CHIKA OKEKE writes on calls by stakeholders on the need for government to embark on massive tree planting in a bid to weaken the effect of climate change in Nigeria.

The devastating impact of climate change in the country ranges from extreme weather conditions, rise in sea level, flooding, drought and acidic rainfall that is currently threatening human and animal health.

The most turbulent issue is the ninety per cent (90 per cent ) shrinking of Lake Chad over the last decades that is adversely affecting the agricultural livelihood of about 5 million Nigerians and Chadians already battered by insurgency.

Recall that the 21st edition of Conferences of the Parties (COP 21) which took place in Paris, December 2015 was a breakthrough for obtaining international commitment in addressing climate change.

The COP21 produced the landmark 12-page Paris Agreement that mandated all 195 negotiating countries to ensure that the increase in global average temperature is limited to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to make every effort to limit it to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

To that effect, on September 22, 2016, President Buhari signed the Paris Agreement on behalf of Nigeria on the side-line of the UN General Assembly in New York since the country accounted for 0.57 per cent of global emissions.

The Paris Agreement is the first International Climate Change Agreement which emerged from a lengthy series of negotiations.

The signatories to the agreement were expected to achieve the target through the implementation of specific efforts and engagements known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

Also, developed countries had in 2009 at Copenhagen and 2010 in Cancún, committed to jointly raising $100 billion annually by 2020 to help developing countries in resolving issues bordering on climate change.

The money is expected to be raised through bilateral or multilateral, public or private sources, including innovative financing like the French contribution to the financial transaction tax.                                                    

Public financing may take several forms like multilateral funds such as the Green Climate Fun, multilateral or regional institutions such as the World Bank, government contributions, and bilateral institutions such as the Agence Française de Développement (French Development Agency (AFD).                                                    

However, the 22nd edition of COP to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Marrakech, Morocco provided the platform for world leaders to translate the decisions reached in Paris to actions even as Nigeria submitted its instrument of ratification.

When implemented, this would probably put an end to the use of fossil fuel for energy needs, with a greater focus on renewable energy.

Already, the federal government has identified and commenced work on sectoral action plans for the five main economic sectors in Nigeria such as power, oil and gas, agriculture, transport, and industry.

Since Nigeria is one of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world, it was estimated that by 2050, climate change could cost the country between 6 per cent to 30 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) pegged at $100billion to $460 billion.

The USA and China are said to account for about 40 per cent global carbon emissions.

Regrettably, Nigeria is experiencing four per cent forest loss annually which is considered as the highest globally.

It is further estimated that 1.5 million trees are felled down daily through illegal logging, thereby leading to 3.5 per cent deforestation annually.

Surprisingly, the forest cover has been depleted to less than 10 per cent as against the mandate of the Food and Agricultural Organizations’ (FAO) that each state is expected to keep its forest cover to a minimum of 25 per cent of its land area.

LEADERSHIP discovered that worldwide, forest loss alone contributed to about 20 per cent of green house gas emissions especially carbon that had contributed to global warming and climate change.

According to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Nigeria 2016 Annual report, different human activities were responsible for the changing global climate especially the rise of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere mainly due to reduced sinks (forests).

Further findings indicate that Nigeria’s forest cover reduced from 16 per cent in 2000 to 11 per cent in 2014, while areas covered by farmland increased from 25 per cent to 30 per cent in the same period.

To this end, experts who spoke to LEADERSHIP revealed that massive tree planting was the surest way to militate the dangers associated with climate change.

The founder of Fight Against Desert Encroachment (FADE), Dr Newton Jibunoh, stated that the importance of trees in stabilising the climate should not be substituted if the federal government was keen on actualising the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees centigrade.

He emphasised that deforestation, land degradation and land use change accounts for over 12 per cent of the entire Greenhouse Gas (GhG) emissions on the planet.

Jibunoh said that an increase in climate change would lead to massive land degradation and deforestation.

He asserted that forests would play a critical role in helping countries meet their NDCs so as to sustain the fight against climate change.

He hinted that rising temperatures made forests drier, more susceptible to fires, and vulnerable to pests and diseases.

