Paris COP21: Nigeria’s INDCs and the imperatives of public education

Participants at Preparatory Meeting organised by the Embassy of France in Nigeria ahead of Paris COP21
Participants at Preparatory Meeting organised by the Embassy of France in Nigeria ahead of Paris COP21 (PHOTO: ClimateReporters/Etta Michael Bisong)

The debate on the level of public awareness and its role in addressing climate change threats on socio-economic activities has reinforced the need to adequately empower journalists and media outlets both traditional and new to enhance environmental education. ETTA MICHAEL BISONG observed the relevance of this education on public perception and how the media can be purposefully positioned to enrich such knowledge.

That this generation is frequently experiencing unusual phenomenon in weather variation is no longer news. Scientists and politicians as well as most vulnerable people refer to it as climate change.

But in more simple and straight forward viewpoint, this complex but life-threatening phenomenon signifies improper environmental practices such as poor waste management, incessant felling of trees and massive degradation of soil. Industrial pollution in form of manufacturing, oil and gas exploration, transportation and smoke generated as result of deforestation also contribute to the global changes observed in weather pattern.

If climate change is real and affect human activities mostly sources of livelihoods as people are made to believe, why then are Nigerians and other members of the global community still engaging in these practices when fully aware of their direct implications on the environment?

This question remains unanswered since the history of climate change brawl, therefore undermining its ability to destroy man. It’s a sad story that should be transferred from one generation to the next for the redefinition of civilisation.

Although like an entrepreneur who sees opportunity in every bad deal, climate change also has its own good and friendly aspect. At least it imbibes the spirit of environmental protection into man’s conscience and highlights the risks of neglecting such basic obligation.

In one way or another, everyone is experiencing the effects of climate change, and these impacts will only increase. Yet climate change does not affect humanity equally.

Those who suffer first and worst are those who did least to cause it: the poor and most vulnerable members of society who are the least equipped to mitigate and adapt to this changing situation. This is what experts and rights organisations refer to when they talk about climate justice.

This story as sad as it may appear has outreached climate justice. It’s now about mitigation and adaptation. That is what countries can and should do to reduce further damage to the environment.

Nigeria, like most countries in Africa and Asia, faces huge challenges of mitigating and adapting to climate change. Nigeria as a developing nation is focusing more attention on building and strengthening adaptation rather than combination of both mechanisms to combat these impacts. Despite this myopic approach, the situation is further exacerbated with lots of inadequacies.

A typical example of this problem is the 2012 flood that divided Nigeria between the North and South. The whole world witnessed as international media and aid agencies trooped into the country to intervene and tell a global story.

The poor handling of the presidential flood victims committee headed by business mogul, Aliko Dangote as well as the transparency and accountability question by human rights observers about the implementation of the funds further give credence to the need for more sensitisation to enable Nigerians better prepare against the threats of climate change. The lackadaisical attitude and attention with which the local media gave to an issue of such magnitude clearly exonerated this point.

As much as many people talk about climate change, not many really understand what it means; particularly those in rural areas. The jargons used by scientists to describe climate change and its relationship with human activities also add to the knowledge gap in understanding this environmental phenomenon.

While many people see and refer to it as the white man’s problem, others strongly believe it is a fluke of nature and has no solution.

But stakeholders in the sector are aware of this setback and its causes. Most of them blamed it on the low public enlightenment and citizens’ engagement. Others say more political will is needed to implement programmes on climate change. Enhancing mass awareness according to these groups is critical to Nigeria’s preparedness towards attaining climate solution.

This, according to Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi, has not adequately been done. He said:  “These are national issues that we must pursue.”

Uhomoibhi, a retired Permanent Secretary and member of the National Steering Committee on COP21, predicted that Nigeria will be in serious danger if the citizens are not adequately sensitised on these hazards, sighting the prolonged rainfall and the sunny weather experienced in most parts of the country to draw attention to this epidemic.

Executive Director of the Centre For Climate Change and Environmental Studies, Dr. Aminu Zakari, decried that if the level of education on climate change after 20 years of Nigeria’s participation at the Conference of Parties (COPs) is still this low, then there is need for more political will on the part of government.

Dr. Zakari asserted that the above action reveals the lack of proper roadmap to address the issue. “From the global perspective Nigeria is ready enough to address this issue,” he said. “But from the local angle, I don’t think Nigeria is ready.”

Nigeria is presently developing its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). This document will be submitted and adopted into the new agreement as its own position later this year at COP21 in Paris.

The concept of the INDCs offers Nigeria a rear opportunity to properly address climate change and its threats on sustainable development. It’s a unique call to specify these problems and how to solve them. If properly articulated, the INDCs have the capacity to help ensure proper mitigation and adaptation mechanisms. Also, it may finally end-up becoming the nation’s magic-bullet to the uncertainties surrounding its climatic variations.

Issues of institutional strengthening and identification of the various MDAs necessary to tackle this crisis has dominated discussions around the development of this document. Not much have being heard about the media and its role in this important process.

Climate change is knowledge based and the media is the carrier of that knowledge. It is a key component to climate readiness. The issue of empowering journalists with the requisite awareness and how to continuously engage them must clearly be outlined and integrated into the INDCs. If successfully done it will facilitate engagements and disseminate targeted messages to mold the missing public attitude.

Like His Holiness Pope Francis told Ban Ki Moon, the United Nations Secretary General when the latter recently visited Vatican to attend the “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity” workshop – that “We need to see, with the eyes of faith … the link between the natural environment and the dignity of the human person.” It is true. The media is that eyes of faith and must properly occupy its status to fulfill that role.

The science of climate change is clear. The earth’s temperature is rising and we are the cause. It is extremely important that the role of the Nigeria press is clear on this issue and that they are in harmony with the science.