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World Environment Day: Onuigbo urges engagement in eco-friendly practices for sustainable future

Rep. Sam Onuigbo, Member (South-East) Governing Board and Chairman, Committee on Security, Climate Change and Special Interventions, North-East Development Commission, in a keynote address delivered on the occasion of the commemoration of the World Environment Day at the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, on Wednesday, June 5, 2024, while commending President Bola Ahmed Tinubu for his leadership in taking far-reaching climate actions in the first year of his administration, called on Nigerians to engage in, and encourage eco-friendly practices to ensure that a more prosperous and sustainable future is secured for this and future generations

Rep. Sam Onuigbo
Rep. Sam Onuigbo

Today, Wednesday, June 5, 2024, is World Environment Day. The main aim of this commemoration is to “encourage communities to take action towards protecting the environment.’’ The objective is to advocate for policy changes and promote environmental policies at local, national, and international levels. For us gathered here at the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, and for others in their various villages, communities, and urban centers, today is a very important day in the lives of humans, animals, plants, seas and lands.

The theme of this year’s event, which focuses on “Land restoration, desertification and drought resilience,” is apt. This is because it seems as if it was razor-made to address the challenges of desertification, drought and the need to restore degraded land across 11 northern states covering about 1531 kilometers. The centrepiece of this theme led to the drying up of Lake Chad, forced migration, competition for scarce resources, security challenge and the resultant insurgency, banditry and kidnapping in that part of the country; a challenge that has has even spread to other parts of the nation.

Legal frameworks, and byelaws on environment and climate change actions in Nigeria, are generally predicated on the mandates of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the Climate Change Act 2021, the Nigerian Constitution, etc. Climate Change, Biodiversity and Desertification Conventions were direct outcomes of Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, which are popularly referred to as the “Rio Triplets.’’

UNEP, was given the mandate “to provide leadership, deliver science and develop solutions on a wide range of issues, including climate change, the management of marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and green economy development.’’ Similarly, the UNFCCC which currently has 198 Parties was established by countries to combat, “dangerous human interference with the climate system.’’ The convention’s main objective as contained in its Article 2, is the “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (i.e, human-caused) interference with the climate system.” UNCCD, has 197 Parties.

It came about as a direct recommendation of the Rio Conference, as the only internationally legally binding framework set up to address the problem of desertification. It anchors its activities on good governance and sustainable development using the principles of participation, partnership and decentralisation. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG15) focuses on protecting, restoring and promoting the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems. It aims to combat desertification, and reverse land degradation, and prevent biodiversity loss.

The unwavering resolve of world leaders to tackle the devastating impacts of climate change produced the landmark Paris Agreement on Climate Change at COP21 in Paris, in December 2015, that set long term goals to guide all nations to reduce global greenhouse gas emission as to limit the global temperature increase to (2°C) while pursuing efforts to limit the increase even further to 1.5°C pre-industrial level. The Agreement came into force on November 04, 2016, and is a legally binding international treaty.

Locally, Section 20 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), states: “The state shall protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air and land, forest and wildlife of Nigeria.” Furthermore, Section 33 (1) of the Constitution states that “every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.’’

One thing is clear: Without a safe and peaceful planet, everyone is endangered. It was therefore in a bid to achieve international obligations that the Paris Agreement and other conventions like the “Rio Triplets’’ set to ensure a safe and productive environment for the good of humanity that Nigeria enacted the Climate Change Act 2021.

Under Part 1 – Objectives and Application – the Climate Change Act 2021, which I was privileged to sponsor in the Nigerian Parliament, stipulates in section 1: “This Act provides a framework for achieving low greenhouse gas (GHG) emission, inclusive green growth…by mainstreaming climate change actions in line with national development priorities.’’

Specifically, sections 3, 19, 20, 22, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 and 34, among others, of the Act recognise the importance of protecting the environment and preserving the planet and the urgent need to do it, and accordingly made relevant provisions to guide Nigeria’s climate actions in attaining the above objectives while meeting international objections. Section 3 of the Act provides for the establishment of the National Council on Climate Change (The Council) and vests it with the “powers to make policies and decisions on all matters concerning climate change in Nigeria.’’

To “encourage communities to take action towards protecting the environment’’ explains why we included in section 26 that, “the Secretariat shall, with the approval of the Council, advise the Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) responsible for regulating educational curriculum in Nigeria on the integration of Climate Change into the various disciplines and subjects across all educational levels.”

In line with the above provision in Section 26 for “the integration of climate change into the various disciplines and subjects across all educational levels,’’ Section 22 mandates every MDA to have a Climate Change Desk Officer of a Directorate cadre whose responsibility it is to ensure that climate action is mainstreamed into the annual plans and budgeting of all MDAs in Nigeria. This provision will create employment for qualified Nigerians.

According to Prof Chiedozie Egesi, this commemoration “serves as a platform for fostering environmental action and engaging communities in sustainable living.’’ This is precisely why we provided in section 30 of the Act for extensive public engagement.

