By Dr Godwin Uyi Ojo
As ERA/FoEN and its allies mark the 2019 World Environment Day we wish to draw attention to this year’s theme focusing on Air Pollution that is the greatest environmental challenge of the century and mostly driven by the global carbon economy.
In Africa and in Nigeria, a significant proportion of sources of environmental degradation are related to mining and extraction from oil and gas.
According to statistics, nine out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air. Air pollution harms our natural environment, decreasing the oxygen supply in our oceans, making it harder for plants to grow and contributes to climate change. Studies show that air toxics are contributing to birth defects, reproductive failure, and disease in animals.
In Nigeria’s Niger Delta, air pollution is one of the major environmental problems confronting the region as it plays host to most of the upstream and downstream oil related industries and non oil related industries that release tons of pollutants into the ecosystems. The pollution from the Niger Delta on a scale is regarded as one of the worst among similar delta areas in the world. Nigeria holds the highest record of 19.79% of natural gas flaring globally and is responsible for about 46% of Africa’s total gas flared per ton of oil produced.
At present, over 100 flare sites still emit the toxic cocktail making Nigeria one of the highest emitter of greenhouse gases in Africa. The impact of frequent oil spills and persistent gas flaring on the environment and people of Nigeria contribute to air pollution, water and soil contamination. This is increasing the rate of carbon emission released into the atmosphere with serious health hazards, livelihood destruction and communities’ impoverishment from destruction of their fishing and farming practices. An energy revolution that will deliver on energy access and generation of green jobs is now.
Environmental Agenda Setting for the Federal Government
Although the clean up of Ogoni has been touted as an environmental legacy project of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, however, in the past four years, the government scored near zero for its poor environmental protection record.
First, there is a lack of an acceptable key performance indicators for the clean up. Although 16 Contractors have been reportedly mobilized to site in December 2018, the Key Performance Indicators has not been made public by HYPREP indicating a lack of transparency and accountability of process. The clean up Contract awards have been corrupted as political patronage for politicians to enrich themselves at the detriment of the poor impacted victims of the oil and gas pollution. Government should pay greater attention on this legacy project to properly clean up Ogoni, restore public confidence and redeem its dented image.
Secondly, Nigeria lacks a holistic approach to environmental protection and sustainable development. It has failed to put in place a National Environmental Action Plan that will specify a frame work of action to deliver on set national targets measured by clear indicators on an annual basis.
Thirdly, the government continues to pay lip service to the clean up of the Niger Delta. As part of civil society groups’ Environmental Agenda Setting, we demand that the federal government put in place a framework for the clean up of the oil polluted Niger Delta that has been the source of protests and violent conflicts. As a conflict resolution mechanism, the federal government should delineate the Niger Delta as ecological disaster area and declare environmental state of emergency to focus on the Niger Delta and end gas flaring. To demonstrate seriousness the government should establish a clean up and remediation fund for the clean up of the Niger Delta to address the severe impacts of oil operations on communities and the environment.
Energy Transition: Nigeria can survive without Oil
Can Nigeria survive without oil and gas since it is heavily dependent on oil currently accounting for over 80% of its revenue receipts? In spite of the estimated US$600billion from oil revenue in the past decades, about 99% of Nigeria’s 200 million population remain in abject poverty, lacking basic social amenities and victims of serious energy poverty.
Nigeria’s oil dependency as led to shrinking socio-economic opportunities arising from failure to diversify the economy from the oil sector to a return to agricultural boom and net exporter of food in the 1960s/70s.The oil and gas sector is also fueling corruption, massive environmental degradation and awakening of environmental laws and non-compliance.
To contribute its quota towards implementation of the Paris Agreement of 2015 to curb climate change and limit carbon emissions to 1.5 degrees, and to fulfill Nigeria’s nationally determined commitments of 20% carbon emissions, there is the need for urgent transition from dirty energy such as nuclear, biofuels, oil, gas and coal to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy. Nigeria can do well to become the hub of renewable energy supplier in West Africa if it sets an energy transition deadline.
To avoid kicking the can down the road, Nigeria should commit to energy transition and set a practicable 2030 deadline for the energy transition that is inevitable on the long run. In this way, our transportation system such as cars or diesel and petrol engines will be run by solar energy.
We urge the federal government to:
- Immediately divest public finance, loans and subsidies from fossil fuel exploitation and channel such resources to investment in renewable energy sources to improve energy access for all.
- Urgently decentralized energy production and supply system through an energy democracy transition model that allows communities and individuals to be co-producers of energy as well as suppliers as end users. This vision can be achieved through mini-grid, feed-in tariffs, and off-grid systems to promote environmental sustainability and generate green jobs that are environmentally friendly.
- Dedicate a percentage of the national annual budget for research, development and production and supply of renewable energy systems to improve solar energy access that is currently low in Nigeria.
- Be courageous to ban diesel and petrol generator sets in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies and use the funds to provide solar energy systems for the offices. It should also set a deadline to halt the importation and use of diesel and petrol cars and other means of transportation so that Nigeria will not be a dumping ground for obsolete cars from industrialized countries.
- Demonstrate seriousness on environmental protection and establish a clean up and remediation fund of US$100 billion for the cleanup of the entire Niger Delta to restore the environment and sustain rural livelihoods.
Dr Godwin Uyi Ojo is the Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN)