During the course of last year the media community took little notice of a very important event in international economic relations. This relates to the decision to establish the Green Climate Fund (GCF) Secretariat and the appointment of its first Executive Director in June 2013. The new organisation is headquartered in Songdo, South Korea, and is headed by a Tunisian national, Héla Cheikhrouhou, a former Director of the African Development Bank Group. That decision comes after long drawn-out negotiations between developing countries and the advanced industrial nations on how to structure and finance an organisation that will drive the architecture of climate finance. The GCF is expected to mobilise over US$100 billion annually for climate mitigation and adaptation interventions in developing countries by 2020. Nigeria and other African countries need to engage with the GCF to raise funding for critical intervention in climate change activities.
I recently returned from an enjoyable Christmas and New Year break in Nigeria. Back in Brussels, it is cold and rainy, but no snow. Normally at this time of year, mid-January, Europe’s capital should be lunar white with snow. Across the Atlantic, however, snowstorms have grounded airplanes and damaged physical infrastructures. Climate change is no laughing matter. It is not just advanced industrial nations trying to hype up something that doesn’t exist. A few years ago, temperatures rose so high in the summer in France that thousands of people of died, most of them the elderly. I used to live in Tunisia. During 2004, summer temperatures in that country were verging towards 50 degrees Celsius, to the extent that workers were asked to go home. In the ornate offices of the African Development Bank where I used to work, the air conditioners gave up!
During October 2012 I participated at a conference on disaster preparedness hosted by the World Bank and the Government of Japan. It was held appropriately in Sendai, a city in the north eastern Tohoku region that had experienced one of the worst natural disasters in living memory. The Tohoku earthquake and Tsunami of Friday 11 March 2011 killed more than 15,883 people, while 2,643 others simply disappeared. The injured numbered over 6,150. An estimated 129,225 buildings collapsed while an additional 254,204 were classed as ‘nearly-collapsed’. Some 4.4 million households in north eastern Japan were left without electricity and 1.5 million without water. The tsunami also triggered a disastrous meltdown at the Fukushima Daini Nuclear plant. The World Bank estimates that the economic costs stood at US$235 billion – the equivalent of wiping off Nigeria’s entire GDP.
It is evident that the disaster would have been far worse were it not for the technical ingenuity for which the Japanese are famed worldwide. We visited a school where the kids had been safely evacuated some 30 minutes before the angry sea swallowed up the buildings.
My work has taken me to several small island developing countries (SIDs) such as Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, St. Lucia, Samoa and Vanuatu where climate change is a matter of life and death for many communities. It takes only one hurricane to set a SID country back a generation in terms of economic progress. Small island nations such as Tuvalu, Kiribati and Solomon islands may disappear all together if urgent action is not taken.
According to some forecasts, Africa will be one of the worst affected regions in terms of the long-term impact of climate change. A report by the UK-based risk management consultancy, Maplecroft, places Nigeria 6th out of 193 countries in terms of high risk from Climate Change effects. The worst affected countries are Bangladesh, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Haiti, South Sudan, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Philippines and Ethiopia.
During my recent vacation, I drove from Abuja to Wusasa, Zaria. I had not been to Zaria for almost decade. We nearly got lost, as Wusasa had almost merged with the rest of the city. I get the impression that the population has quadrupled, while slums have increased. Population, environment and land use systems contribute to resource scarcity and conflict. Last year, kids attending early morning Sunday school were slaughtered at St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral. This once quiet and peaceful community has had its own share of suffering. Climate change is one factor; the other is the ideology of violent religious extremism that stretches as far afield as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar. Zaria and the North are suffering the ill winds of desertification. Lake Chad had been part of the economy of a prosperous civilisation centred on Kanem-Borno. The Lake is disappearing, and with it the livelihoods of farmers, fishing communities and cattle herders.
Farther south, floods have killed thousands in Taraba. Rising sea levels in the Delta and the coastlands threaten industrial activities, including oil and gas, on which our economy is overwhelmingly dependent. Some hydrological modelling suggests that a 3ft rise in sea levels is enough to submerge the entire onshore oil resources of the Niger Delta.
Climate change aggravates social tensions and exacerbates violent conflict. Some would argue that the insurgency in the north east can partly be explained by dwindling economic opportunities arising from climatic changes. The increasing incidence of clashes between Fulani cattle herders and farming communities in the Middle Belt is largely due to severe weather changes and the increasing scarcity of green pastures.
It is highly regrettable that government have not understood the urgency of the situation. Budgetary allocations to the environment are seen as slush funds to finance future elections. We need nothing less than a new developmental paradigm anchored on the low-carbon economy that promotes more sustainable livelihoods. Education, technology, policy and infrastructures must be re-oriented to reduce our carbon footprints and to build a more sustainable future for all our people. Africa’s sun is more glorious than that of any other. The emergence of the GCF offers an opportunity to resurrect the climate change agenda. The fate of billions on our planet may well depend on it.
By: OBADIAH MAILAFIA