Lack of legal framework limiting climate change efforts, says Onuigbo

Samuel Onuigbo

Hon. Samuel Ifeanyi Onuigbo is chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Climate Change. He spoke to LEO SOBECHI on issues concerning flooding, the Climate Change Bill and steps to resolve gray areas hindering president’s assent.

As chairman, Climate Parliament and President, GLOBE Nigeria, you play a key role in addressing environmental issues from the legislative perspective. How did you feel about issues of flooding in the country?
Well, flooding has become a recurrent thing in the country over the past decade. If you recall, in 2012, we had massive flooding across the country. It was reported that 363 people died and about 2.1 million persons were displaced in that flood, according to estimates by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
Damages and losses from that flood that affected 39 states of the federation were estimated at N2.6 trillion. In 2014, heavy rains in Oyo State led to massive flood and 15 persons lost their lives within one week. These are huge losses to the nation, in terms of lives and resources. So, again, the recent flooding in Lagos is not a new thing. However, what is alarming is our failure to take appropriate measures to forestall it.
One thing is clear; the increase in flooding is a result of climate change. Experts have been warning about this for years, and at the moment, we can no longer pretend that we are not feeling the devastating impacts of climate change all around us. Like I normally say, we have gone beyond the point of thinking that climate change is firing warning shots, to a point where we are living with the full impacts of it.

From flooding, coastal and gully erosions, heat waves and the attendant health implications, to drought and desertification in the North, which has led to security challenges such as the farmers-herders clashes due to forced migration, the impacts of climate change are now massively felt by us.
You must note that the floods are not yet over for the year. The Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, has already warned that communities in 28 states of the country will witness flooding this year. So, we must brace up ourselves for this.     
But, most importantly, we must begin to make plans to mitigate the impacts of climate change, which have led to this recurrent issue of flooding.

Apart from knee-jerk responses, do you think Nigeria is doing enough to grapple with the challenges of climate change?
There are few countries in the world that one can say are doing close to enough to grapple with the challenges of climate change. Climate change is dynamic, and there are evolving mechanisms for addressing it.
Nigeria has first shown commitment when on September 22, 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari, signed the Paris Agreement on climate change. The president followed this up by signing the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol on October 2, 2020.
Again, remember that during the UN (United Nations) Climate Summit in New York, on September 24, 2019, President Buhari announced Nigeria’s massive reforestation plan that will see the country plant 25 million trees that will help in carbon sequestration. All of these are in addition to the government’s commitment to renewable energy, support for the Great Green Wall Initiative, and many more. All of these are efforts by the country to grapple with the challenges of climate change.
Our major challenge, however, is that we do not have a legal framework that supports these efforts, and ensures that these efforts are not done in silos.  
Every country serious on tackling climate change must have a framework that provides legal support and guides it. Recently, the European Union’s new legislation on climate change aims for a 55 per cent reduction in Greenhouse Gases (GHG) emission by 2030, with a target of net zero emission by 2050.

Nigeria needs such binding laws and in the Climate Change Bill, we have proposed 2050 – 2070 for the attainment of a net-zero GHG emission in Nigeria. Laws like this help provide coordination and back efforts against climate change.

We recall that efforts at ensuring that Nigeria gets a climate change law have met several setbacks. Is there any hope that it will get better attention this time around?
I agree that the efforts to ensure that Nigeria gets a climate change law have met several setbacks. In fact, we have been trying to get one since the 6th Assembly. I believe, this time around, it will be signed into law.
As you must know, the Bill has been passed by the House and gone through the first reading at the Senate. By the time we come back from recess, it will receive concurrence from the Senate and transmitted to President Buhari for assent. This time around, I am optimistic we will get assent from the president.
So, the Climate Change Bill is to a large extent, an effort by the legislature at giving president’s commitment to climate change legal backing. We’re aware of the areas of disagreement that led to the president denying assent to the Bill during the 8th Assembly. We adopted a collaborative and coordinated approach, championed by the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, alongside the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, with support from the Ministry of Environment, and other non-governmental stakeholders, to review this Bill, looked at areas of contention, while making it more robust and futuristic.    

How true is it that African countries are living in denial about climate change?
I think people say this, because even though Africa is one of the continents most vulnerable to climate change impacts, only Kenya has a climate change law.   
Uganda and Nigeria are most likely to join Kenya. It is not entirely true that Africa is in denial about climate change. The issue is, the average African focuses more on hunger, health, and poverty without paying attention to how climate change might have played a role.
Yet, African Governments have shown a lot of commitment towards fighting climate change. In fact, the conception and launch of the Great Green Wall Initiative by the African Union is a massive statement of commitment towards climate change mitigation.

Also, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has consistently demonstrated proven commitment in fighting climate change through the deployment of cash resources and human capital development. But, a lot more needs to be done, and the first logical step is for all African countries to have climate change laws that clearly set their carbon emissions reduction targets and outline how these targets can be met within specified timelines.

Following the election of President Joe Biden, U.S. rejoined the Paris Agreement on climate change, how will this impact on the conversation and collective action?
In every global conversation, it is important that leadership is provided. While not downgrading the efforts of other international governments, one must agree that the pulling out of the U.S. Government from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change- an agreement it helped put in place- during former President Donald Trump’s tenure, created a leadership vacuum.
With the election of President Joe Biden, and the U.S. Government’s return, there has been an uptick in efforts to address issues of climate change, globally. Remember, President Biden, shortly after being sworn in, appointed John Kerry as the first United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. This sent a message across to the world that the U.S. is ready to show leadership.
One expects that with this return to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the country will lead from the front by setting and implementing aggressive decarbonization policies and urging the rest of the world to follow suit. Recall, also, that climate change impacts developing countries more, even though we do not emit much.
It is expected that the return of the U.S. will come with their huge financial contribution that will help other countries embark on the decarbonization journey through the development of green and sustainable means of livelihood.

What will Nigeria bring to the table during this year’s 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26)?
As usual, we will participate fully and share our ideas, success stories, and challenges with others. It is my belief that by then, we would have submitted our second Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which was due last year. Most importantly, we hope to have a climate change law by the time we go for COP26.


Your passionate pursuit for issues of climate change leaves the impression that you have personal stories to tell?
We have all experienced and continue to experience the impacts of climate change. Like I said earlier, the impacts of climate change are all around us. Talk about the floods experienced in Nigeria, and in fact, some parts of Europe recently; the gully and coastal erosions that have bedeviled us in the South; the drought and desertification in the North; and even the malignant security issue of banditry, farmers-herders’ clashes, among others.
On a personal level, I come from Obuohia Obi-Ibere in Ikwuano Local Government Area of Abia State. In my village, there are over six gully erosion sites threatening to swallow up the entire village. These are impacts of climate change and like I said, we have all experienced them. So, in a way, we all have personal experiences.

What steps or strategies should Nigeria adopt to combat the effects of climate change?
When it comes to climate change, there are two things involved, mitigation and adaptation. We have to first mitigate by ensuring that we do not go beyond where we are now, otherwise it will be catastrophic.
A well-articulated National Climate Change Action Plan as proposed by the Bill, will provide guidelines on how this can be done. Then, whatever we cannot change, we must find a way to adapt to. For instance, one of the adaptation options for Nigeria is to begin to pay attention to renewable energy, climate-smart agricultural practices, looking for alternative means of energy for those who depend on fuel wood energy.


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