‘Nigeria should go beyond participating in conferences’

Dr Funmilayo Doherty President of SETPCOM

Against the background of the COP23 conference held in Bonn, Germany, where issues about climate change and protection of the environment were discussed, a renowned environmentalist and president, Society for Environmental Toxicology and Pollution Mitigation (SETPOM), Dr Funmilayo Doherty in this Interview with BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA, believes that its is time for Nigeria to ‘walk the talk’ and move beyond just participating in conferences. She also highlights the importance of environmental sustainability in Nigeria.

How will you described Nigeria’s attendance to COP 23?
Ministers and Heads of Government were in attendance for the 23rd session of the Conference of parties just concluded in Bonn, Germany. Nigeria’s attendance at COP 23 is a sign of the present government’s commitment to tackling climate change problems in Nigeria and the world at large.

This is important because climate issues know no boundaries and it is the collective responsibilities of all nations in the world to reduce the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and protect the environment for the future generations. Climate change is a threat to the present and the future, and it is also affecting Nigeria.

What impact do you think that the nation’s participation in the global summit has made?
It may be too early to start talking about the impact of the participation. Nigeria has made its statement and action plans just like any other participating country at the conference.

The most important aspect is to move to action. Let Nigeria ‘walk the talk’ and move beyond just participating, there is a lot to be done and all stakeholders need to come on board. This is not just for the Ministry of Environment or the Department of Climate Change alone. All ministries have to be involved.

What is the way forward for Nigeria especially as it affects climate change and sustainability?
With a population of over 160 million people and limited natural resources, we need to learn to live together sustainably. Many of the natural resources especially water systems that keep ecosystems thriving and feed a growing human population have become stressed.

Rivers, lakes and aquifers are drying up or becoming too polluted to use. We need to take action responsibly, based on the understanding that what we do today can have implications on the lives of people and the planet in future.

Activities have to be carried out in a way that is sustainable and environmentally friendly. We need to integrate the processes of sustainability in personal consumption and occupations and replace environmentally unfriendly alternatives.

Many Nigerians are less concerned when it comes to issues of sustainability and climate change but Nigeria is particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Nigeria is one of the major emitters of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) in Africa because of our dependence on fossil fuels.

Most homes and institutions run on generators that emit carbon dioxide which is one of the GHG that have the ability to trap heat in the atmosphere resulting in the increase of atmospheric temperature, global warming and ultimately the climate change.

Activities like bush burning, indiscriminate felling of trees, plastic pollution, dumping of waste just to mention a few, are quite common in our environment and these are not sustainable.

Nigeria needs to have the political will to address some of these problems, just like Kenya did some few months back where the Government of Kenya banned the use of plastic bags in that country. This is already yielding good fruit for them. Plastics clog waterways and channels causing floods and breeding sites for disease vectors, especially in low land areas. If you go to the market, any little item you buy, the seller puts in a nylon bag, by the time you get home, you can have up to 10 tiny black nylon bags, and where do they end up, in the environment.

The government should encourage the production and use of biodegradable plastics. Plastics are composed of petroleum based materials called resins (e.g. polyethylene, polypropylene) that are resistant to biodegradation.

Plastic bags, for instance, can take between 15 and 1000 years to break down in the environment. Nigeria needs to stop flaring gas and reduce its dependence on fossil fuel. If you are asking people to stop the use of wood for cooking (since this contributes to GHG emissions), then the government should make cooking gas affordable for the ordinary citizen.

Nigeria also needs to encourage the use of Renewable energy. The energy sector accounts for roughly two-thirds of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which occur at a level that has been boosted by industrialization and economic growth.

The United Kingdom and Canada are leading a new global coal alliance aimed at accelerating clean growth and achieving the rapid phase-out of traditional coal power. 

Carbon pollution from coal is a leading contributor to climate change and air pollution from burning of coal causes many health problems like severe respiratory diseases.

Nigerian politicians and government also need to take decisive action to save the environment for the future generation. Rich or poor, young or old, influential or not, we all breath the same polluted air, eat the same fish that comes from polluted water bodies and also face the adverse effects of food insecurity as a result of change in weather conditions.

