Monday, June 8, 2015

Nigeria: Counting Costs of Climate Change

Climate change has finally come home; yes our lives have been invaded by floods of fury and other freak weather events that we currently grapple with.  From Lokoja to Onitsha, down to Yenogoa and moving north of the Niger to Makurdi, Adamawa and Taraba; it has been tales of woe, sorrow, anger and disappointment.  

Confusion and utter bewilderment were clearly written on the faces of the governors of these states but if you ask Governors Wada, Obi, Suswan, Dickson, Nyako and Uduaghan if they have ever considered climate change as a game changer and greatest impediment to our collective development and survival, you would be lucky to get an answer in the affirmative. Evidence –I do not know of any state governor or minister in Nigeria today, including the Federal Capital Territory, that has appointed a cabinet level Adviser or Special Assistant on Climate Change –strictly climate change!   Climate change deserves to be unbundled from the environment portfolio –at least at advisory levels -because of its cross cutting nature that requires specialized multi-sectoral knowledge.

Nevertheless, our lives will not remain the same, yes our individual and national lives are changing with the climate. Politicians say it is a global phenomenon but global and local scientists as well as climate change policy specialists have been warning about the need for governments at the federal, state and local levels to take proactive measures to mitigate the impacts as well as adapt the citizens to this new unwelcome reality.  It is high time Nigeria focused on the reality of adapting to climate change by finding ways to live with overflowing sea levels, scarcer drinking water, higher peak temperatures, depleting species and agriculture altering weather patterns. Proactive governments are beginning to realize that, in the long term, climate change adaptation needs to be supported by an integrated, cross cutting policy approach. 

Climate change mitigation and adaptation experts have been forthcoming with innovative mitigation strategies and creative adaptation routines that could be implemented by our decision makers but the business-as-usual scenario continues to dominate the minds and hearts of people who take decisions on our behalf –for good or bad- a direct fall out of the fact that the Crown, Gown and Town have stubbornly refused to find a meeting point with each bloc working at cross purposes.                          

The “Crown” via Nigerian Meteorological Agency [NIMET] and National Emergency Management Agency [NEMA] said they warned the citizens of the imminent catastrophe but the “Town” refused to heed doomsday admonitions while the “Gown” has been accusing both “Crown and Town” of neglecting well researched papers and other empirical body of evidence of the dangerous times ahead heaped on their doorsteps but the “Town” was too busy trying to make ends meet. 

The blame game continues at costs of Himalayan proportions!  Yes, I remember the press releases of NIMET/NEMA but that was Communication Failure 101. We are talking of press releases when we should be engaging thousands of town criers with gongs and songs in local dialect to drive the message home to the local people in need of critical information that would save their lives and properties. We are talking of press conferences when we should be talking of National Orientation Agency [NOA] invading every nook and cranny of the red-flagged states to engage the locals in their market places, worship centres and village squares.  

We must retool our mechanisms of intervention. We must rethink our approach and strategies. We must embrace “proactivity” and shun “reactivity” as a way of our national life.   Yes, we must because climate change is already contributing to the deaths of nearly 400,000 people a year worldwide and costing the world more than 1.2 trillion USD, wiping 1.6% annually from global GDP, according to a new independent report written by more than 50 climate scientists, economists and policy experts, and commissioned by 20 governments in 2012.  The recently released report warns that these figures could triple in the next decade if nothing urgent is done to stem the imminent drift into the bottomless pit!   

In Nigeria, we can only extrapolate the figures and count the losses in our imagination because of our legendary record keeping and bean counting deficits that made Professor Chukwuma Soludo to ask in his newly commissioned column in Thisday Newspapers: Do You Believe Nigeria’s Statistics?  Soludo was the immediate past Central Bank of Nigeria helmsman and he does not seem to get a handle on our statistics sadly ever after!  Now you understand why I have been asking the question: Who is counting Nigeria’s climate change induced economic losses?

In the light of the collateral damage inflicted on the people and resources of these flood ravaged States, some of which house the best agricultural resources of Africa’s most populous country; perhaps the most powerful response to climate change would be the development of a resilient, robust local economy across the length and breadth of Nigeria.  This is particularly true because most of the projected future global economic growth is set to take place in developing countries where Nigeria is well positioned to participate in that growth if we do not allow climate change impacts to wash away our potential gains.  

Being part of the “business as usual”, currently distressed, global economy that divorces the environment from the economy poses a risk of devolving into social, economic and environmental crisis such as the one currently ravaging Nigeria!  We seriously need to look inwards and apply some out-of- the-box adaptation initiatives that have multi-dimensional positive implications for our economy as well as the health of our citizens in particular and global environment in general.

Like I opined in my June 2012 article titled Nigeria and Climate Change Adaptation that was published by the Oregon, United States based International Society of Sustainability Professionals [ISSP]: “The dangerously uncertain effects of a changing climate on Nigeria’s economy pose significant setbacks for meeting development targets like Nigeria’s aspiration to be among the twenty best performing economies of the world by the year 2020 [Vision 20:20:20] and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs]”.   President Goodluck Jonathan, while presenting the 2013 budget to the national assembly few days back, acknowledged this fact when he informed Nigerians the GDP growth estimate for 2013 budget has been corrosively eroded by the floods of fury ravaging more than 20 states of the Nigerian federation. 