He quoted the recent WWF Living Forest report as saying that failure to address climate change issues now could lead to the destruction of 170 million hectares of forest as well as loss of biodiversity and livelihood by 2030.

Jibunoh stated that climate scientists were optimistic that investment in forests and trees has the potential to reduce poverty, drive sustainable development and provide vital local and global environmental services for the planet.

According to him, “It always pays to begin any climate change discussion with the fact that the issue at hand is a complex problem that will require large numbers of people working at different levels for an extended period of time.”

He listed the institutions that should actively engage in climate change talks as non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, private sectors, individuals and government.

He stated that the essence of activism was to draw the attention of policy makers and publics on the need to prioritise environmental issues through sound legislative policies.

He recalled that FADE had organised and participated in peaceful demonstrations and night vigils to protest the cutting of trees on the highways stressing that the organisation was the champion to the campaign against the construction of 220km Cross River Superhighways on Ekuri community forest in the state.

Lending his voice, the pioneer House committee chairman on environment, Rt Hon Emeka Atuma, hinted that climate change could only be controlled through sustainable forest management meant to reduce desert encroachment.

Atuma, who is also a member of Tropical Wood Exporters Association (TWEAN), said that traumatic unfolding events in the country has adverse environmental situation that could create economic hardship for Nigerians.

According to him, “The trees help in purification of water and everything we use as man comes from the forest.”

While lamenting that Nigeria was yet to attain the required amount of forest sustainability, he enjoined stakeholders to advocate more on government’s afforestation programmes instead of focusing on the number of trees lost to deforestation annually.

“Are Nigerians actually replanting even if they fell a tree? If you want to speak about alternative fuel energy, people in the village cannot do without the forest or felling of trees,” he added.

Irrespective of the benefits of trees, the overwhelming use of generators in the environment seems to be undermining the rescue efforts.

Jibunoh lamented that fumes emanating from streelights powered by generators is the leading cause of death of huge number of trees.

He said some state governors commenced planting of trees on its corridors in an effort to reduce the effect of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

He added, “Sadly, on these same streets, we find streetlights being powered by generators.”

The Great Green Wall (GGW) programme which is an African Union initiative was launched in 2013.

It was not only targeted at creating green wall of trees or barrier from Senegal in West Africa to Djibouti in East Africa but for a set of integrated actions in addressing the multi-sectoral problems affecting the livelihoods of the people in African Sahel-Saharan region.

The director -general of National Agency for the Great Green Wall (NAGGW), Mr. Goni Ahmed, said that the agency was committed at improving the livelihood of over 25 million people in the region by the year 2020 saying that it would rehabilitate and green about 22,500sq. km of degraded land in the dry region of the country within the framework of GGW programme.

Ahmed revealed that the programme was also determined to implement natural resources conservation and development, climate change mitigation and adaptation, strengthening of social infrastructure especially in rural areas as well as diversification of economic activities and improvement of living conditions of the rural communities.

He said, “Since 2013, Nigeria has been able to provide sources of clean water to over 1 million people in the affected areas through the drilling of boreholes with reticulation facilities, animal drinking troughs in 157 communities along the GGW Corridor, establishment of Shelterbelt, community woodlots and community orchards.”

Contributing, the minister of state environment, Ibrahim Jibril, harped on the need to plant more trees in order to preserve the ecosystem especially as the world witnesses the negative impact of climate change.

He said, “It’s important to understand the place and contributions of forests to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) 7 which aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all.”

Jibril emphasised that SDG’s goal 15 sought to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, reverse land degradation as well as halt biodiversity loss, saying that the life cycle of the earth depended largely on the forests.

Jibril promised that actions aimed at climate change mitigation and adaptation would be given due consideration adding that tree planting and sustainable management of forest reserves and trees outside forests landscape are essential for environmental sustainability.

The minister was emphatic that Nigeria needed about $142 billion translating to $10 billion annually to meet her Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s) target by 2030.

He noted that its imperative for Nigeria to invest more on low-carbon and climate resilient opportunities away from carbon intensive polluting activities that exacerbate climate vulnerability.

“The SDGs Goal 13 addresses the need to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts,” he concluded.