Section 27 states that the “Council (National Council on Climate Change) shall promote and adopt nature-based solutions towards reducing GHG emissions and mitigating climate change issues in Nigeria.” Nature-based solutions, especially, is the sustainable management and use of natural processes to address certain challenges without impacting nature. Nature, which comprises forest, water, land, air is home to all the world’s terrestrial and aquatic life providing shelter and livelihood for earth’s human and animal population. For example, restoring mangroves along coastlines uses (nature-based) solutions to achieve several goals.

Similarly, section 28 (1) states: “The Federal Ministry responsible for Environment shall set up a registry with sub-national nodes for capturing REDD+ activities in Nigeria…explaining in subsection (2) that ‘REDD+’ means Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

The Africa Great Green Wall, which was formed in 2005 and adopted in 2007 by the Africa Union, focused on combating desertification in the Sahel and Sahara and hold back the expansion of Sahara Desert by planting a wall of trees stretching across the entire Sahel from Djibouti to Dakar Senegal, covering 11 countries in Africa. In Nigeria, 11 states in the Northwest and Northeast regions are affected by this huge threat. That is why Nigeria established the National Great Green Wall to combat the threat by desertification, engage in land restoration, etc. The ongoing goal of the project is to restore 100 million hectares (250 million across) of degraded land and captured 250 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and create 10 million jobs in the process all by 2030.

President Bola Tinubu in his opinion piece published by CNN in December 2023, declared: “Africa’s most populous nation has successfully mobilised tens of thousands of youths nationwide to plant 250,000 trees annually to honour a pledge to plant 25 million trees by 2030 as we build our great green wall to fight back against encroaching desert across the northern region of our nation.’’

Section 29 (1) The Act provides that “the Council shall collaborate with and equip the National Bureau of Statistics for developing Nigeria’s Natural Capital Accounts. Subsection (2) states that “the data from the Natural Capital Accounts shall be made available to MDAs (Ministries, Departments and Agencies), and used in policy formulation and development of Action Plan, in the carbon budget.”

The International Institute for sustainable Development submits that: natural capital is the land, air, water, living organisms and all formations of the Earth’s biosphere that provide us with the ecosystem goods and service imperative for survival and well-being. Dr Eugene Itua maintains that the principles of Natural Capital Accounting provide “win-win-win’’- a triple-win situation because it “not only facilitates economic growth but also safeguards the environment and promotes the welfare of individuals. This is evidenced by the harmonious coexistence of ecotourism, agriculture, and groundwater recharge, all of which benefit from informed decision-making based on NCA data.’’

With sections 19 and 20 of the Act, Nigeria has demonstrated leadership in Africa with the establishment of the National Council on Climate Change, vested with powers to establish and operationalise a market-based mechanism for Nigeria’s participation in the global carbon market, In essence, the Act has provided a legal framework for the reduction of greenhouse gas emission through a carbon market approach to meet Nigeria’s net-zero target.

Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement addresses voluntary cooperation between and among countries by enabling trade in mitigation outcomes (GHGs reduced or avoided) to achieve the emission reduction targets in their NDCs.

As a way of demonstrating Nigeria’s readiness to participate in the Carbon markets and related initiatives, the NCCC in June 2023 published the first regulatory guidance.

In furtherance of the above, President Tinubu exercised leadership by flagging off the Nigeria Carbon Market Activation Plan at COP28 in December 2023, by appointing Zacch Adedeji, Chairman of FIRS, and Salisu Dahiru, the DG of NCCC, to Co-chair the Committee.

Net Zero 2060: Part of the approaches to achieve net zero by 2060 is to focus the Paris Agreement 1.5 Celsius pathway and deploy electric vehicles, renewable and clean cooking for a significant percentage of our population.

Tools for Realising Net-zero Target

One of the routes towards Nigeria’s goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2060 was through the introduction of the Nigeria Energy Transition Plan in 2022, which emphasised curtailing emissions in five key sectors – power, cooking, oil and gas, transport and industry. Together, these sectors contribute about 65% of the nation’s total GHG emissions.

As part of the coordinated and sustained effort to attain Nigeria’s net-zero targets as contained in Section 1(f) and the Presidential pledge at COP26, the Minister of Environment unveiled the Long-Term Low Emission Development Strategy (LT-LEDS) in December 2023 at COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Therefore, the NDC-Implementation framework is an important national tool to support the advancement towards the realization of the vision.

On May 23, 2024, Nigeria, along with our NDC-Partnership, launched the Nationally Determined Contributions Implementation Framework (NDC-IF) 2023-2030. Article 4, section 2 of the Paris Agreement on the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) states as follows: “Each party shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions that it needs to achieve. Parties shall pursue domestic mitigation measures, with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions.’’

Nigeria’s NDC updated in 2021 retained its unconditional contribution of 20% below business-as-usual by 2030, and increased condition Contribution to 47% on international support it covers the key prioritised sector of Agriculture, Energy, Forestry, and Other Land Use (FOLU), Industrial Processes and Product Use (IPPU), Oil and Gas, Transport, Waste and Water.