Climate change is already affecting the political, social and economic context within which government decisions are made even as climate change economic and business impact assessment continues to be an area of increasing necessity for government economic gate keepers and corporate captains for obvious reasons.  But we must quickly move from lamentations to wise actions by acting decisively to address the issues at hand.  

Again my ISSP article shines some light on the best way forward: “Pursuing sustainable development, just like implementing climate change adaptation, requires political will at the highest level…... the way out is a central oversight body that will coordinate research and policy response, harmonize roles for sister agencies, and aggressively pursue implementation master plans in a seamless collaborative partnership with the Annex 1 countries and the UN climate change response organizations….. good news is that the out gone sixth national assembly of the country’s parliament courageously passed the Nigerian Climate Change Commission [NCCC] Bill which currently awaits President Jonathan’s ink to transform it from a mere paper to a “toothful bulldog” in the fight against our greatest impediment to development -climate change. Nigeria’s Climate Change Commission, when fully operational, would be the very first in Africa and the country must be commended for this bold stride”.
Indeed with an operational NCCC, it would be easy for NIMET, NEMA, NOA, Ministry of Environment [MOE], Ministry of Water Resources [MOWR], etc to work in unison to respond to climate change induced emergencies. While still on an independent, privately sponsored assessment tour of the affected states, it was easy for me to publicly disclose that key climate change impacts and vulnerabilities arising from the flash floods gravitate around water as being of the highest priority for adaptation in terms of urgency, certainty and severity of impact.                                  
Why water?  Well, human health and agriculture derive their meaning or lack of it from water! Flooding threatens human health through spread of diseases, followed by agriculture where declines in yield, damaged farm lands as well as compromised storage facilities would lead to breach of food security and by extension, national security. Even the United States of America’s Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] has consistently been warning their governments about the threat to their national security posed by climate change -starting with water resources.

Truth be told, we cannot run away from extreme weather conditions occasioned by climate change.  Massive floods and other freak weather events would become more common because of the warming of the earth but government institutions that have hitherto limited their operational jurisdiction to mere weather forecasting should invest in technologies to enable more accurate predictions and advance warning systems. There is also need for accurate environmental data, particularly from sensors located in the soil, ocean, atmosphere, flood zones and arid, drought-stricken lands. It will be important to track the changes in order to have timely and quality information that will assist disaster aversion/emergency management strategies to minimize losses.   

For starters, financial resources from the Ecological Funds Office would need to be deployed towards acquiring these innovative weather monitoring technologies, at least in the short to medium term.   Also there is an urgent need for President Goodluck Jonathan to begin mainstreaming climate change adaptation into Nigeria’s economic blueprints and development master plans as an important strategic action at this stage of our development by signing the Climate Change Commission into law now to enable and activate the mechanism for articulating a national framework that would leverage the critical line ministries, agencies and parastatals of government like the National Emergency Management Authority [NEMA], Ministry of Health, Nigerian Metrological Agency, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Housing/Urban Development, National Insurance Commission, Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs,  etc to build capacity in conflict management, work through coordinated, robust national mechanisms to address climate induced security challenges as well as ensure transparent management and allocation of interventionist resources.

 The task at hand requires the participation of even the private sector, especially the Insurance companies who do not seem to understand they face the risk of extinction if they do nothing now to align their business with the reality of climate change.  The insurance industry is already saddled with the biggest responsibility as the costs of climate change often accrue directly to them but there is an opportunity for them to leverage their position to help spread the risk of extreme weather events by encouraging adaptation behaviors through the construction of new policy clauses. 

These measures would come at a cost to insurance buyers, but taking action today could stave off greater losses that would otherwise incur from infrastructure and asset damage in the future. For instance, insurance companies covering property development in coastal areas could see the need to assess the potential for sea-level rise, increased storm severity, flooding, and other climate change impacts on their clients and incorporate appropriate measures in their policy document.  The National Insurance commission [NAICOM] will need to understand these issues before they can reach out to other stakeholders in the industry.  NAICOM and other stakeholders in the insurance industry must be made to understand that it is in their best interest to be more proactive and see how they can protect the entire insurance industry from the envisaged shocks of the impacts of climate change.

More importantly, climate change adaptation in Nigeria must be approached from the standpoint of necessity in the context of sustainable development with greater emphasis on the generally accepted principle that economic empowerment, social development and poverty eradication constitute the first and overriding priorities of a developing country like Nigeria.  For maximum effect, resources should be invested and concentrated on allowing our Climate Change Commission to develop specific adaptation measures that are peculiar to Nigeria as a country, with focus on the ones that correspond to our most urgent and immediate needs while aligning and leveraging numerous international initiatives and financing mechanisms aimed at assisting African countries like Nigeria with climate change adaptation.

My patriotic instinct would not allow me conclude this exercise without offering my services on honorary basis to states governments and organizations that are willing to frontally engage climate change as a sustainable development priority with a matrix of well conceived mitigation and adaptation strategies.  Finally, it appears to me that much of the adaptation work that needs to be done would concentrate on “reforming” the psyche of our people to be able to accept and embrace new ways of life in tune with the emerging realities of our changing climate! Nigeria, as the undisputed giant of Africa, needs to set shining examples for other developing countries in the tropics to emulate.

Stanley Ijeoma, a Corporate Climate Change Consultant, writes from                                                                                  Follow on Twitter @schrodingerr                                                                                             Skype ID: schrodingerr

Note: This article was originally published by the Guardian Newspapers Nigeria in the last quarter of 2012 immediately after the 2012 flooding that ravaged parts of Nigeria.

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