By Atâyi Babs
In Okobo, a small town in Enjema district of Ankpa Local Government Area of Kogi state, North-central Nigeria, sat Omale Adejoh, lost in deep thoughts.
Omale, a peasant farmer, is pondering over the sad, saddening story of his once sleepy but rich community. Okobo, a remote, peaceful and agrarian community with very rich soil and a stream, flowing with ceaseless aqua-based opportunities, now lies prostrate, in ruins from one of the many resources God has graciously tucked under its voluptuous belly – coal!
The curse of coal in Okobo
According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, Okobo is blessed with a coal reserve of over 380 million tonnes. In this ‘blessing’ lies the source of Omale’s worries. His community, since 2011 played host to commercial coal mining after the Federal Government of Nigeria negotiated and assigned a mining license to ETA Zuma Group amidst promises of the provision of basic and social amenities such as sustainable access to safe water, infrastructure, schools and health facilities.
ETA Zuma has a license to mine 100 million tonnes of coal from Okobo as well as a license to build coal power plants in nearby Itobe, Kogi state, capable of generating 1,200 MW with Okobo coal serving as a feeder.
Four years down the line, Omale sees an Okobo that has become a metaphor for a ghost community with no access to basic infrastructure, electricity, pipe borne water, tarred roads, hospital, schools, public transportation or even a police station!
Omale’s community can only boast of a primary school with six sparsely furnished classrooms, two lavatories and an overhead water tank, which supplied the water needs of the school and recently had been extended to the community after the stream, (the community’s only source of water) was polluted by coal mining activities. The water which filled the overhead tank is supplied by a water tanker truck provided by ETA Zuma.
According to Omale, the only primary school in Okobo, constructed by the coal firm is actually a replacement of the old school constructed by the government which collapsed due to strong vibrations from the company’s large excavation tractors. However, ETA Zuma Group believes that the former school building’s was already defective and was destined to collapse in any event.
Omale remembers clearly that the collapsed school building killed a pupil who was buried in its rubble and the paramount ruler of Okobo, Chief Aminu Abubakar, who had been the deceased pupil’s guardian till his tragic death, said that the company was yet to officially acknowledge the incident or offer any form of compensation to them.
Four years on and over 30,000 metric tonnes of coal excavated, only 14 members of the community have been employed by the coal firm, representing only a small fraction of the total staff strength of over a hundred people. Of the 14 unskilled positions offered to Okobo indigenes, 3 are drivers, 2 are helpers, 3 are cleaners and the rest are security guards!
With a croaking sneeze, Omale takes a good look at his village covered in thick dust. His own roof not exempted from the rampaging dust once the company removes and lifts the coal. With big tractors running at top speed on dusty roads, the entire Okobo gets immersed in dust which emanates not only from the lorries trawling the untarred roads, but also from the grinding of the coal within Okobo. Once the coal from the pit is ground in Okobo, it is then transported in lorries to neighbouring Okaba, where a factory presses the powder into brickets used for cooking.
No doubt, the coming of ETA Zuma into Okobo ushered in a new wave of respiratory diseases and complications in our community, Omale thought to himself. To make matters worse, community members have no healthcare facilities in Okobo and the two-room clinic built by ETA Zuma is reserved exclusively for its staff.
Water from coal-contaminated river
The biggest challenge troubling Omale this hot afternoon is water!
Before the coal mine opened, residents were fetching water from the stream that runs through the village. the coal mining has changed all that as the excavation activities within the 5-meter deep open pit affect the ground water. ETA Zuma Group’s surface mining activities consume large volumes of water and excavation activities have possibly disrupted the water bed in the community.
The contaminated residue water from the activities find their way back to the community’s stream. Globally, it is acknowledged that the greatest risk that mining brings to water sources is Acid Mine Drainage . As the mining pits are awash with fresh and contaminated waters, they have become a breeding ground for weeds and all sorts of vectors including malaria bearing mosquitoes and reptiles in unprecedented numbers in the community.
To compound the already precarious situation, Omale’s younger brother, Akor, who ran away from Okobo because of the living conditions – to search for greener pastures in Europe, is yet to inform the family of his safe arrival. Each news item on boat accidents involving African migrants along the European coasts leaves the family devastated – hoping and praying for Akor’s safety.
