Surprised by the Storm

Changes get accepted as normal occurrences when they are uninterrogated. We hear talks of the new normal which could mean that unpredictable change is the norm. We could also take the new normal to creep in when things that initially appeared novel, or even odd, regularly reoccur and we end up accepting and taking them in our stride. In terms of the weather, climate change has birthed the wisdom that nothing will remain normal if humans do not act to stem or reverse the actions and inactions that contribute to the crisis. In this mode, the abnormal can become the normal even if it leads to the extinction of species.

Popular climate narratives attempt to make humans aware of the fact that we are at the crossroads of history, that we are at a moment of crisis driven mostly by vested interests which also promote a stubborn refusal of the powerful to accept the fact that a new ecological ethics cannot be postponed but must be recollected, learned or constructed. Climate deniers speak of freak weather events as normal or that they may not be as bad as they appear. In a flash we are surprised and in flash all is forgotten.

With this mindset, people think of climate change as a new clime of opportunities that must be exploited and profited from. While vulnerable communities, such as those living on threatened coastlines battle for survival in the face of storms, hurricanes and typhoons, disaster entrepreneurs see those events as opportunities to clear the poor from the scenic zones and appropriate them as recreation spots for the rich. When storms and floods batter coastline communities in our cities, slum clearance pops up as the first proffered solution. Rather than build the resilience of the less resourced or serviced communities, erasing them off the map and commodifying their territories become the prime solutions. This reality has been captured in-depth by Naomi Klein in her ground-breaking book, The Shock Doctrine – the Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

The first major rains are beginning to fall in Nigeria and we appear not to have expected that they would fall. Lying mostly in the tropical belt, and although we have dry and wet seasons, the reality is that no month passes by without rainfall in some areas. Not expecting a measure of rain to fall every month has become a normal situation for coastal cities such as Calabar, Lagos and Port Harcourt. This lack of expectation is not built on facts of history, but on the lack of attention to reality.

Already, Port Harcourt experienced its second heavy rainfall on 21January. When the first heavy rain in Lagos fell on 20 January 2019, it was celebration time for some and a tale of woes for many. Some Lagos residents were happily drenched by the downpour while others got trapped in traffic gridlock of the type that floods precipitate in the city. There were interesting and even amusing news reports of the event. Some residents celebrated the fact that the rain would lower current high temperatures and they would enjoy a respite and sleep well that night. For taxi drivers, the rain meant reduced business and possibly hungry families. To cap the reports from the News Agency of Nigeria, we were told that efforts to reach the director of Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) in Lagos proved abortive as his number “was not reachable.” One could deduce that the rain made it impossible for journalists to reach the director.

Flooding in Lagos says a lot about the climate readiness of Nigerian cities. As the economic capital of Nigeria and as an emerging “mega city,” it would be expected that more investments would be made in the direction of making the city climate smart. Residents of Lagos keep suffering and smiling and they literally take the storms as they come. When floods overran the city in 2017, some residents went kayaking and even fishing on the streets. A crocodile was even caught in the floodwater.

Flood disasters have become regular occurrences in Nigeria and floods along the River Benue and River Niger have become national nightmares. The floods of 2012 led to a reported damage worth up to 2.6 trillion Naira, killed 363 persons and displaced over 2 million others. That flood was caused by a combination of rainfall and release of water from the dams along the two river systems, especially from Lagdo Dam in Cameroon. A whopping 32 out of 36 States of the nation were affected, with 24 affected severely. That flood was followed by a flurry of activities to get relief to citizens whose homes and farmlands were submerged. Some analysts posit that disaster entrepreneurs made a killing from the relief efforts while some victims waited in vain for succour. That too, is increasingly taken as normal. No surprises.

The floods experienced in 2018 killed over 100 persons and pushed many others into internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) declared a national disaster in four states – Kogi, Niger, Anambra and Delta. Before the floods came, the Nigeria Hydrological Agency (NHSA) in its flood outlook released in May 2018 projected that Sokoto, Niger, Benue, Anambra, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Anambra, Ogun, Osun, Cross River, Kogi and Yobe states faced high risks of river flooding, while Lagos, Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta, and Ondo states could face coastal flooding.

The forecast for 2019 is still sketchy. NEMA projects that 20 percent of Nigeria’s population is at risk of flooding across the country. At a total population of 170 million persons, this means up to 34 million Nigerians are at risk of flooding impacts this year. That is a dire projection and demands the declaration of a national emergency considering the ecological, economic, health and security implications of this level of risk. If the nation waits until disaster strikes, we will probably take it as one of those inevitable things and simply move on.

