Let us take the statement credited to Professor James Hansen, NASA’s Chief Climate Scientist, which he wrote in a report (in 2007): ‘The Earth today stands in imminent peril and nothing short of a planetary rescue will save it from the environmental cataclysm of dangerous climate change’. This statement only proves that the challenge of climate change is real. Since the turn of this century it has become a global (if not) security challenge. What everyone- at least those who agree with the reality of this menace- agrees with is that only a concerted global effort, involving the governments of all nations, will be enough to avert its dangerous consequences. Be that as it may, the individual actions of the ordinary people are still crucial. Large and complex issues, like climate change, are usually best tackled by breaking down the problem into manageable bits for proper analysis. This was what led to the gathering of world leaders in Paris, France in December, 2015 to seek ways of minimising the negative effects of climate change.
The Paris Agreement is said to be the first universal, comprehensive and legally-binding deal seeking to tackle the menace of global warming. Perhaps, this was why David Cameron, the British Prime Minister said remarked (about the agreement): “a huge step forward in helping to secure the future of our planet”. The deal is also unique in that it commits nations to trying to keep global temperature rises “well below” 2C, the level that is likely to herald the worst effects of climate change.
To properly analyse the vexed issue of the ozone layer depletion, we need to first understand its causes. But before we go on to analyse the causes and the options for developing countries we need to make some germane clarifications. First, we are going to be using Nigerian specific cases and as it relates to how the scourge affect us as a people. Secondly, this writer does not intend to part in the political debate of the reality or otherwise of the menace as it has been reduced to in some other climes.
Like every known human-created problems, the causes of climate change are still with us. Our people have yet to come to terms with the fact that human activities are primarily responsible for the emissions of four principal green-house gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and the halocarbons (a group of gases containing bromine, fluorine and chlorine). These dangerous gases accumulate in the atmosphere, causing concentrations to increase with time. Significant increases in all of these gases occur in the industrial areas such as Lagos, Port Harcourt and other urban centres.
Human emission of carbon dioxide has increased from the use of fossil fuel in transportation in densely populated areas; bush burning (especially in the rural areas) and other industrial activities in the country. Deforestation has been scientifically proven to be responsible for releasing CO2 and reducing its uptake by plants. Carbon dioxide is also released in natural processes such as the decay of plant matter.
As a result of human activities in agriculture, natural gas distribution and landfills, methane has increased. Methane is also released from natural processes that occur in wetlands. Incidentally, Nigeria is one of the countries in the world richly endowed with both coastal and inland wetlands, while the country’s food supply shortages are met through wetland production. Climate experts say that there are eleven internationally-recorgnised wetlands in Nigeria, while altogether wetland covers about three per cent of the country’s land surface. This report, if proven to be true, means that the time has come to start taking climate change seriously.
Nitrous oxide is also emitted by human activities such as fertilizer use and careless burning of fossil fuel. Natural processes in soils and the oceans also said to release N2O.
Though, itself not directly having human cause(s), desertification or desert encroachment in the Northern (especially the north eastern) part of the country is one of the effects of human interactions with the environment. This region we must not forget is strongly associated with serial bomb blasts (as a result of terrorists’ acts), bush fires, erosion, ecosystem losses and the likes have had major economic impacts on humans. Relocation of farmlands and movements of people from their natural environments to new places increases the risk of global warming. Since man’s first natural instincts survival, it is understandable if people attempt to “conquer the environment” by this instinct. These often results in crops and forests stressing, species (particularly fuels) threatening, fire, coral reef bleaching for food or other uses. But unknown to them, they in the process instead of surviving end up “killing” the environment and endangering future generations.
In Lagos and other coastal states of the Niger-Delta, sea level rise and storm surges with major impacts on coastal development, infrastructure, saline intrusion, loss of coastal wetlands. Though the Lagos State Government has done a lot to combat the scourge of storm surges, which has been a nuisance to inhabitants in the state in the past, little do people know that they were suffering from the consequences of their (in)actions to the environment.
