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Climate change, Nigeria and Paris accord

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environmentalIT is undisputed that Nigeria is the largest economy in Sub-Saharan Africa. Regarded for its oil-producing clout, the country is blessed with human, capital as well as natural resources. However, Nigeria, like most emerging economies, has suffered the deleterious effect of Climate change. The need for Nigeria to keep to its Nationally Determined Contributions and attain the almost idyll temperature levels of 1.5C cannot be overemphasised. At the start of the Climate Negotiations in Bonn in November 2015, countries most vulnerable to climate impacts (developing countries) took the political initiative by challenging USA, China and Europe to raise their ambitions and set a long-term temperature goal of 1.5 degrees instead of 2 degrees. This evinces without a doubt that developing countries need the compliance with the commitments of 1.5C more than any other nations, and how better can any government do that than ensure its own emissions do not exceed the 1.5C limit. In fact, Thoriq Ibrahim, Environment and Energy Minister of the Maldives realizing the urgency of the situation (even as at 2015) enthused “A long-term temperature goal of well below 1.5C must be reflected in the Paris agreement, along with an indicative pathway for achieving it, including urgent peaking and deep mid-century emissions reductions”

The Paris agreement is indeed daunting, yet realistic. While it maintains a legally binding obligation for state parties to reduce their emissions to below 2C, it then places an altruistic burden on states to further pursue the 1.5C obligation. Nigeria, a party to the Paris agreement, and one of the countries championing climate action in Africa, in its INDC of 11th November, 2015 pledged to reduce emissions by 20 per cent unconditionally and 45 per cent conditionally, compared to business-as-usual levels, by 2030. This is the first reason why the country must keep its 1.5C commitments- the rule of ‘pactasuntservanda’ (contained in Article 26 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties). It enjoins state parties to any treaty or agreement to keep them in good faith. Apart from this, other reasons include the need to preserve the little that is left of our biodiversity, the environmental consequences, the economic effects and of course the alarming rate of health hazards that especially take their toll on low-income communities, women and children.

Permit me to be audacious and say that Nigeria’s economic and agricultural future is linked largely with its ability to keep the temperature within its sphere below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. So, beyond good faith and all I have highlighted above, I will speak further on agriculture and economy. Agriculture is one of the most important sectors of Nigeria’s life, and it is one of the most critical ones affected by the impacts of climate change as it is largely dependent on sunlight, rainfall, temperature and humidity. There can be no successful food production if these factors are not available both in quantity and quality. Invariably their availability it affects the quantity, quality and type of food production as well as production-related income. Thus food availability, accessibility, utilization and systems stability are equally affected because of the dynamic interaction between bio-geophysical and human environments. Also, farming seasons, storage and production are affected due to uncertainty in weather conditions.

Notable is the fact that the sector remains the main source of livelihood for most rural communities in Nigeria, thus a failure of the sector is disastrous as it could lead to grave levels of hunger and poverty. It is also a major industry for the production of raw materials for the textile and manufacturing industry as well as a source of foreign exchange. A recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed that climate change threatens to undermine the progress that has been achieved to date, especially in the agricultural sector. There is also the effect of global warming on the health of livestock, milk production and spread of diseases. For instance, the availability and price of feed grain and pasture and forage crop yields is affected.

Speaking for the economy, according to a 2009 DFID study if no action is taken, between 2-11 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP could be lost by 2020. This, to me serves enough motivation for the country to keep to its 1.5C commitment. As a fallout of my last point, the part of foreign exchange recouped from Agriculture is ailing and is just one sector of the economy crumbling under the tough hands of global warming. In order to achieve this goal though, there are things Nigeria must necessarily put in place. First, we must get accurate data and readings on the current emission levels in the country, because was it not Carl Sagan that said that to know the present, you must understand the past. And of course, if we have no idea where we are, it is herculean trying to get somewhere else. We need to work on our technology systems and reporting accuracy, so as to get the right data to forge ahead. The Energy Commission research centres must come alive again

Also, we need to develop legislation that has binding force in ensuring reduction of fossil fuel activity and increment of climate-friendly activity. Legislations focusing on environmental concerns in Nigeria like the NESREA (National Environmental Standards Regulation Agency) Act do not have the requisite force for consequence management. The NOSDRA (National Oil Spill Detection Regulation) Act has also been a toothless bulldog against the big polluters. For us to achieve 1.5C, we must give our laws teeth. Third on this issue is the much-touted point that Nigeria has to diversify its economy, relieving the almost entire dependence of the economy on a non-renewable fossil fuel, with grave climatic impacts. Countries like Norway that have oil in commercial quantity are quickly moving towards sustainable energy, wind farms, solar stations and waste to energy plants are popping up everywhere, replacing the revered oil and building a futuristic and sustainable economy. Nigeria has to borrow this leaf, and take a step back from the hallowed crucibles of petroleum, and use the revenue gained from the oil industry to pour back into the huge capitalization required for climate-friendly energy production, and slowly ebb away from the fossil fuel dependence.

I will conclude by saying that Nigeria is replete with renewable energy and the potential to not just develop, but monetize it. The benefits are enormous. The agriculture, health, and even investment milieu of the country will take a sharp turn for the better. Also, Nigeria’s position, not just as the largest economy in Sub-Saharan Africa, but as a big brother, will be affirmed.

  • Adebayo is a lawyer and environmentalist

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