It is not acceptable that foreseen disastrous weather events are taken as normal. They are not normal. There is urgent need to put in place policies and actions to address the threats, including response actions. The situation calls for urgent review of drainage and general infrastructure master plans for our urban centres and rural communities. The autonomous and unplanned urban sprawls must be checked. We need the greening of our cities, a focus on soft landscaping and halting of sand filling of wetlands and water bodies in so-called land reclamation efforts. These would enhance natural drainage of flood waters. Flooding is inevitable when rainfall meets clogged drainage systems. The management of solid wastes must become more efficient and single-use plastics should be banned outrightly.

The rains should not take anyone in the tropical belt by surprise except if we are living in denial of reality. It is time for leaders to draw up clear visions and to present the visions to the scrutiny of the citizenry. In an election season, debates are good platforms for such enunciations and we have seen that begin to happen. However, the debates held so far have focused on economic matters without significant reference to the environment which provides the base for the economy, health and overall wellbeing of the people. While we have seen both lackluster and forceful presentations at the debates and political conversations, we have also been treated to vacant podiums not taken by politicians who assume that they already hold the keys that will decide electoral outcomes. It would be a flood of a different kind if the Nigerian electorate rises up and demand to be respected and not to merely have slogans and clichés thrown at them from commercials or at mass rallies. That could be a storm of a different kind.

Dying for Pieces of Copper

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Okrika Water Front, Niger Delta

Of the ten most toxic places on earth, three are found in Africa. They are: the Niger Delta, the mining communities of Kabwe in Zambia and the Agbogbloshie dumpsite in Ghana. While Kabwe ranks as number five on the list, Agbogbloshie stands at the tenth spot.

The Niger Delta ranks as number two on the list prepared in 2013 by Pure Earth and Green Cross, Switzerland. If you think that the region may have slipped out of the list since 2013, we are sorry to disappoint you as the listing remained valid at the close of 2018.

The rampant pollution of communities in Africa has gone on unabated and mineral rich communities are the worst hit. The state of affairs has been driven by the manipulation of governments by a mix of transnational corporations, as well as national and international financial bodies. Throw into that, the wholesale adoption of neoliberal policies by governments eager to attract so-called foreign direct investment and development aid and the waters become murkier. The craze for privatisation of public goods continue on the premise that government cannot be a good manager of business and must not be caught in any enterprise that requires efficiency. Thus, janitorial tasks in public offices are contracted to private enterprises and the digging of trenches in warfronts are being privatised and contracted out in the rich economies.

In our 2012 book, To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and Climate Crisis in Africa, we stated, “The conversion of public goods into private property through the privatisation of our otherwise commonly held natural environment is one [of the ways] neoliberal institutions remove the tenuous threads that hold African nations together. Politics today has been reduced to a lucrative venture where one looks out mainly for returns on investment rather than on what one can contribute to rebuild highly degraded environments, communities and a nation.” This pathway has oiled and locked in corruption of various shades in the continent.

Zambia stands out as one of the countries that ended up holding the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the pursuit of privatisation, pliant surrender to corporate interest and lax regulatory and tax regimes. Corporate tax stood at almost zero at a time when they enjoyed a tax boutique that had the biggest chunk coming from workers’ withheld taxes. At that time extractive companies generated a mere 2.2 per cent of the revenue collected by Zambian authorities.

The abuse suffered on the continent is clearly systemic and places the burden on poor communities. Unfortunately, often the struggles of the poor are overlooked and even subverted by external and internal forces. How else could the list of the top ten most toxic locations in the world be in the public realm for over a decade and we continue with business as usual and keep weakening environmental laws so as to score cheap points on the chart of nations rated for ease of doing business?

Niger Delta communities continue to fight decades of horrendous oil and gas pollutions that have heinously degraded their environment. They have resisted and continue to do so through protests, litigation, direct and political actions. Thousands of lives have been lost, or cut short due to the pollution and attendant militarisation of the region.

In Zambia, 1800 villagers have stood up to the UK-based company, Vedanta Resources, that had polluted their waters through the activities of its subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM). The villagers complain that the company’s Nchanga copper mine has turned their Kafue River into a river of acid and are suing for personal injury and loss of livelihood. Villagers from Shimulala, Hippo Pool, Hellen and Kakosa are demanding compensation for harms arising from the pollution of their primary source of water. They also complain of the impact on their agriculture and socio-economic wellbeing.

