As governments of more than 190 nations will gather in Paris to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change, aimed at reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and thus avoiding the threat of dangerous climate change, Nigeria is still battling with fundamental issues. These includes lack of sector coordination, increasing poverty level of citizens, floods, gas flaring in the south, increased threat of desertification in the north, and population explosion. All these have direct implications on our food supply systems, water scarcity and health.
The sorry state of the Nigerian environment is best seen through the lens of the impacts of the oil and gas sector. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) assessment of the Ogoni environment shows the level of ecocide inflicted by over five decades of reckless exploitation. UNEP surmises that it would require about 30 years of work to detoxify the Ogoni environment where active oil extraction was shut down in 1993. Four years after the presentation of that report to the government of Nigeria little has been seen by way of responses to the clear situation of environmental emergency the report announces. Only recently has the Buhari led administration committed the sum of 10million dollars to the cleanup. It is the right time to place the ecological question in the heart of our political debates and plans of action. We are the people of the environment: our lives, culture and production are embedded and intertwined with nature.
Current commitments on greenhouse gas emissions will run out by the year 2020, so at Paris governments are expected to produce an agreement on what happens for the next decade, and potentially beyond.The optimism that fossil fuels will remain the dominant energy source into the foreseeable future is delusory and not founded on fact. The world may ramp up extreme extraction such as fracking, but that will not keep the shift from climate changing fossil fuels to occur.
As the exploitation of nature draws to the zenith of unreasonableness, merchants are now seeing nature as an object for speculation and wholesale commodification. Good concepts such as sustainable development are being turned on their heads. The concept of Green Economy on which even the brownest sectors cling turns out to be a platform insisting that nature cannot be defended except it is assigned a monetary value and absolutely ignoring the intrinsic value of nature.
The conferences of parties (COP) to the convention have over the years turned into sessions where the powerful browbeat the weak and efforts are made to avoid responsibility and to act in narrow national or regional interest. The rapid slide down this slope took root at COP15 in Copenhagen, got deepened at COP16 in Cancun where the concept of consensus got redefined as agreement by the majority. COP17 in Durban took the medal as a conference whose critical achievement was the blatant postponement of action while the earth burns. Nations like the USA, Canada, Japan and Australia openly throw spanners in the works. Some go as far as foreclosing any participation in any legal and accountability formats proceeding from the Kyoto Protocol.COP 18 at Doha was a sigh as leaders kicked the noisy decision-making can further down the road. In the negotiations following Doha the talks in Bonn and Geneva continue to show the strains between developed, emerging economies and differently developed nations – especially with regard to emissions reductions commitments and mitigation actions.
At the negotiations held early May 2013 at Geneva the developed countries pushed for a legally binding “spectrum of commitments” from both developed and developing countries. However, their stance was based on targets nationally determined according to national capabilities and circumstances. They suggested that these would be reviewed periodically with the aim of keeping global temperature rise in line with the 2 degree Celsius goal. These trends only left us the burning question: Have the Conference of Parties really helped the world to tackle the issue of climate change?
Climate change has become big business and false solutions are celebrated. Whereas it has been clear for a long time now that global warming is mostly man-made and is due to the huge amount of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere by polluting activities involving the use of fossil fuels, preferred actions taken by nations and industries have been patently false actions. These actions are mostly predicated on the specious notion of carbon offsetting. The notion itself is built on the creed that financial markets hold the key to solving humankind’s problems. Polluters keep polluting provided they pay for it in cash (carbon tax) or imagine that some trees somewhere else in the world are absorbing an equivalent carbon as they are emitting in their activities, while damaging the climate; polluters perform acts of indulgence through offsets.
The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) covers some of such offset schemes where projects that help reduce carbon emissions earn some carbon credits. Some really obnoxious projects get listed under the CDM. Gas to power projects utilizing gas that was otherwise flared make sense, except you consider the fact that gas flaring has been illegal in Nigeria since the gas reinjection law came into effect in 1984. There has also been a High Court judgment in the case of Jonah Gbemre versus Shell Development Petroleum Company over the gas flare at Iwerekhan, Delta State, Nigeria. The High Court sitting in Benin City ruled that gas flaring is an illegal activity, is unconstitutional and is an affront on the people’s human rights. That judgment was delivered in November 2005 but the flares continue to roar. Qualifying projects in CDM are expected to be ones that bring in additionality, or that do some mitigating actions that would not have otherwise been done. Writing on this in Nnimmo Bassey’s book title: “cook a continent destructive extraction and the climate crisis in Africa” Nnimmo Bassey made the point that “Any compensation for such an activity flies in the face of reason. Gas flares are the most cynical manifestations of corporate insolence in the face of climate change and environmental health. The flares release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous and sulphur oxides with other harmful substances that greatly affect human health.” Just when we thought we had overcome slavery we are getting dragged away into not just carbon colonialism but carbon slavery. Carbon was placed on the market shelf through the acceptance of the CDM at the COP held in Kyoto in 1997.
