‘Govt must urgently respond to climate change’

The Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Climate Change, Eziuche Ubani, wants the government to do more towards adverse climate change in the country. He talked with DAKA TERHEMBA in Abuja. Excerpts:

HOW would you assess the response of the government to the issues of climate change?

We haven’t done our best in terms of proper responses. And that goes back to our lack of understanding of the climate change mitigation in all its ramifications.

This is a new concept of development that challenges carbon driven developments. In the carbon driven development, you have this cold power plants, you have gas being flared when we are trying to extract petroleum from the ground. We have various mining activities without proper care for the environment. Over time it has been found by science that the unbridled injection of carbon into the atmosphere has consequences.

Some of these gases stay up over 100 years before they dissolve. Even those that go to the ground don’t actually dissipate or dissolve, they have a long life and they have consequences. Some contaminate underground water. The ones that go to the atmosphere like carbon have the potential to impact the ozone layer, which is why we have shifts. Impacting the ozone layer means that there is distortion in the balancing, resulting in varying weather patterns.

The impact has become worse over time and exacerbated by the various human activities. The quest for man to live has contributed to these distortions, and combined with the pressure on resources by the increase in population. It is a circle and there are fears that we may approach a tipping point where this balance can no longer be maintained. We recklessly exploit natural resources and then emit more gasses into the atmosphere and then it can no longer hold. There are predictions that s cities very close to the coastline may over time be submerged because of the warming of the sea.

The issue is that some countries have understood this danger and are working out how to respond to it.

We on our own have not done enough. I don’t see evidence of understanding of what the issues are in place, and then the interconnectedness at the highest level of policy and power. I do not see evidence of any effort being made to mainstream efforts to mitigate adverse climatic changes. I do not see that in our budgets, I do not see it in the way we do our physical planning in the urban sphere and in a built up environment. I do not see that in the way we practice agriculture or water management or in the way we carry on our businesses.

How should the country address these issues for example in the area of budgeting?

We have to shorten the learning curve. There has to be some awareness about what this issue is. This is something that is in our immediate experience. The kind of flooding and erosion we have experienced have become very frequent and much more dangerous. We have seen prolonged periods of rainfall in certain areas, and inundation of coastal areas from sea by the sea and all that. What we need to do is to have the awareness that there are changes in the environment and that we need to understand the causes.

We need to understand the actions that we need to take in the policy process to be able to address them at the national, state and council levels. We have to check the way we hand permits for logging in the rural areas for example. This is just one example of the things that require changing. These are the sorts of action as opposed to the understanding of the causes and what we need to do.

There needs to be a policy on climate change. I believe that one is being done now. Then we need to mainstream climate change mitigation in our budgets. We need to bring that into our development process to say that for instance in 2020 or 2050 we would have driven down carbon emission to a particular level. Then we need to create institutions that would govern climate change mitigation. This is the governance architecture that we need to put in place, which we do not have now.

Is the budgetary allocation suitable to address the issues bothering on climate change mitigation in the country?

It is not sufficient. This year for instance, the department of climate change in the Ministry of Environment has a budget that is under N500 million. And then they have a whole country to deal with. But it is not just about the budget set aside for climate change. It is for the line ministries whether in agriculture, transportation, aviation, water resources to make their budget climate change mitigation-compliant. This means embracing programmes that would contribute to the quantum of efforts to bring down Nigeria’s emission of Green House gases or to respond to those changes that we know. Rather than just budgeting, like that to say, they can also say that okay they are planting a number of trees to bring down carbon emission. Those are not quite in place now.

Is there a policy on Climate Change now?

The Ministry of Environment has finished work on that. It is just left for the Minister to take it to Council for adoption. It is when they do that it can be adopted as Nigeria’s climate change policy.

What do we expect when it is adopted?

When it is adopted, perhaps we would have put down one of the major instruments for addressing climate. The efforts to bring down green house gases are encapsulated in the policy and the responsibilities due to those agencies and line ministries are specified there. For instance, the climate change policy takes the view that Nigeria needs to continuously bring down its consumption and dependence on fossil fuel that is petroleum and all of that. This means that there is something that we need to do over the years, to say for instance that by this year we should have brought this down by this quantity based on the efforts that are made by the programmes that are run by the ministries. We can say for instance that in 2030 Nigeria’s clean energy contribution to the overall Nigerian energy mix should be about 30 per cent or 40 per cent, which means that Nigeria will now shift investment from electricity as we know it to investing in solar power, investing in bio-mass, use of bio-diesel and bio fuel and all that.

How can the states be involved or is this just is climate change an issue that can be addressed only at the national level?

The issue of environment is a concurrent issue in the constitution. The Federal Government cannot actually legislate for the states. But the matter is that states are working at their pace. There are states that are doing something. Lagos, Kaduna and to some extent Delta and Cross River states are doing things along the requirements and dictates of climate change mitigation efforts. But everybody cannot be said to be marching at the same pace. The learning curve of the governors is also different, some are deep and some are shallow. So, not all the states are on one page on that issue.

Over grazing has been mentioned as a cause of climate change. What can be done to address the movement from a grassland to another by the nomadic Fulani cattlemen in search of grazing areas for their herd?

The only way to raise cattle is not to continue to move in the bush. There are new and more acceptable ways of doing it. They can be compelled to be in some kind of location where some incentives are provided for the to grow pasture. In some extreme cases like the case of the people in Iceland, over time they had so much sheep and this was threatening their land, and efforts to agriculture in other areas. They budget on what each farmer can produce and said for example that you cannot have more than a number of herds of cattle so that you don’t put too much pressure on land. It was done and the people obeyed.

They Fulani have to embrace mechanized farming or we have to devise other ways for which we can grow pasture much more quickly so that in a very small area they can grow a lot of pasture that would sustain a large number of their livestock. These are ways that are managed through issues like irrigation. If there is irrigation in a place that means that they can have pasture. There are lands for pasture that are always carved out after every budget for the government to rehabilitate so that livestock farmers can graze their cattle there.

This certainly is capital intensive and how can the illiterate nomadic farmer flow with such an idea?

It is feasible if we understand the dangers posed by adverse climate change. If we don’t do things today and decide to leave them for tomorrow, the cost and consequences will be bigger. The choice before us is to say, let everybody continue to produce and graze and then let the desert be coming. Let us be having desertification up to a point we are not able to even grow or raise one herd of livestock.

Author of this article: DAKA TERHEMBA