The Zambian case mirrors the Niger Delta situation and underscores the critical need for solidarity between communities impacted by mining across the continent, indeed across the world. Local and international civil society networks continue to work with the suffering communities of the Niger Delta while the impacted Zambian villagers enjoy the solidarity of groups including Foil Vedanta in the difficult efforts to secure their right to life in a battle against mining behemoths. International oil corporations operating in Nigeria are deft at utilizing loopholes in the legal system to ensure that cases are often never decided on within the short lifespan of the litigants. When they are found guilty, they can shrug the sentence off as they are sure the government would be unable to force compliance since they are literally in bed together due to the business partnerships that are rigged against the people and the environment. Litigation in the home countries of the offending companies has been the option that offers a ray of hope for justice for the poor and for Mother Earth.

When the case against Vedanta went to the High Court in the United Kingdom the company argued that the matter should be heard in Zambia and not in the UK. The court disagreed on the understanding that the villagers would not get justice in their own country because of the costs and other aspects of the adversarial legal system.  That has always been the first objection that Shell, Chevron, ENI and the others raise whenever a case is brought to a location where their shareholders may pay attention. In fact, a Zambian court had ruled in 2011 that the company should pay a $2million compensation to 2000 claimants affected by pollution of the Kafue River that occurred in 2006.

The Zambian case will be heard at the Supreme Court of the UK next week based on Vedanta’s objections. While that is coming up, the manner by which Vedanta acquired the copper mines in Zambia is a lesson that conscious citizens should pay attention to. In a sort of confessional speech captured on video, Anil Agarwal, the founder/chairman of the company at a conference, gleefully outlined how he fooled the Zambian government when they advertised the desire to privatise their mining company. The guy literally scammed/bluffed his way into acquiring the Zambian assets. The video showed the chairman of KCM boasting that the mines make him $500 million in profits a year, when he acquired the mine for only $25 million. The lame excuse by the company is that the video clip was part of a longer speech and was taken out of context.  The facts speak clearly for themselves and show a very condescending attitude towards the Zambian authorities.

The company went ahead to claim that they had invested $120 million in “local communities, providing schools, educational programmes, sustainable agricultural initiatives, critical medical programmes and funding for cultural events.” This sounds much like what we hear as corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts in Niger Delta communities where the basic right to life is clearly negated by the ecological harms orchestrated by the same companies.

Next week we shall know what the Supreme Court of the UK thinks of the cry of the Zambian communities. Whatever the outcome, it is clearly time for our communities to connect their pains, strategies and fights. Pollution respects no geographic or political boundaries and we cannot afford to allow these boundaries to short circuit our struggles.


This article was first published in The Instigator, my weekly column in The Leadership newspaper, Nigeria as Poisoned for Pieces of Copper

Struggle, Freedom and Change

Change

poster designed by Chaz Maviyane-Davies

As one year draws to a close and another one unfolds, it is always a time for reflection, introspection, and resolutions. Many persons resolve to leave bad habits and to assume acceptable modes of behaviour. Heads of governments make speeches and promise new directions. Prophets declare their annual visions and promise hope or doom. Of course, some persons and governments, convinced of their infallibility, indulge in self-congratulations, dig in and promise to forge ahead on their chosen pathways.

Some of us spend the time browsing through notes and reflections made from conversations, readings, meetings, and engagements in the fading year in a bid to pick out what was inspiring, what spurred actions, what worked, what did not work so well and what failed outright. We also reflect on what made the headlines in our communities, nations and elsewhere.

A note taken in January 2018 while listening to the Cuban journalist and philosopher, Enrique Ubieta, reminds us: “Those who have been colonised must be suspicious of anything offered by colonialism.”

Obviously, the issues that stood out for us were issues that shaped our ecological realities, challenges, and nightmares. On the local political scene, we could not ignore the drama that occurred at the Nigerian National Assembly on Wednesday, 19 December 2018 when President Buhari presented the 2019 national budget. It was quite a spectacle. It was a day of infamy on many counts. It was a day when legislators donned the garbs of legislative activism, complete with “Freedom Comes from Struggle” placards and absolutely disregarded legislative niceties.

