Perhaps, more than at any other point in human history, the world at large is at an existential counterpoint where no individual nation can afford to slack or be left behind. However, it is feared that the reverse is currently playing out in Nigeria, where there appears to be a deficit in terms of statutory and subsidiary legislation regulating carbon emissions and their effect on the environment with regard to global warming. This write-up seeks to evaluate the current climate change situation in Nigeria with relevant statistics, as well as examine the climate change legislation in place in other jurisdictions, with particular emphasis on the United Kingdom’s Climate Change Act of 2008. It is the writer’s hope that climate change will receive the necessary legislative attention in Nigeria in the 2020s.
According to data gathered by numerous sources, notably the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Information (NOAA), both being agencies of the United States’ government, the planet’s average surface temperature has risen by about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century. This change is largely driven by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions in the atmosphere. This statistic is made more alarming by the fact that the last decade has experienced the most warming. This prevalent situation should be described as the fallout of human frailties over the years, particularly with regard to the over-reliance on and exploitation of non-renewable energy in the form of fossil fuels: coal, petroleum, natural gas and bitumen, among others. A ray of hope may have reared its head in renewable energy sources, but these are scarcely utilised, no thanks to their relative cost, the financial gains from oil exports and possible indifference of the relevant stakeholders to renewable energy sources.
Nigeria is in a more precarious position, given its ranking as the eight top oil exporting country in the world. Oil exports have undeniably contributed a mammoth share to its gross domestic product (GDP) of 375.8 billion dollars and it has long availed the country since its discovery and initial exploration in the mid-20th century. In the year 2017, Nigeria was reported to have exported 3.9% of the world’s total oil exports with a value of 33 billion dollars. Notwithstanding the volatile nature of oil barrel prices, this trend will only motivate the building of more oil refineries in Nigeria. Coal and natural gas are other non-renewable sources of energy prevalent in Nigeria. Oil exploitation aside, industrial activities in the country coupled with harmful practices, such as gas flaring and deforestation emit unusually high amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which makes the situation a lot worse.
The law, which out to be a vehicle for social cohesion, has not quite extended its tentacles in this regard in Nigeria, as opposed to other advanced jurisdictions. Once again, Nigeria has to play catch-up for its own good. Highlighted for examination, among other statutes and for the sake of precision, is the Climate Change Act of the United Kingdom.
THE UNITED KINGDOM CLIMATE CHANGE ACT 2008
The long title of the Climate Change Act describes it, amongst other things, as an Act to set a target for the year 2050 for the reduction of targeted greenhouse gas emissions, to provide for a system of carbon budgeting and to establish a Committee on Climate Change, which is particularly provided for in Section 32 and in the First Schedule. Section 1(1) of the Act places a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account at the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline. This particular target tangentially overlaps with the 2030 Agenda, which subsumes Sustainable Development Goal 7, providing for Affordable and Clean Energy, and Goal 13, which deals with Climate Action. As opposed to playing catch-up to the SDGs set in 2015, the United Kingdom rose up to the global challenge on the brink of the 2010s– a decade that would eventually unravel some of the warmest years in human history.
In addition to most of its provisions which seek to counter drastic climate change, another core pillar of the Act is a framework to drive action on adapting to climate change. To that effect, the Act has so far set out a number of damage control mechanisms for climate change in the United Kingdom. Part 4 of the Act further addresses climate change adaptation by providing a framework in this regard. Notwithstanding questions as to its enforceability, the British Climate Change Act has largely been considered successful by local stakeholders. Its implementation has brought the United Kingdom nearer to its key objectives and even enhanced transparency and accountability on the part of the United Kingdom government. It is a testament to the United Kingdom’s influential role on climate issues, both regionally and internationally, influencing similar legislations in France, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Australia and Mexico.
Taking global advancements to heart, the writer strongly avers that there can be no better time for the Federal Republic of Nigeria to follow suit in this regard. As a developing country in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria has been marred by harmful practices detrimental to the atmosphere, some of which have been noted earlier. It has also been reported that Nigeria flares more gas than any other country in the world, and that its flaring contributes more to global warming than all other emissions of Sub-Saharan Africa respectively. Some of the most apparent effects of climate change in Nigeria include the higher sun intensity and the rising sea levels, with the latter increasing the rate of flooding in recent years. Be it overtly or subliminally, Nigerians are feeling the impact of climate change, and without a clear-cut plan, it is feared that the country may keep worsening and may even fall far below the “catch-up” threshold.
Whether or not Nigeria remains a regional leader and an influential nation, it is recommended that the government intensifies its efforts towards the seamless transition from a mono-economy to a diverse economy where agriculture plays a more prominent role. A primary legislation on climate change would yield better fruits in a diversified economy. This may be followed by consultations by concerned private bodies and non-governmental organisations with legislators at both the federal and state level to pitch the idea of a comprehensive legislation to curb carbon and greenhouse gas emissions in the Nigerian atmosphere for the greater good. While the speed, or lack of it, of bill passage in Nigeria has assumed notoriety in recent years, the government can seek international partnerships with developed countries which may aid the country in the gradual adoption of renewable energy systems as a viable and sustainable alternative to non-renewable energy sources.
To further enhance a high compliance by Nigerian individuals and private bodies, subsidiary legislation can be passed which could possibly pitch the policy of tax cuts for companies that minimise their usage and heavy sanctions for defaulting countries. Nigeria may have walked on eggshells so far. However, the next decade is critical and action must always trump inaction.
About the Author.
Clinton C. Durueke is a 400 Level Student of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos. He is also the current Head of Chamber of the Gani Fawehinmi Students’ Chambers. He is a prolific creative writer, with interests in Intellectual Property Law, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Commercial Law and Energy Law. He hopes to spread his writing tentacles to these areas in the near future.