A news flash on his small transistor radio, powered by two old batteries, kept alive by several hours of drying in the sun, brought a sparkle to his eyes.
The radio station has just informed him that 196 countries including Nigeria, assembled in the French capital of Paris, are on the verge of delivering a historic climate agreement that will set global temperature limits and ensure an accelerated transition to 100% renewable energy so that a safer climate and sustainable economy, with all its benefits for people and planet is made possible.
What does this mean? He wondered aloud. Can the impact of this agreement trickle down to my country and community? Can this agreement usher in a new era of green, sustainable economy for my community? Will this agreement make Nigeria to shift focus from generating 1200 MW of electricity from coal resources underneath Okobo’s belly?
Will this proposed agreement reverse the ongoing degradation and destruction of Okobo environment? Will it bring an end to the mindless pollution of the Okobo river? Will this agreement rescue Okobo from the poisonous fumes of coal mining and ETA Zuma? Will this agreement make my brother return from his desperate journey to Europe?
With each question swirling around Omale’s head comes an inexplicable glimmer of optimism that for once, something historic would be done, capable of correcting the wrongs of the past and halting Okobo and indeed the planet’s descent into dangerous thresholds of global warming and fossil fuel dependence.
COP 21 heats up
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away from Okobo, activities at the ongoing climate negotiations in Paris hit a crescendo yesterday as the secretariat of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) released a draft of what will likely be the Paris agreement.
The document, popularly referred to as the text, contains the progress so far made by the negotiators since the conference began last week. The COP presidency while issuing the text, called for a swift finalisation of the deal within 24 hours in order to deliver a successful deal by the end of the COP this week.
A cursory look at the text reveals everything but a step towards an ambitious climate deal capable of setting the world on track to reducing global emissions and meeting Omale’s aspirations.
The first thing that hits the reader is the deployment of very weak language, couched in words that are neither obligatory nor strong. The text attempts to reduce the burden of historic responsibility which lies on developed countries by urging them to “identify, pursue or implement” appropriate mitigation actions that are in line with the collective aim to reach the global temperature goal through a peaking of global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.
After recognising the need to take into account the best available science, equity, sustainable development, the need to ensure food security and the availability of means of implementation, by ensuring deep reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, the text goes ahead to furnish parties with three options on temperature levels with option 1 being below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, Option 2 well below 2°C and above pre-industrial levels and Option 3: below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
It is amazing that a text that accepts the fact that in some regions (particularly Africa) and vulnerable ecosystems, high risks are projected even for warming above 1.5 °C still goes ahead to include below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels as a possible option 1.
Tied to this is the text’s seeming inability to insist on appropriate plans and actions that can put the world on the path of below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels rather than mere sloganeering inputs on temperature levels from Australia, Canada, US and their coterie of polluter countries.
Beyond the ubiquitous deployment of weak language in the text is the naked attempt to bracket the contentious issue of differentiation. The text identifies for further negotiation, the fact that the new agreement will be implemented on the basis of equity and in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances and on the basis of respect for human rights.
Why this remains bracketed after over 10 days of negotiations points to possible attempts by developed countries to shift responsibility and goal posts while making determined efforts to evade their climate debt.
Nnimmo Bassey from the Health of Mother Earth Foundation in Nigeria believes that “the text falls in line with the coordinated attempts to bracket the future of those suffering from devastating consequences of climate change.”
Other issues that appear dodgy in the text are adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer, finance and loss and damage. The financial mechanism to address loss and damage is clearly absent in the text.
The draft agreement appears comfortable with the establishment of a coordinating body for loss and damage yet avoids mentioning how the support to loss and damage will be addressed.
As expected, the issuance of this draft has led to a flurry of meetings and reactions. All night negotiation meetings have began while civil society activists from Africa, Asia and elsewhere are back on the turf, drawing attention to the inadequacies of the draft.
Sam Ogallah, representing thousands of African farmers and pastoralists under the aegis of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) in a reaction last night described the draft outcome as “weak and watery.”
“This draft does not reflect Africa’s climate aspirations. Africa wants all brackets on finance to be removed with developed country parties taking the lead on mobilisation as their obligation under the Convention,” he added.
Members of the Climate Action Network responded by calling on countries to choose the strongest possible options in the final hours of the Paris Climate Summit in order to better protect vulnerable communities and speed up the transition to renewable energy.