The Nigerian national assembly has before now boasted of fence climbers (ala Spider-Man), dancers of all sorts, singers of all sorts and actors acting like politicians. On the budget presentation day, the house was neatly divided into cheerleaders and jeerleaders. While the president reminded the politicians that the world was watching the unfolding prime time drama, it turned out that the politicians were not in the mood to listen to what the President had to present as the vital grounds for running the economy in 2019.

Who won in the raucous finger displaying political combat? Did the ayes have it or was the day carried by the nays? As they say, when two elephants fight, the grass suffers. The drama left Nigerians wondering how confidence will be built in the economy in the coming year.

The budget presentation was a great test for a usually taciturn president who, by self-confession, is for everybody and for nobody. Criticism has been said to be like organic compost that may smell bad but makes things grow. Being at the receiving end of criticism cannot be easy for the faint-hearted, but seekers of solutions to complex problems must learn to accept them, interrogate them and sieve the chaff from the real. Karl Marx, the great thinker, demanded “ruthless criticism” of everything including our personal views. That, to us, is a healthy attitude.

A note taken in January 2018 while listening to the Cuban journalist and philosopher, Enrique Ubieta, reminds us: “Those who have been colonised must be suspicious of anything offered by colonialism.” This is true even when the offer is coated with honey. For instance, someone could sell you the idea that you cannot afford to urgently transit to clean energy, that you need dirty energy sources to build the basic requirements of “civilised” living and that the transition is a luxury for the rich. Supposing the ultimate plan of your “sympathizer” is to sell second-hand coal or nuclear power plants to you, would that be in your best interest?

Hunger and poverty deeply affect the way individuals and groups see themselves. When anyone provides the signature image of either of these scourges, it affects both how they present themselves and how they are perceived by others. This was clear in the case of the classification (by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund from 1996) of some nations as poor and highly indebted before they could be given consideration for certain financial facilities. Looking at the offers available, and blind to the toga of poverty and indebtedness, many nations struggled to proudly wear the label. And many nations failed to be so “recognised” even though they had severely rubbished themselves in the process.

… forces of colonialism seek to retain their vice-grip on Nature, squeeze the last profit from her without care that their greed may plunge everyone over the precipice. The force of colonialism is the enduring coloniality that can only be overthrown by our emancipation from mental slavery, as in the words of Bob Marley.

Nations have opened their communities and environment to ecological abuse in their pursuit for foreign exchange in order to service odious debts and to meet the insatiable needs of their elites for foreign goods. The truth is that it is impossible to escape the hunger and poverty traps, at all levels of their manifestation, without ecological justice.

As I close my jotter for the year 2018, I keep looking a note made from Change: Organising Tomorrow, Today, the incredibly empowering book written by Jay Naidoo. He wrote: “Economic inequality and climate change are the greatest threats confronting humanity today, and how we choose to deal with them has repercussions for all species on this planet.”

With the world in a literal tailspin and with humans remaining adamant on reckless exploitation and commodification of Nature, there is much that requires us to stand up for the people and for the planet. It is time to pay attention to our children, youths, adults, and elders. We have to listen to ourselves. We have to listen to youths such as the 15 years old Greta Thunberg, from Sweden, who looked world leaders in the eye at the United Nations’ Climate COP24 and called out their irresponsible attitude and lack of climate ambition. We have to listen to elders like David Attenborough, the naturalist, who stood before world leaders at the COP and warned them, “The world is in your hands.”

We have to act in the interest of the people and the planet. My notes show that forces of colonialism seek to retain their vice-grip on Nature, squeeze the last profit from her without care that their greed may plunge everyone over the precipice. The force of colonialism is the enduring coloniality that can only be overthrown by our emancipation from mental slavery, as in the words of Bob Marley.

In dealing with climate change, leaders have fallen for the techno-optimism fetish or an oversimplified way of viewing advances in the world in a way that discounts the intricate interconnectedness of ecosystems in nature. Overcoming this issue of the loss of connectivity with nature ought to drive popular ecological struggles going forward.

The world tends to think that technology and regulation can solve virtually all problems. We tend to forget that regulations are basically drawn up to control the way certain things come into society and that if things are unwanted, they should simply be banned. To avoid taking these tough actions may encourage a slide into authoritarian environmentalism where the commercial interests and mechanistic economic opportunities are held up as the ultimate solution and government apparatchiks wear the garment of infallibility. As we walked the streets of Auschwitz in the weeks of the United Nations climate talks (COP24), one question that kept coming up was “where was the world when the holocaust happened?” Today, a tragedy of horrendous proportions is building up, indeed unfolding, before our eyes. Future generations will ask the same question as we are asking of the past. Our resolve must be to ask that pertinent question now.

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This essay was first published in my column in The Leadership newspaper on 28 December 2018 as Freedom, Struggle and Change

 

 

 

A Call For Climate Common Sense

As the world hurtles towards climate catastrophe, the prime suspects keeping the world on this track are busy blocking negotiations aimed at tackling the problem. Climate crimes are not merely the ones already visible, they include the ones that will unfold, they affect humans and other beings currently on earth and others in generations yet to come.

The fact that the suspects openly boast of their crimes, of subverting global efforts to stem the coming storms, and that a multilateral body such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) appears helpless to call them out, says a lot about policy makers’ will to take real climate action. The open boast by such an official should be seen as admittance to a felony.

A report came out last week that an official of a notorious oil company boasted that his company was responsible for articles that ensure climate inactions and promote false market mechanisms in the acclaimed Paris Agreement. He also boasted that their text was appearing in the Paris Agreement’s Rule Book which was being negotiated. The very next day after this boast, as the first week of COP24 drew to a close, four oil producing countries – USA, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Russia- loudly resisted the “welcoming” of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report on the 1.5 degrees temperature limit. They insisted that the report should merely be noted, and possibly ignored. These countries, and others complicit by their unusual silence, more or less spurned the clear indication by science that the world has a slim window of time to avert catastrophic global warming. This is quite shocking because the IPCC is an agency of the UNFCCC specifically set up to figure out the climate trends and needed actions based on science.

The extreme weather events that have so far accompanied the current 1degree Celsius temperature rise and the pointer from the IPCC report that the world is on course for higher temperature increases, should raise alarm signals. It is reprehensible that people, governments and corporate entities would know the wrong headedness of fossil fuel dependence and yet work to entrench it. A situation where polluters and vested interests throw spanners into the works and processes of agreeing on real climate action demands the removal of such entities from the halls of multilateral negotiations.

It is a no-brainer for anyone to believe, or to propagate the idea that the waning fossil civilization will stretch much further into the future. Good sense must become common sense. The sensible direction is the conservative position that 80 per cent of known fossil reserves must be left unextracted and unburned if we are to keep temperature increases within bearable limits. This means that oil, coal and gas companies must stop searching for new reserves, even though that is the linchpin with which they attract funds from speculators and investors.

The current epoch has been erected on the platform of exploitation, accumulation and consumption. We have gotten to the planetary limits possible for continued reckless exploitation of nature. We need an alternative logic, a radical mindset change. This is not about doing things better or more efficiently; it is about toeing a totally different track, or pathway. We need a wholesale socio-ecological transformation. This is not a pipedream. There is much thinking and organizing going on in this direction around the world. In Uganda, there is the Sustainability Schools in villages; in South Africa there is the Environmental Justice Schooland in Mozambique there is the Seeding Climate Justiceprocess. In Nigeria, Health of Mother Earth Foundation runs the School of Ecology.  Similar initiatives, many in the ecosocialist mold, are ongoing in Asia, Europe, North and Latin America. They all point to what labour framed as just transition from a carbon economy.

Although the just transition idea is anchored on energy shifts and creation of decent jobs, it extends to the need to transform our societies in such a way as to protect the best interests of the planet and the peoples. It is the vision of another world that confronts the challenge of building viable and sustainable societies. Just transition demands a tackling of the increasing inequality, including in terms of wealth and resource ownership. It is at the core of a much-needed system change.

When climate activists demand system change, they are referring to concrete systemic alternatives that are getting reluctantly recognized in the formal climate negotiations. Here we are referring to issues like loss and damage, gender rights and the rights of indigenous peoples. To these must be added the essential need of reparations to territories and nations that have been ravaged, exploited and rendered doubly vulnerable to climate impacts. These deserve payment of climate debts and not grants or extensions of charity. In addition, those responsible for ecocide must be held to account and made to pay for the full restoration of damaged ecological systems.

Just transition with decent jobs may also require a change in corporate management. The visions of corporate top brass may not be as long-term as those of the workers on the short floor. How about upending the current system and enthroning cooperative leadership from below?

