Recent environmental statistics indicate that we have emergency in the management of our natural resources as evidenced by depleting forest cover, increasing pollution load in our rivers, reducing low water levels across all geographical zones, etc. This trend is global in nature. Consequently, international development financing institutions (DFIs) are increasingly giving attention to the assessment of environmental and social impact of investment projects on beneficiaries seeking finance from them.
Today, there exists EIA Act and that of the developing partners such as World Bank Environmental and Social Safeguards, UNDP’s Social and Environmental Safeguard Policy as well as the AfDB’s Environmental and Social Safeguards. With these in place, large scale renewable energy independent power producers (IPPs) are expected to carry out environmental and social impact assessments of their projects in accordance with the laws of the land and international best practices.
There is limited awareness among some project developers seeking international financing on the specific environmental impact assessment guidelines required. Many desire that compliance with Nigeria’s environmental impact assessment should be sufficient to meet international benchmarks required to source funding while some approved EIA’s study sometimes have to be revised with some specific issues incorporated.
Sequel to the above, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with the Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN), the Federal Ministry of Environment, the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing and other stakeholders convened a 3-day stakeholders interactive forum on environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) for renewable energy development in Nigeria in Port Harcourt, Rivers State to carry out rapid assessment and gap analysis of EIA process in Nigeria as it relates to renewable energy development and recommend ways of ensuring its effectiveness, ease of access to finance and achievement of sustainable development goals.
In her remarks, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Mr Aliboh Lawrence, said the EIA process in Nigeria as in many other countries of the world recognized the importance of the views and concerns of stakeholders in the successful implementation of development projects.
For this reason, public consultation and participation in the EIA process are key components of the EIA law in Nigeria, she stated, adding by providing the affected people with the mechanism for presenting their range of social, economic and political problems, public participation not only helps in enriching EIA process but serves to stem agitation and lack of cooperation from host communities and other interested parties and thus create an enabling environment for projects to be successfully implemented.
The permanent secretary represented by the director of environmental assessment department, Mr John Alonge, emphasized the importance the ministry places on the implementation of EIA in the country, saying the ministry had received and evaluated over 4000 different categories of EIA reports for projects in various sectors of the economy including renewable energy, oil and gas infrastructure, incineration, ginnery, manufacturing, waste management and agriculture, among others. The process, according to him, has resulted in the useful modification of industrial process designs to achieve better efficiency, improved capacity utilization and sustainable use of natural resources.
“Our experience in stakeholders’ participation in the EIA process for renewable energy projects in the last five years shows increasing understanding by our people of the importance of EIA as a tool for environmental management. However, if the full objective of EIA are to be met, stakeholders must move from mere criticism of EIA studies and the demand for monetary compensations alone to a more constructive evaluation of EIA reports based on sound knowledge of local environment in which the project is situation,” he said
Earlier in his address, the project team leader, Engr. Okon Ekpenyong, said the overall objective of the forum was to support the implementation of EIA Act towards enhancing sustainability and ease of access to finance, with the specific objectives being to discuss and sensitise stakeholders on key elements of EIA Act vis-à-vis sustainability principles and requirements of international financiers.
Ekpenyong also listed the objectives to include carrying out rapid assessment and identifying gaps; reviewing existing accredited environmental assessment of consultants and modalities for feedback and sanctions; establishing appropriate framework for baseline data collection and identifying challenges and recommending measures for addressing them.
Delivering a paper on “Environmental implications of large-scale renewable energy projects”, the managing director of Environmental Accord Ltd, Engr. Ibrahim Salau identified two major risks to be addressed in the sector as building local capacity across sectors and de-risking the risk of lengthy and expensive permitting process.
He said: “De-risking the large-scale renewable energy sector is important because we need electricity, and not just because we need electricity but we need clean electricity which large-scale electricity project will deliver but we also need to address these risks. So, the first risk relates to the quality of the environmental and social impact reports that are prepared in Nigeria. So, that relates to increased cost to investors because they need to bring in foreign experts because most local consultants are not able to deliver the required quality. So, they then need to bring in international consultants who are expensive. This relates to cost. This can be addressed by building the capacity of local consultants, and also of different stakeholders.
“There is also the permitting process, there’s a risk that the permitting process can be lengthy and very costly. So, the duration of the permitting process is determined by the Nigerian EIA process which the federal ministry of environment oversees. So, that’s why the FME needs to be a bit more flexible to see how it can work with developers to make things happen more quickly and reduce cost. “They can reduce cost if one season baseline studies is approved compared to a two-season, that saves cost for the developer. They can also save cost by looking at the rate, the fees that are charged along the entire permitting process. It can also reduce cost and duration by coming up with an abridged version of the process as it has been doing with other sectors, for instance, the mini-grid sector.”
Speaking to LEADERSHIP, a participant from Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Environment, Uyo, Emem Umoette, highlighted the importance of renewable energy sector in power generation, saying apart from being environmentally friendly low carbon emission, readily accessible and inexhaustible are relatively economical and easier to maintain at the long-run.
Similarly, Mrs Donna Aimiuwu of the Federal Ministry of Environment, underscored the importance of the meeting, saying it sensitized stakeholders of emerging trends in the sector for better knowledge and enhanced regulatory process.
“The private sector and other practitioners are here and along the line every stakeholder will come in and that will help to ensure the goals for this particular programme is achieved. So, this is a step towards the wholesome goal.
“You can see that along the line a lot of us got better educated about the prevailing trends and emergent issues that have come in the line of environmental issues.
“The issue of environment concerns everybody and we’re talking of large-scale project here, and assessing funds from international organization hence the concern. The issue is ways to de-risk the project and enable consultants easily assess funds. Basically the stakeholders on ground are regulatory stakeholders. So, for us to have better knowledge and enhance our process will help further. The private sector and other practitioners are here and along the line every stakeholder will come in and that will help to ensure the goals for this particular programme is achieved. So, this is a step towards the wholesome goal,” she added.
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