Year 2017 was another important year to the environment sector. While there were several efforts at both national and global levels towards effectively managing the environment to prevent natural and human-induced environmental disasters that threaten human health, agriculture, water resources and other sectors of the economy, there were also scores of disasters recorded that tried to undermine the efforts made in safeguarding the environment.
Let me first highlight prominent environmental disasters that were recorded in 2017, starting from Nigeria, then globally.
Environment disasters recorded in Nigeria
In early 2017, a strange black soot blanketed parts of Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital in Nigeria. The black soot which first appeared in late 2016 continued to fall down from the sky, scaring residents. Residents had different complaints about the soot: “you hang your clothes and before you know it, they become black. You step on your floor, everywhere is black.” “When I brush my teeth in the morning and try to clear my throat, I normally notice a dark phlegm and the same applies when I try to clear my nostrils.”
In the 3rd quarter of 2017, following the prediction by Nigeria Meteorological Agency that some parts of the country will experience flooding in 2017, flood started visiting some Nigerian States. The major flood started in Lagos, then Niger, Oyo, Kogi, Benue and other States. On July 8th, 2017, Lekki and Victoria Island areas of Lagos State were on flood lockdown due to overnight torrential rains which started at 11pm the previous night. Houses were submerged and economic activities halted as the flood locked down the State. In Niger State, the flood that hit Suleja town caused death of about 13 people. “Among the dead were a house wife, her six children and a good Samaritan who tried to rescue some children from the flood.” “Several electric poles and not less than seven houses were destroyed as a result of the flood due to five-hour rainfall.” In Benue State, “more than 110,000 persons in 24 communities, including Makurdi were displaced by flood.” The devastating flood incidents made “…the House of Representatives… set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate the…flooding in Lagos and Niger States.”
Environment disasters recorded in other parts of the world
In other climes, environmental disasters also hit hard. “California was drenched in the wettest winter on record, ending years of drought. Then came California’s most destructive and largest wild fires season ever. The Tubbs fire in Northern California killed 22 people and damaged more than 5,600 structures.”
“Two major hurricanes – Harvey and Irma – blasted the United States coast with winds exceeding 130 miles per hour (mph), and savage hurricane Maria rocked Puerto Rico with winds exceeding 155 mph.”
Most of summer’s damage to United States in 2017, said to be the most expensive hurricane season “was caused by the infamous trio of Harvey, Irma and Maria. Besides its winds, Harvey flooded Houston with more than four feet of rainfall as it made landfall August 25. Irma battered the Carribean before coming ashore in the Florida Keys on September10th. And Maria destroyed homes and much of the infrastructure in Puerto Rico and inflicted a devastating disaster on the island when it came ashore on September 20.”
In Asia, “historic rainfall during the height of monsoon season… killed more than 1,200… in India and Bangladesh” and affected some 41 million people.
In Sierra Leone, West Africa, “a massive mudslide sparked by heavy rains and flooding in an area of Freetown…killed around 500 people and left hundreds missing.”
In the United Kingdom, “snow and ice brought much of England and North of Scotland to a standstill, with road closures and public transportation cancellations,” as overnight, temperature plummeted to minus 8 Degrees Celsius.
Away from the environment disasters recorded in 2017, there were also efforts to save the environment through policies, regulations, laws, advocacy and innovations.
In year 2017, the Federal Government of Nigeria engaged coordinators for the implementation of the Ogoni land cleanup project. Also the Federal Government received the first tranche of the $1 billion initial capital for the implementation of the project. “Recall that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which conducted an environmental audit of some contaminated sites in Ogoni, had in its recommendation to the Federal Government, suggested that an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland be set up with an initial capital injection of $1 billion contributed by the oil industry and the government, to cover the first five years of the cleanup project. But since the launch of the Cleanup and subsequent inauguration of the Governing Council and Board of Trustees (BoT) for the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) in August 2016, the project had experienced delays…”
The year also saw the Nigeria’s former Minister of Environment, Amina J Mohammed who was announced as the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations on December 15, 2016, resumed work at the United Nations.
On February 20, the Lagos House of Assembly passed “A Bill for a Law to Consolidate all Laws Relating to the Environment for the Management, Protection and Sustainable Development of the Environment in Lagos State and for Connected Purposes” into law. The law that criminalizes the drilling of boreholes without permit was criticized by most Nigerians.