Oceans have absorbed about thirty per cent of human-made carbon dioxide around the world, storing dissolved carbon for hundreds of years. As the uptake of carbon dioxide has increased in the last century, so has the acidity of oceans worldwide. Acidification of oceans has had its attendant consequences on marine life, reefs and fisheries.
Many may not like to admit it that the scourge of global warming is also partly a security issue. The present international refugee and economic crisis arising partly from global terrorism (Boko Haram case in Nigeria) and from rise in sea level; flooding of large population centres, in particular in north eastern part of the country (including the Internally Displaced Persons or IDP camps as a result of insurgency) have added to the complicated challenge of climate change in Nigeria.
It can be so easy to talk about the challenges of global warming without coming out with any meaningful solution. It is said that it is very easy to destroy but it is never easy to create. It is on this note that having identified the cause, we feel we are duty-bound to present the solutions.
Just as we were able to show that over sixty per cent of the causes of climate change are as a result of human depletion of the environment, we must understand that the solutions to climate change lies in our hands. As developing nations, it is understandable if government takes the lead role(s) in our daily lives. This is why we have divided much of our proposed solutions into those dealing with policies (from the political systems) and those having to do with behavioural change (on the part of the citizens).
Having laid this template, let us now go on to present our proposed solutions.
First, developing nations must make climate change a serious political issue. In Australia for instance, the 2007 Federal election was strongly influenced by the stance made by competing political parties on climate change. It is therefore so pathetic and worrying that developing countries do not appear to be taking global warming as a sort of national emergency. For example, Nigeria’s two main political parties, the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have no official views either in their manifestoes or any other document regarding climate change at least during the 2015 presidential campaigns. Are we really serious about tackling this challenge head-on?
No matter how we view this scourge now, one thing is obvious- that the strong and urgent action needed to combat climate change will require a healthy dose of political will, and the courage to make tough choices to save ourselves and the future generations. Before we are misconstrued, we need to come out clear that climate change should be a totally non-partisan issue as it has been in Nigeria but since it affects all people and all countries there are times we need to sake sides. If climate change is continued to be seen by the major political parties as an important issue, for so long will it be marginalised by apparently more immediate concerns.
The next option is for Nigeria to consider “green electricity“. By “Green electricity’’ we mean the electricity produced from sources which do not cause burning coal and gas in power stations which releases millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide, the main gas responsible for climate change and in turn have negative consequences on the environment. It is true that every type of electricity generation will have some impact (positive or negative), but some sources are more “green” than others. The safest energy sources are those that utilise the natural energy flows of the Earth. These are known as renewable energy sources, because they will never run out. There is a scientific prognosis that the future of energy clearly likes in renewable sources such as solar, wind and wave power. Aside from climate change, there are limits to available oil, natural gas and coal. ‘Green power’ is electricity that comes from these technologies, but is delivered to you in the same way as ‘dirty power’ from fossil-fuel burning. That is, down your power lines. As more people take up this scheme, it will drive ever greater investment in these technologies, reduce cost of delivery, and so further hasten the pace of update. It’s a feedback, and you can be the catalyst of change. This green energy has been used in the United Kingdom and other advanced countries for several years include taking advantage of: Wind, Solar, Hydro and Wave, and Tidal power. There is also Geothermal, Biomass, Landfill gas and Waste incineration. Due to lack of the technical know-how, Nigeria and many other developing countries may not be able to afford the use of more complex green energy sources like the Biomass, Geothermal, Landfill gases, but definitely they can afford the rest. The strategic position of Nigeria in sub-Saharan Africa affords it unique atmospheric condition to adopt the weather-related elements like the Wind, Solar and Hydro power. Also, thanks to the growing population of the developing countries, we generate enormous amount of waste hence limiting space at landfill sites. The political leadership in these countries must urgently see the need to convert these ever-increasing wastes to a viable source of income for their citizens. This should also include giving incentives for development of clean energy technologies, including solar, wind, geothermal (hot rocks), hydrogen, tidal and wave. Another incentive may also be for development of large-scale clean energy utilities, including solarthermal, solar-desalination and wind-water extraction plants in outback regions using highly efficient high voltage DC cables to supply electricity to major cities.