Are there specific areas, you want Nigeria to focus?
The COP 23 has come and gone, it was a huge success. There are some key achievements from COP 23 and Nigeria should focus on some of them. The Fijian COP 23 presidency announced a participatory process that will allow countries to share and showcase best practices to enable parties fulfill the goal of the Paris agreement which is to reduce the global temperature.

Nigeria should be able to learn from best practices of other countries. Other achievements include the Launch of Ocean pathway partnership and finalization of the first-ever Gender action plan.

Women are agents of change and are most vulnerable to climate change crisis like droughts, flood and extreme weather situations. Nigeria needs to consider gender inclusion in all of its climate change policies and programs. At the conference, countries also reached a historic agreement on agriculture.

Countries are to not only develop, but also implement new strategies for adaptation and mitigation within the agricultural sector, to both reduce GHG emissions from this sector as well as build resilience to the effects of climate change.

Nigeria needs to focus on environmental and climate education for the younger generation, change in mindset and attitude towards the environment is also very important if we are to achieve sustainability in all areas. Sustainability is about changing attitude, mentality and our way of life. The younger generation is our hope and we need to educate them. We need to focus more on the transition to a green economy by developing green skills for the youths.

How could platforms or organizations like SETPOM help in actualising that?
The Society for Environmental Toxicology and Pollution Mitigation (SETPOM) is a not-for-profit professional organization, whose main goals are to promote sustainable environmental practices and share best practices for the benefit of man and other occupants of the global ecosystem.

The society has always provided a platform for environmental stakeholders to share best practices in environmental management issues, sensitising the public on issues relating to the environment, Providing an avenue for easy dissemination and access to environmental information and contributing to global, national and local environmental discourse.

In our effort to encourage the younger generation on sustainability, environmental awareness and best practices, the SETPOM Green Essay Competition was instituted in 2014 for Secondary school students. The society has always encouraged students in tertiary institutions to pursue research related to the environment through the SETPOM annual student research awards.

What do you consider as factors affecting Nigeria adaptation to the dictates of COP23?
The political will is not there perhaps largely because our economy depends on fossil fuel. For as long as we continue to depend so much on fossil fuel for the sustainance of our economy, this will be difficult.

Are environmentalists like you in Nigeria playing their expected roles in the issue of climate change and sustainability of the environment?
The issue of climate change and sustainability is not just for the Environmentalists alone.

The environmentalists are doing their bit, but you see nature is for everyone. We are creating the awareness as much as we can, environmentalists cannot do this alone.

God has created mother earth in such a way that there is a balance, once that ecological balance is disrupted by human activities, there will be ecological consequences.

This is what we are experiencing now in form of global temperature rise and climate change. All stakeholders have to come on board. Nigerians do not understand the enormity of the effect of climate change. Human health will be affected by the rising global temperature as patterns of infections will change.

Some infections are seasonal, so if there is a change in the weather conditions, this will also result in a change in the various type of infection. Farmers also need to know the climatic conditions before planting, there is uncertainty in climatic conditions such as pattern of rainfall, which will ultimately affect food production.

Climate change is altering patterns of weather and water around the world, causing shortages and droughts in some areas and floods in others. The country is considerably impacted by climate change. The north for example, is highly vulnerable to drought.

In the developed countries, celebrities and actors are more involved in the campaign towards sustainability and climate change issues. Why is it different in Nigeria. Our celebrities and actors should show more concern for sustainability issues, since they have large fans. We owe it not only to ourselves but to future generations to protect the environment before it is too late. More awareness needs to be created.

During the conference, businesses and companies from all sectors came together to show their commitment and made their pledge on climate action. Microsoft was one of the companies that unveiled a bold pledge at COP23 to cut its operational carbon emissions by 75 percent by 2030.

This is a huge step. We also need businesses, companies, corporate organizations in Nigeria to come together and take a bold step and commitment towards climate change and sustainable practices.

 



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