Market mechanisms threw Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) into the tray at the Bali climate meeting of 2009. REDD and its variants allow polluters to keep on at their business of polluting while “showing” that trees in a forest or plantation that they have secured somewhere else absorb the carbon they emit. Thus REDD projects permit pollution and cannot be said to reduce emissions. It is clear that the name itself is a sad joke. In addition, REDD does not stop deforestation, but at best defers or displaces it. A REDD scheme is a business scheme, pure and simple.
A declaration from the Climate Space at the World Social Forum held in Tunis in March 2013 insisted “We cannot put the future of nature and humanity in the hands of financial speculative mechanisms like carbon trading and REDD. REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), like Clean Development Mechanisms, is not a solution to climate change and is a new form of colonialism. In defence of Indigenous Peoples, local communities and the environment, we reject REDD+ and the grabbing of the forests, farmlands, soils, mangroves, marine algae and oceans of the world, which act as sponges for greenhouse gas pollution. Some REDD-like projects operate outside the purview of the UN-REDD coverage. One of such schemes is what has come to be called California REDD. In its own rejection of California REDD, No REDD in Africa Network (NRAN) recalls a situation in Mozambique, where a La Via Campesina study found that thousands of farmers in the N’hambita REDD project were paid meagre amounts for seven years for tending trees. “Because the contract is for ninety-nine years, if the farmer dies his or her children and their children must tend the trees without any further pay or compensation. This has been interpreted as a clear case of carbon slavery.”
Another false solution has been the presentation of agrofuels as a replacement of fossil fuels. It is a false solution because it keeps the fossil fuels paradigm and is equally polluting. Moreover it has triggered massive land grabs and even at its peak cannot replace fossil fuels because the amount of land needed to cultivate crops and the feedstock needed for production of agrofuels is simply not available on planet earth.
Geo-engineering and agricultural genetic engineering are other false solutions that lull humans to think that they can keep current polluting lifestyles and find techno-fixes for their addiction.
So, What must be done? Time is ticking fast, the peoples of the world must continually press for climate justice, understanding that no nation, rich or poor, is immune to the challenge pose by global warming. Reflections on the challenge of climate change can leave us utterly exasperated considering the corporate capture of governments and the refusal of states to take actions that would benefit the people and the planet and not just the corporations. This has been amply illustrated by the tragic weather events that have fairly democratically impacted nations around the world. These effects are undeniable: Sea levels are rising, Arctic ice is melting – may lead to changes in ocean circulation, Sea-surface temperatures are rising, Acidification of sea water due to increase of dissolved carbon dioxide, Heavier rainfall pattern, hurricanes and floods, emerging crop diseases and crop failures, intense Droughts and desertification, to mention a few. These have a negative impact on human lives and that of other species universally. Urgent actions are needed across the globe. Among these we list:
- Rapid transition from dependence on fossil fuels– including in transportation, power generation and agriculture
- A just global climate treaty that recognises historical responsibility, climate debt as well as legally binding emissions reduction
- Elimination of market mechanisms (including CDM, REDD, REDD+)and all other false solutions from the climate regime
- Recycling of wastes and reducing consumption in line with planetary limits
- Make national laws that build mechanisms for climate mitigation and adaptation actions including coastal protection, combating desertification
- Stop gas flaring in the Niger Delta and at Badagary, communities in Nigeria immediately
- Stop fracking and other extreme extraction including drilling in the Arctic region
- Educate grassroots communities and the creation of communities climate defence committees that would set rules for physical developments as well as monitor impacts of climate change
- Universal respect of Mother Earth rights as captured at the Cochabamba peoples summit on Climate Change.
- Leave the fossils in the soil. Besides global warming, the environmental cost of fossils cannot justify a continued reliance on the resource. Reflect on Shell’s pollution of Ogoni land as captured by UNEP. Think also about the open scars created by tar sand extraction in Alberta,
Conclusion: Our narrative must be the story of our lives told by us and dipped in our experiences“…If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low to the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle every day to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers because they know that the forests, the mountains and the rivers protect them and is their source of livelihood. The first step toward re-imagining a world gone terribly wrong would be to stop the annihilation of those who have a different imagination – an imagination that is outside capitalism as well as communism. An imagination which has an altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfilment.”
It is our life, we know how the rain has beaten us and for how long. Indeed we do not inherit the Earth; we borrowed it from our children. Our narrative must not be stuck in the crisis narrative imagined by others. We must awake, arise, mobilise and work for the transformation of our society and planet – by all legitimate means available and necessary.
This Article was sent in by Adesuwa Uwagie-Ero of Environmental Rights Action