The next option is to advocacy. There is need for strong advocacy for the use of efficient household energy for our people. In Nigeria, many of us unthinkingly leave lights on when we are not in the room, or switch off the television sets by the remote instead of at the wall, fire up the heater on when we could put on an extra layer of clothing, or turn on the air conditioner when we could open the window and turn on a fan. It is a force of habit – a bad habit we can break, with just a little thought. The behaviour change we advocate lies at the heart of most individual actions on reducing our individual carbon footprint. By being sensible about our household energy uses, and making sure our houses are well insulated, we can make a huge dent in our CO2 emissions. This will save us huge amount of money that we no longer need to spend on wasted energy time.
Aside behavioural changes, we should consider investing in technologies that help us in our daily lives as a nation. Our people must learn to- when buying new electronic appliances such as air conditioners or washing machines- take note of their energy and water usage. The more energy efficient they are, the more they will save us in the long run, and the lower their CO2 emissions will be. In most cases the ‘payback period’ – the difference between the initial cost of a high versus low efficiency appliance and the long-term savings in lower electricity and water bills, is only a matter of a few months to a few years. After that, people will be smiling to the bank while at the same time doing something meaningful to combat climate change at the same time. How easier can things get?
In a nation that is strictly consumer oriented, we must learn that cars are not only slow means to get to work when you’re faced with a city gridlock – they are also a huge user of oil (which is running out globally) and cost the tax payer heft amounts in road building and maintenance. In a city like Lagos where the challenge of traffic is huge on working days, time, money and energy will be saved if people park their cars at home and take public transport to work. Getting people to their destinations by trains, buses, bikes and on foot is much more greenhouse friendly, and often considerably cheaper. The main problem right now with public transport is that because not enough people use it, there is not enough investment by government to improve the quality of service and capacity to support large volumes of commuters. It might seem like a difficult task, but larger cities in developed economies have solved the dilemma and now move most of their people about on public transport. So our people must cultivate the habit of patronising our public transport network, and push governments at all levels for more investment in the sector. Also walking trails instead of building more and more roads for cars and worrying incessantly about fuel costs will reduce carbon emissions. The transition to a new transport system has to start with each and every one of us. There is need for major improvements in public transport and rapid development of more energy-efficient private transport.
We must address the issue of waste disposal. We dispatch too much of things we need and re-cycle too little of what we must throw away. Large amounts of energy and water is invested in producing endless amounts of these “trash”, much of which we do not really need or end up using. So we must use our local recycling service, for plastics, metals and paper. We must avoid the temptation to buy things we do not need like trinkets and knick-knacks, just because it feels good to accumulate things. There are limits to everything, including, most importantly, the ability of the planet to supply people with an ever burgeoning supply of raw materials. We must think above sustainability over suitability.
Also, Nigeria should participate in international negotiations and agreements placing constraints on emissions from coal. Nigeria is a major coal producing nation with large coal deposits in Enugu and other places. The country must consider enforcing and domesticating the numerous regulations concerning the burning of fossil fuels. Part of the enforcement mechanism should include sanctions on erring members of the public. Agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency or similar ones should be empowered to educate the public on environmental awareness; ruthlessly prosecute offenders of the regulations and perform any other function(s) confer on it by the National Assembly regarding reduction of CO2 emissions.
To counter the effects of desertification, governments at levels must discourage deforestation through making of laws and policies which are aimed at such. These laws must include compulsory planting of trees in schools and public spaces. The state must be firm in preventing careless falling of trees for uneconomic uses like cooking and for household consumptions. This will go a long way to reduce the effects of climate change.
Our proposals in this piece, we must admit, form part of the solutions, not the solutions. But we insist that if followed thoroughly by developing countries, they can be the much-needed answers to the critical question of climate change. The solutions are nowhere else but in our hands. But to show our seriousness about this, we must be ready to leave politics aside and tackle this monster head-on!
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