As COP24 drags to a close, we can safely say that there will be no backslapping as was the case in Paris in 2015. Now we know that corporate interests ensured that an inherently ineffective and boobytrapped agreement was foisted on the world. We also now know that the same forces are working hard to ensure that the Paris Agreement Work Programme is tilted to ensure business as usual and allow fictive net carbon neutrality computations and dangerous technofixes. Surprisingly, there has been wide disagreements between rich nations and the vulnerable nations on how the NDCs will be delivered and evaluated.

Nevertheless, we applaud the committed African negotiators at COP24. They largely stuck to the justice principles of the climate convention. They also resisted a crafty rewriting of the Paris Agreement and defended the interests of the continent and other vulnerable peoples. The performance of African negotiators at the climate conference was in sharp contrast to that of their counterparts who bore the flags of the continent at the recently held Convention on Biodiversity COP14 that held in Egypt in November. In that conference, the negotiators played the scripts of the biotech industry and related political jobbers, and fought tooth and nail to eliminate regulations, allow risky technologies and to generally undo the safeguards that their predecessors had carefully built. The days in Egypt were sad days for Africa. In Poland, it can be said that although the process was less than would have been expected, our delegates did not trade the continent for some cheap copper coins.  

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This piece was first published under the same title in my column The Instigator in Leadership Newspaper, Nigeria, on 14 December 2018. You can also watch an interview with Democracy Now! at COP24 in Katowice here.

Kotawice and Climate Pathways

IMG_0421President Buhari made a subtle Climate justice pitch in Katowice There is cautious optimism that nations may get serious about climate change as the 24th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) opened in Katowice, Poland on 3 December 2018. The optimism is slim because the conference would essentially draw up the rule book for the implementation of the Paris Agreement of 2015. That agreement has been globally hailed as the singular effort of nations to jointly tackle global warming, ensuring that average global temperature rise is kept to 1.5 degrees Celsius or well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The anchor on which action to tackle global warming hangs in the Paris Agreement, is what is called the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to emissions reduction. The key phrase here is Nationally Determined. This means that each nation must decide or determine what is convenient or feasible for them to do in terms of cutting emission of greenhouse gases known to cause global warming.

While the world celebrated the Paris Agreement, climate justice campaigners warned that there was nothing substantial on which to hang the celebratory banners. It was clear that powerful nations, who also happen to be the most polluting nations, would not cut emissions at source in ways that will halt the rising temperature dial. With pledges made and computed, the world is faced with the stark scenario of temperature rise in the range between 2.7 degrees and 3.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Such a temperature rise will simply roast the planet, kicking in cataclysmic climate events and making life impossible for humans and other beings in most parts of the world.

In addition, the pledges made by many countries are conditional on having certain supports by way of finance and technologies. Nigeria pledged to cut emissions unconditionally by 20 percent and conditionally by 45 percent with support from international partners. The country also planned to work towards ending gas flaring by 2030 and towards providing off-grid solar power of 13,000 Mega Watts. While making those pledges, it is expected that within the 2015-2030 implementation period, the national economic and social development would grow at the rate of 5 percent per year. It is well known that the economic fortunes of the nation are not anywhere near that level, by any measure.

As the curtains opened in Katowice on Monday, 03 December 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari was one of the heads of governments that took the podium in the high-level sessions. One highlight of President Buhari’s speech was his emphasis that in taking climate action the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) must constantly apply. This was the hammer on the head of the climate nail because without adherence to this principle the justice basis of climate responsibility is forever lost. The CBDR principle was one of the strong anchors in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. That protocol differentiated rich, industrialised polluting countries from poor, vulnerable and non-polluting nations. They were grouped under Annex I and Non-Annex I countries respectively.

The protocol provided a legally binding framework by which nations were supposed to be assigned scientifically determined emissions reduction targets. By that means, it was hoped that the effectiveness of emissions reduction would be known in advance if parties agreed to adhere to their assigned targets. The level of ambition of 37 industrialised countries and the European community in the first commitment period (2008-2012) of the Kyoto Protocol was a mere 5 percent against 1990 levels.

A second commitment period (2013-2020) was agreed in 2012 as the Doha Amendment. President Buhari announced during his speech that Nigeria was set to ratify the Doha Amendment. This agreement more or less provides life support for the Kyoto Protocol, especially after the emergence of the Copenhagen Accord (2009) and the Paris Agreement (2015) both of which are anchored on voluntary emissions reduction, with scant attention to the requirements of science.

The recently released special report of the Intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) warns of the dire situation facing a world that has already crossed the 1-degree Celsius temperature increase above pre-industrial level. It gives the world an ominous 12-year window in which to act or descend into an utterly chaotic climatic situation.