As stated earlier, “Nigeria’s NDC-IF is a medium-term tool to help coordinate, monitor, mobilise, and stack progress on support for investments needed to achieve the country’s NDC goals. It breaks down the 8 sectors (and cross-cutting components) into 19 outcomes and 151 outputs and 301 key performance indicators (KPIs).’’

For purposes of reference, out of the 19 outcomes, 151 outputs and 301 indicators set out in the NDC-IF for Nigeria to be attained over a period of seven years (2023-2030), a few of the aims are clearly captured in outcomes 6 and 12 under the agricultural sector; and outcome 7 under the FOLU (Forestry and Other Land Use).

Under the agriculture sector, the aim of outcome 6 is to “improve the use of smart agriculture and enhance agricultural produce, revolutionise agricultural practices, enhance climate smart agriculture, livelihood opportunities, and promote environment conservation within the agricultural sector.”

Similarly, outcome 12 seeks to “improve agriculture: invest in critical infrastructure, improve transportation works, upgrade storage facilities, and provide farmers with essential resources for efficient and environmentally friendly agricultural operations to boost agricultural productivity, streamline supply chains and promote climate smart farming practices.’’

Under the FOLU sector, outcome 7: Enhance sustainable forest management. It aims to “preserve biodiversity, restore degraded areas, promote communities’ involvement, and safeguard the health and resilience of forest Eco-systems for future generations.’’

Under cross-cutting actions: outcome 17: “Sustainable management and use of natural asset, seeks to “enhance the sustainable utilisation of natural resources, monitor greenhouse gas emissions, encourage environmentally friendly urban development practices, and effectively account for natural capital to support informed decision-making for long-term environmental sustainability and conservation of natural assets.

Clearly, the NDC-IF can serve as a powerful national blueprint for investment on climate-development action in the country. According to Mariam Panuncio-Feldman, Country Engagement Director, “The actions, prioritised in the framework, have been costed out. The full implementation of NDC has been estimated at $189 Billion, and while considerable funding has been mobilised, a very significant funding gap remains. The effort is massive, and Nigeria cannot meet this challenge alone.’’

Summary

The Africa Heads of State and Government in the presence of global leaders and high-level representatives on 6 September 2023 in Nairobi Kenya at the inaugural Africa Climate Summit (ACS), recalled that only seven years remained to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda, and noted with concern that 600 million people in Africa still lack access to electricity while 970 million lack access to clean cooking:

In a world grappling with climate change, clean energy plays a vital role in reducing emissions, and can also benefit communities lacking access to reliable power sources. The connection between clean energy, socio-economic development and environmental sustainability is crucial in addressing issues, be it poverty, illiteracy, health, etc faced by vulnerable communities worldwide.

Nigeria has taken clear steps towards addressing lack of access to electricity and clean cooking through the movement of electricity from the Exclusive List to Concurrent List and the subsequent enactment of the Electricity Act 2023, which was signed into law by President Tinubu about 10 days after assumption of office. In addition, the Federal Executive Council in early April 2024 approved a National Policy on Clean Cooking.

One thing has been established beyond doubt: Climate Change is borderless and affects everybody. The intendment of section 34 of the Act on locus standi was profoundly reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in Centre of Oil Pollution Watch (COPW) Vs NNPC (2018).

The Supreme Court of Nigeria (SCN) held: That the appellant NGO had the standing to sue the respondent, thereby liberalising or broadening the rule of standing. The Supreme Court specifically highlighted “that public spirited individuals and organisations can bring an action in courts against relevant public authorities and private entities to demand their compliance with relevant laws and to ensure the remediation, restoration and protection of the environment.”

With all the severe and unpredictable weather events like tornadoes, wildfires, excessive heat waves, floods, landslides, desertification, drought, etc, we do not need anyone to educate us that our planet is badly threatened. The massive landslide which hit the remote village of Kaokalam in Papua New Guinea and reportedly buried over 2,000 villagers in their sleep, the ceaseless tornadoes in the US, mid-air storms that hit two major international airlines recently: Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways, show that urgent actions are needed. The Singapore Airlines turbulence led to the death of a passenger, and injured over 100 others, some critically. These are but ready examples that nobody is isolated or safe from the ravages of climate change.

Here in Nigeria, there are devastating impacts from desertification, floods, gully, and coastal erosion leading to loss of assets worth billions of US Dollars and several deaths. According to World Bank’s assessment of Nigeria’s 2022, flooding incident, the direct economic damage was estimated around $7 billion, excluding lives lost. These deadly occurrences are stark reminders that we are living in dangerous times. The cumulative impacts and global disruption caused by these extreme weather events support the call that collaborative and coordinated efforts by all are required to protect our planet.

Conclusion

Addressing these environmental and developmental challenges requires a multifaceted effort involving all tiers of government, the private sector and the civil society organisations. I respectfully urge all hands to be on deck for us to tackle the devastating impacts of these existential threats, I commend President Bola Ahmed Tinubu who has clearly exercised leadership by taking many far-reaching and positive climate actions in the first year of his administration.

I therefore call on everybody to engage in, and encourage eco-friendly practices, as this will in turn ensure that a more prosperous and sustainable future is secured for this and future generations.

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