reduction in the use of generators while providing access to power to all Nigerians.
To do this, Nigeria has asked for support from the rich countries accused by Indian Prime Minister Modi of “powering their way to prosperity on fossil fuel” at the expense of the developing countries.
The moral underpin of the Paris conference states unequivocally that the rich countries must actually take responsibility for the current mess up of the global climate and lead the fight against global warming through several compensatory steps, one of which is a proposal to fund redemptive activities with an annual fund of 100 million U.S Dollars.
In addition to drawing from this, Nigeria is asking for further international support in the form of finance and investment, technology and capacity building.
All these proposals are in a document Nigeria joined other countries to table as its “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, INDC.”
In these documents, the countries of the world each outlined their goals and action plans towards a redemption of the environment and the steps, going forward they will be taking to achieve sustainable development and delivering on government priorities.
In the case of Nigeria, President Buhari approved several policies and measures that will deliver immediate development benefits which are in addition to the climate benefits.
These policies and measures, according the government document, set out to alleviate poverty,increase social welfare and inclusion, as well as improving individual wellbeing in a healthy environment. President Buhari made clear the political will on the part of the government at the center in Nigeria to tackle the catastrophic problems associated with climate change. Some of these, as manifested by the dirty air in our cities deriving from the use of diesel generators, cars and trucks as well as the burning of wastes that in turn spew up toxic gases are matters he said government will tackle.
To achieve this massive transformation (oh,no! Transformation again?), the approved policy document sets out what it calls sector-specific strategies, policies, programs to reduce the impact of climate change through actionable measures by the federal government ,the states, local governments, civil society, private sector, communities and individuals.
In a nutshell, these measures will, hopefully improve awareness and preparedness for climate change impact; mobilize communities for climate change adaptation actions; reduce the impact of climate change on key sectors and vulnerable communities and integrate climate change adaptation into national,sectoral, state, local government planning and into the plans of universities, research and educational organizations, the civil society, the private sector and the media.
Broken down, there are strategies for agriculture (crops and livestock); fresh water and coastal water resources and fisheries; forests; biodiversity; health and sanitation; human settlement and housing;energy; transport and communications; industry and commerce; disaster, migration and security.
Equally, there are strategies for livelihoods which are about encouraging community participation including civil society organizations; the vulnerable groups who are not to be left out and strategies for education.
The overall participation by Nigeria at the Conference of Parties to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-UNFCCC) agreement at the Paris Conference on Climate Change showed a rare type of seriousness on the part of our country. This is in terms of both preparation, pedagogy and actual participation.
While this is a true reflection of President Muahmmadu Buhari’s self-professed seriousness of commitment to issues of the environment, it is also a testimony to the solid teamwork the new ministers, Mrs. Amina Ibrahim Mohammed and Ibrahim Usman Jibrin are injecting into the ministry responsible.
It is equally important to note that this ministry which enjoys a rare combination of bureaucrats, scholars and technocrats in its staff had spent not less than one year setting out scenarios and priorities for the country at the conference, a spectacular effort that won the appreciation of the ministers and the President. No doubt, Nigeria’s historic presentation at the climate change conference is a milestone at the start of a long, tortuous journey.
In the final analysis however, it is the resolutions taken and the actions that follow that will determine the success of Nigeria at the COP in Paris and the policies and actions that will be pursued. For now however, it is gratifying that the President’s appeal to the rich nations, the UN and other world bodies has been heard and heeded, somewhat to a degree, with world leaders including India’s Modi and Barack Obama coming in tow.
. Shehu is the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity.