Why we should not hide from the climate change challenges

The world economic forum had its annual meetings in Davos early last week. This is the exclusive event where CEOs, global leaders, and other big wigs go once a year to discuss global issues and hobnob over food and drinks. This year the major focus has been on climate change and its effects. The chaotic fires in Australia drove home the case for climate action but that was not all. Throughout the past year there was one climate related issue or the other. From the fires burning the amazon to freak snowstorms to record temperature and rainfall. Is anyone still in doubt? The talk in Davos was all about what to do about climate change and rising global temperatures. The 2010s were apparently the hottest since records started being kept. Global temperatures are expected to rise further in the coming decades and the impact of human activity is apparent to most. The question for those at Davos was what to do to slow rising temperatures and limit the disruption from climate change. As is now apparent, tackling climate change is not just good for the environment, it is good economics too.

Back here in Nigeria the effects of climate change are already becoming apparent. Many countries in Africa are expected to bear a relatively higher share of the costs of climate change and this is mostly due to the continuing importance of agriculture. In many African countries agriculture still accounts for a relatively large share of the economies and an even larger share of employment. This type of agriculture is however mostly still dependent on rainfall. Rainfall that is becoming more erratic due to climate change and very few of our farmers have irrigation systems in place to cope with rainfall shocks. The temperature is also getting more erratic with consequences for those in agriculture. People in richer countries mostly engage in activities that are not directly affected by the climate but those here are much more dependent on it.

The consequences do not stop with agriculture. Rising temperatures are projected to cause rising ocean levels due to the melting ice caps. For places like Lagos, which are already very low lying, rising ocean levels could wreak havoc. I am already trying to imagine what an already swampy Lekki would look like with the sea level a few centimetres higher. Even if they did try to build an Amsterdam style elaborate system of sea defences, it would cost billions of dollars. How are they going to do that when they cannot even build a fourth mainland bridge?

Then there is the excess rainfall and all the flooding. And the dry weather in some parts. With climate change the only thing certain about the future is that it will be different and that will have consequences.

Many argue that Africa, including Nigeria, should not have to bear the brunt of climate change issues given that we were mostly not responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that have contributed to the climate problem. They argue that we therefore should not be saddled with the responsibility for cleaning up the mess. “Let those who did the damage deal with it”. But then is that what we really want?

The world is moving towards being “climate smart” and using environmentally friendly technology. Do we really want to be left behind while the rest of the world makes these technological advancements? Do we want to wake up a hundred years from now when the world has moved on from fossil fuels and start trying to catch up to the technological advancements made elsewhere? Or do we want to be at the table now and try to compete?

Even though I do not think we should be saddled with some of the same responsibilities for dealing with the climate crisis as other much richer countries, I think we should start to act to adjust to the inevitable future crisis. Whether it be things as simple as limiting the amount of single use plastics we pollute the environment with or building cities that actually take flood water evacuation into account, we have to play our part. As the world moves towards a more climate sensitive future we really cannot afford to be left behind again.


Dr. Obikili is chief economist at Businessday