Other environmental issues that attracted widespread criticism in the year were: the two permits to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited for the commercial release and market placement of genetically modified (GMO) cotton and the confined field trial of GMO maize by National Biosafety Management Agency, and the proposed 260km super highway in Cross River State. These two issues were criticized and rejected by civil society organisations led by Nnimmo Bassey, the Executive Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation. The issue about the two permits issued to Monsanto was the concern about human health and environmental risks of genetically altered crops, which made the civil society organizations to demand nullification of the permits and the repealing of the National Biosafety Management Agency Act 2015 which gave “enormous amounts of discretionary powers” to the agency. On the 260km super highway in Cross River state, “Environmental activists… kicked against the project which they said would destroy several species of plants and animals and also displace the indigenous people of the areas where the road will traverse.”
Following the controversy generated by the super highway project, the Federal Government gave the Cross River State 23 conditions to fulfill before embarking on the project. “Among the conditions are that Cross River State Government (CRSG) ensures that the updated maps in the new EIA must show the re-routed road corridor cognisance of the boundary of Cross River National Park and Ekuri Community Forest as well as conform to international best practices on setbacks for highways in critical ecosystems such as the proposed corridor.”
In the year, the House of Representatives also organised a three-day national summit on environment from October 3 to 5 in Abuja, as a prelude to the formulation of a legislative framework to protect the environmental. The need to take proactive steps in developing appropriate environmental laws and policy for Nigeria considering its position in the comity of nations informed the holding of the summit.
Nigeria also finalised plans to offer N10.69 billion green bonds at 13.48% per annum for financing of renewable energy and other environmental projects. The green bond was considered for issuance following Nigeria’s endorsement of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, with the aim of strengthening global response to the threat.
The House of Representative in 2017 “passed a bill to provide a legal framework for mainstreaming of climate change responses and actions into government policy formulation and implementation. The bill also proposed the establishment of a council to coordinate climate change governance as well as support the adaptation and mitigation of the adverse effects of climate change in the country.”
2017 also saw the Nigerian Government making concrete moves to ratify the Minamata Convention on Mercury following series of preparatory activities. The United Nations Minamata Convention on Mercury aims to protect the human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.
Apart from the efforts made by individual countries in managing the environment, there were also collective efforts by countries at the global level to address environmental challenges. Some of these efforts were through global conventions where member states to the United Nations agreed on actions to be taken collectively to address global environmental challenges. Some of the conventions held in this respect were as follows:
- The thirteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention (BC COP-13), the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention (RC COP-8) and the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention (SC COP-8) were held back to back from 24 April to 5 May 2017 in Geneva. These three sister conventions aim to reduce/prevent exposure to harzadous chemicals and wastes.
- The First Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP1) was convened from September 25 to 29, 2017 in Geneva, within one year of entry into force of the Convention. The Minamata Convention came into force on August 16, 2017 with ratification by over 50 countries.
- The 23rd session of the Conference of Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Bonn, Germany, from November 6 to 17, 2017. The major decisions at this convention revolved around achieving the goal of the Paris Climate Change Agreement of holding global average temperature well below 2 Degrees Celsius as well as realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- After COP23, the world convened in Nairobi, Kenya for the 3rd session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 3) to take decision on another global environment issue – pollution. The Assembly which convened from December 4 to 6, 2017 adopted 11 resolutions aimed at achieving a pollution-free planet. The resolutions adopted revolved around land, water, air and soil pollution.
- Just immediately after UNEA 3, On 12 December 2017, two years after the historic Paris Climate Change Agreementwas adopted, world leaders gathered in Paris for the One Planet Summit to drive forward climate action and financing of a Greener future. Twelve commitments were made at the One Planet Summit, some of which include: $300 million for the Land Degradation Neutrality Fund to restore deserted land; Launch of the “Tropical Landscape Financing Facility; A $650 million financing programme for research to help smallholder farmers adapt to climate change; Creation of the 100 Water and Climate Projects for Africa funding platform; $15 million for the One Planet Fellowship for young African and European researchers.
By John Baaki Terzungwe