May Boeve from 350.org is of the view that some parties are still muddying the waters with weak text. “If countries are serious about keeping warming below 1.5°C, we need to see a firm commitment to get off fossil fuels and move to 100% renewable energy by 2050, and an ambitious mechanism to help us get there. Politicians need to start living up to the title of ‘leader’ in the next 48 hours,” she said
“It is bad that countries’ emissions targets are so weak and there’s very little in the text that makes them come back soon with something better. But worst is the deadline for phasing out carbon emissions. Right now this draft deal contains wishy-washy language instead of setting a tight deadline of 2050. Without a date it won’t have weight,” Kaisa Kosonen of Greenpeace echoed.
As reactions continue to trail the text, Africa, the least contributor to global emissions and the most affected region in terms of climate change appears already left behind and shortchanged just as the disconnect between what’s happening in Paris and the reality back home continues to widen.
Africa: between water stress and energy poverty
With floods, prolonged droughts, rising sea levels, shifting seasons, tropical cyclones, landslides, newly emerging trend of environmental refugees/climate migrants, and diseases happening at a frenetic pace, Africa’s human existence and development are presently under threat from the adverse impacts of climate change – its population, ecosystems and unique biodiversity have become major victims of global climate change.
The Sahel is burning, Lake Chad is drying up, livelihoods are devastated, young people across Africa, like Omale’s younger brother, are jumping on boats, jumping to go to Europe because there are no economic opportunities.
Statistics from the African Development Bank (AfDB) show that over 640 million Africans have no access to electricity. Africa is known for its darkness, not for its light. Also, over 700 million Africans have no access to clean cooking energy. The bank further reveals that Africa loses 600,000 people every year through indoor pollution as a result of relying on charcoal, kerosene and fuel wood.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s summary report for policy makers in 2007, between 75 and 250 million people in Africa are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change by 2020. By the same year, in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%.
Agricultural production, including access to food, in many African countries is projected to be severely compromised. This would further adversely affect food security and exacerbate malnutrition.
Adaptation, climate finance as Africa’s trump cards
Also, towards the end of the 21st century, projected sea level rise will affect low-lying coastal areas with large populations just as 2080 will see an increase of 5 to 8% of arid and semi-arid land in Africa under a range of climate scenarios.
The cost of adaptation too would spiral, amounting to at least 5 to 10% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That means Africa urgently requires a climate agreement that will recognise massive financing for climate adaptation as a necessity and not a privilege.
Via climate adaptation, African countries reeling under serious effects of climate change can go into reviving agriculture, transforming rural areas and creating new economic opportunities. This underscores why Africa must not leave COP 21 without a legally binding agreement that provides significant amounts to climate financing.
To Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), “Africa has already been short-changed by climate change. Now, we must ensure that Africa is not short-changed with climate finance.”
This according to him, underscores the bank’s commitment to support Africa’s renewable energy drive, pledging US$12 billion for Africa’s renewable energy in the next five years.
This grim reality appears not lost on the African Ministerial Council on Environment (AMCEN) and the Council of African Heads of States on Climate Change (CAHoSCC) but recent developments in Paris which confirmed that leading ministers from Africa are more interested in cutting multilateral/bilateral deals with countries that are erecting stumbling blocks on the pathway to an ambitious climate agreement, have further compromised Africa’s precarious situation.
African ministers in Paris have been advised by ‘Specialists’ from polluter countries like United States and Australia to be “diplomatic” in demanding for an ambitious climate deal in Paris or risk losing the usual multilateral/bilateral grants and donor funds. The extent to which this advice is heeded by Africa’s representatives in Paris will go a long a way in determining the nature of a successful Paris outcome.
The negotiators now have less than 48 hours to raise the bar. If they can commit to a 1.5 degree goal, they should be able to set a fossil fuel phase-out date of 2050, as that’s the only way to get there.
They should agree on the need for countries to come back soon with more ambitious emission targets that are regularly strengthened.
Lets hope that this deal would commit to 100% renewables, protect Indigenous peoples, guarantee funding for poorer countries to develop without loading the atmosphere with carbon, and compensate for loss and damage, people like Omale Adejoh who continually live on the front-lines of climate change and environmental degradation.
Lets make this happen!