Environmental sustainability moves to the front burner

The increasing pressure on the environment arising from human activities has been a source of concern to the global community. The anxiety created by the various natural disasters across the world has not only triggered global efforts to stem the tide, but has also placed a serious burden on the individual nation, developed or developing. OLUFEMI ADEOSUN looks at the country’s 53 years of nationhood in relation to its efforts at mainstreaming issues of environmental sustainability to national developmental agenda.

In her 53 years of nationhood, it was not until recently, particularly in 2012 when an unprecedented flooding incidence ravaged some parts of the country, that the agitation for mainstreaming the issues of environmental sustainability into the country’s developmental agenda became more stringent. Apart from the monumental damage to agriculture and the country’s infrastructure, no fewer than 7.7million people were affected with about 2.1million displaced in the aftermath of the flooding.

Before then, despite the barefaced desertification in the North, the ravaging ecological challenges arising from long years of erosion and the looming ocean surge in the commercial nerve centre of the country, Lagos, there had not been serious attempts to look at issues of environment as a serious national issue worth of special consideration.

While the people of Lagos are living on the edge over fear of the possibility of being submerged by ocean waves, a recent UN report revealed that Nigeria loses about 1,355 square miles of cropland and rangeland to desertification yearly with the 11 frontline states of Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara being the worse hit.

Besides, the country is also said to be losing approximately 320,000- 350,000 hectares of land per year with over 35 million Nigerian facing threat of hunger and economic downturn.

The country may have, as a matter of obligation, attended various international conferences on environment, be a signatory to various treaties, and initiated some policies here and there; there have never been a concerted approach at addressing these myriad of environmental challenges stirring the country in the face.

For instance, in a pre-Rio+20 interview, the Mr. Ishaku Mshelia, the National Coordinator, Nigeria Climate Action Network (NigeriaCAN), had stated that attending international conferences had never been the problem of Nigeria, but the ability of successive governments to muster the right political will to domesticate some of the resolutions to achieve environment sustainability. He had said,” Nigeria has never been found wanting at international conferences at any level. I think the major challenge has always been how to domesticate some of the far reaching agreements for the good of the people.

To my mind what should be our major concern is how to set up good structures and map out good strategies to achieve those things that we said we would do since Rio 1992.

Most of these things we stated after the first Rio to Rio+20 are still manifesting. Poverty has not been reduced. “The number of people in the country who are living below poverty level is still increasing.

The recent United Nations report says the number of people that die as a result of indoor pollution has increased to about 95,000 every year. Five years ago, it was about 79,000 people, now it is 95,000 people dying every year as a result of indoor pollution just because they do not have access to clean and reliable energy source.

“So the major issue should be, “how do we structure a strategy to implement what is going to happen in Rio?” We have the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with the time frame for achieving it slated for 2015 which is four years from now. And Rio+20 is going to set new agenda which is being referred to as Sustainable Development Goals.”

Similarly, a climatologist, Prof.Olukayode Oladipo, in a separate interview, had also said that the nation would need to adopt a practical, result oriented approach to environmental issues in order to ensure environmental sustainability and development. Apart from policy issue, another constraint identified by environment experts is the issue of technical know-who.

This, they contended, played out during the 2012 flood disaster. According to them, the human and material loss would have been reduced drastically if the country had virile respond mechanism system. This view was much echoed by a team of Japanese environment experts who visited Nigeria last year at the wake of the flood disaster to donate relief materials to the victims of the unfortunate incidence.

The group, under the auspices of Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) had said that the country lacked the requisite technical expertise to deal with natural disasters.

Speaking during the visitation, JICA Representative in Nigeria, Mr. Tetsuo Seki, had commented that, ”There is need for technical cooperation in the areas of disaster management as Nigeria lacks experience in managing natural disasters.” Some experts have also argued that lack of continuity, occasioned by the frequent changes in the leadership of the ministry saddled with the responsibility of implementing the programmes of government in the environment sector, constituted a major snag.

They cited the sack of the former minister of Environment, Mrs. Hadiza Mailafia barely two months to COP 19 as a pointer to the fact that Nigeria is yet to consider issue of environment as a serious national issue. Despite the rigmarole of several years, it is however, worth noting that the country has recorded some remarkable success particularly in the last three years.

For example, it was as a result of the country’s active participation in international conferences on environment issues that earn it $4million grant from the United Nations Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD) for the development of REDD+ Programme in Nigeria.

Also, apart from other presidential initiatives, barely a few months after Nigeria participated in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), which took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, has begun a programme of activities that Nigeria can pursue and use to implement some of the recommendations agreed to during the UN conference.

Other notable giant strides recorded by the current administration also include the release of N11.5bn for 15 erosion control projects in the South-East of the country, the launch of the Green Wall Sahara Project, the establishment of flood alert systems across the country among others. Perhaps, the major breakthrough of government at the international arena was the granting of $500million loan to Nigeria to support its local efforts at reducing the menace of erosion.

As the country again celebrates 53 years of nationhood, an environment enthusiast and Executive Director, International Centre for Energy and Development, Mr. Ewal Eleri, said that one of the expectations of the people in the area of environment was for the Federal Government to create a virile institution that would anchor the integration of climate change response to the country’s National Development Plans.

In this regard, he said signing into law the bill on the establishment of National Climate Change Commission should be one of the major priorities of the present administration. Apart from that, Eleri also said that it would be in the interest of Nigeria if Federal Government could come up with a programme to reduce gas flaring. He said, “We must have a programme to reduce gas flaring.

We need gas for our power plants. Our climate change strategy should link directly to solving our energy crisis in the country. If we can have a programme that expanded the use of flared gas and ensure that this gas that is being flared on a daily basis, finds its way to already established power plants, it would secure our development needs.

Besides, he noted that Federal Government, as part of its climate change strategic plans, should set up the process of operationalising National Adaptation Strategic Plan of Action (NASPA) and set up a committee on it with a view to evolving measures and the needed investment that would not only take cognisance of the Nigerian people, but Nigerian economy.

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