Climate Change: Nigeria has Nowhere to Run

Nigeria faces a looming climate and environmental crisis that it can no longer afford to ignore. Creeping effects of climate change and unchecked environmental degradation in communities across the country, now pose monumental socio-economic, political and sustainable development challenges for the nation. With the country’s population projected to balloon to 440 million by 2050, pressure on resources pose a real and present danger and risk to the subregion and beyond.

On November 17, 2015, the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua premiered a documentary titled “Nowhere to Run: Nigeria’s Climate and Environmental Crisis”. You can watch the trailer below.

Narrated by Ken Saro-Wiwa, Jr, the documentary tells the story of the environmental threats and unique challenges to security in Nigeria from the perspective of the affected communities. It connects the dots between climate, environmental degradation, and security. The film was produced as an advocacy tool to raise awareness of the defining challenge of our time.

There is scientific consensus that the earth’s climate is changing. According to NASA, the average global temperature is 0.75 degree Celsius higher than it was in the 1950s. There is also evidence that this rise in temperature corresponds to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Rising temperatures and ocean levels correspond to rise of carbon dioxide levels

Rising temperatures and ocean levels correspond to rise of carbon dioxide levels

The recent surge in carbon dioxide levels are as a result of growing global appetite for carbon based fuels, the consumption of which produces a large amount of CO2.
Apart from rising temperatures, the change in atmospheric conditions as a result of CO2 has an impact on long term changes observed in weather patterns.

In Nigeria, these extreme weather patterns – fiercer, longer dry seasons and shorter, more intense raining seasons – are exacerbating the challenges already confronting our communities.

In northern Nigeria, rapid desert encroachment is contributing to the escalation of conflict between farmers and herders as well as food insecurity.  The shrinking of Lake Chad over the past 40 years has led to poverty and displacement of farm and fishing communities in the north east – factors which many experts believe contributed to the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Progressive shrinking of Lake Chad over the past 50 years has had socio-economic and security impact on affected communities

Progressive shrinking of Lake Chad over the past 50 years has had socio-economic and security impact on affected communities

In southern Nigeria, intensified rainfall has resulted in the kind of floods that cause death and devastation. In the south eastern parts of Nigeria, heavier downpours have accelerated erosion that has destroyed the land and fertility of the soil, forcing members of affected communities to relocate. Further south towards the coast, communities are losing their lands and being displaced as a result of rising sea levels.

Although the nature of the impact of climate change on Nigeria varies from place to place, the net effect is the depletion of finite environmental resources in every part of the country. If we consider that these resources are crucial to supporting a rapidly growing population, then the conclusion is that we are confronted with a huge national development challenge.

There are two responses we can adopt to climate change, namely: Mitigation and Adaptation.

Mitigation involves reducing the impact that our human activities are having on climate change. Mitigation strategies include transitioning to cleaner energy sources for homes and businesses (to reduce emissions) and slowing down the rate of deforestation (to preserve the earth’s capacity to evacuate CO2). Mitigation response to climate change generates some scientific contention. Some scientists still disagree on just how much our activities contribute to global warming and if any effort we make could significantly slow it down. Because of this uncertainty, some argue that urgent calls for global commitments to drastic mitigation measures are alarmist – creating an unjust impediment for economies and businesses that are dependent on fossil fuels.

For Nigeria however, this contention is immaterial. Even without contributing to the cause of climate change, activities like oil spills, gas flares and timber cutting in Nigeria are destroying natural defenses to its already established effects. Furthermore, these activities are contributing to the depletion of crucial environmental resources at a rate sufficient to justify desperate mitigation measures.

Adaptation means anticipating the impacts of climate change and taking adequate steps to manage the effects on our way of life, economy and our national development aspirations. To adapt effectively to climate change, Nigeria needs to answer crucial questions like: With our forest resources reduced to 10% of what it used to be, how do we sustain the construction industry? How do we support the energy needs of 80% of our population who rely on depleting sources of fuel wood for cooking? How will communities manage the influx of people who are displaced as a result of desertification, erosion, floods and sea encroachment? How do we improve the productivity of finite land resources to ensure food security for a growing population?

Given that answers to questions like these will be critical to our continued survival as a nation, Nigeria needs all the help it can get. Therefore, the increased global commitment to combating climate change presents an immense opportunity for Nigeria. Nigeria can leverage the benefits of global action to accelerates its own local efforts.

Western countries have estimated a 30-50 year window within which adaptation has to happen if we are to avoid climate induced catastrophe. For Nigeria, this window is significantly shorter. The rate at which our population is growing and the decades of neglect our environmental has had to endure, have put Nigeria on a faster clock.

And with every additional cubic feet of gas flared, that clock ticks a little faster.