While the big polluters are reticent, suggesting that the capacity to pollute is the mark of progress, some non-polluting countries are displaying NDCs that would mean cutting emissions they are not even emitting. These show that voluntary emissions reduction pathway is not the way out.

President Buhari spoke of the harsh situation the 14 million persons depending on the shrinking Lake Chad are facing. He spoke of the plans for an inter-basin water transfer that would see water from the Congo Basin being piped to recharge Lake Chad. The canalisation idea was first developed by an Italian firm, Bonifaca, about four decades ago. While the feasibility studies of that old recharge idea are being worked out, perhaps we can work on examining the ground water management systems in the region with the aim of conserving and protecting what is left to keep the lake alive.

The president’s speech covered many areas, including the need to maintain sound environmental management in economic development. Surprisingly, he said nothing about ending gas flaring. Considering that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is selling the idea that gas flaring would end by 2020 ahead of the 2030 target set by Nigeria’s NDC, and has placed advertisements in papers indicating readiness to pursue that goal. It was disappointing that the president did not utilize that global stage to show how Nigeria is taking leadership in cutting emissions from one of the most obnoxious sources.

As the first week of COP24 draws to a close, the world is waiting to see if the leaders in Katowice will wake up to the fact that the NDCs are not the right way forward. To continue on the path that inexorably leads to intractable climate chaos is another side of the denial coin sold by the political heads of the USA and Brazil.

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This piece was first published on 7 December 2018 as Buhari’s Climate Justice Pitch in Katowice in my Leadership newspaper column,  The Instigator

 

 

 

 

A Dose of Needless Medicine

img_0764.jpgA Dose of Needless Medicine. In this reflection we are looking at genetically modified cotton (GM) in the light of  the Tortoise Principle. There is a folktale about a time a Lion was sick and declared that all the animals in the kingdom should pay him a get-well-soon visit. After several animals had heeded the call it was Mr Tortoise’s turn. On arrival at the gate of Mr Lion’s home, Mr Tortoise noticed that all footprints were in one direction, all going into the house with none coming out or going in the other direction. On careful reflection on the import of this observation, Mr Tortoise turned back and decided not to go into Mr Lion’s house. Did Mr Tortoise decide to avoid Mr Lion’s house out of fear?

Our submission is that the decision not to enter a house from which no visitor emerged was not predicated on fear but on sound judgement.

Our application of this tale relates to the forced release and endorsement of genetically engineered crops and products into Nigeria without due consideration of clear failures elsewhere and with a cavalier attitude to the grave danger that these artificial crops and products portend to the health of our peoples and environment. At a recent press conference by the ministers in charge of Agriculture and Science in partnership with Bayer-Monsanto
to celebrate Monsanto’s release of genetically engineered cotton into the Nigerian market and environment, the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture declared that although he was not a scientist, he saw no reason for not accepting genetically engineered crops. He went on to say that Africans are too fearful of “new things.” In other words, the minister was declaring that those who call for precaution over the release of these artificial crops into our environment are unreasonable and do so out of fear. On his part, the minister of Science repeated myths peddled by the biotech industry and their cohorts – that genetically engineered crops yield more than natural varieties and require less pesticides (because some of them are pesticides) and make farmers rich.

The positions of the ministers raise serious questions about their willingness to dispassionately consider issues related to these technologies. The position that GMOs are rejected out of fear does violence to the integrity of scientists and governments who fought hard to ensure that the Precautionary Principle is a cardinal element of the United Nation’s Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). Indeed, because of the knowledge of the harms related to the release of genetically engineered organisms into the environment and in food, the African Union (then known as the Organisation of African Unity) produced the African Model Law on biosafety. That model law was to provide African governments a basic scaffold on which to build sound Biosafety regulatory frameworks. The notion that it was not the job of regulators to stop GMOs, as often peddled these days, was alien to the defenders of biodiversity.

At that time, African governments knew the importance of biodiversity in securing nutritious food and building resilience of local agriculture to the vagaries of weather and pest infestations. African research institutes had scientists that were engaged in promoting crop and animal species that were suitable to the local environment and yielded products that suited the local cultures, tastes and had acceptable levels of storability. That was the focus of science and agricultural ministries at that time. The coming of Structural Adjustment Programmes of the international financial institutions in the 1980s ensured wholesale adoption of neoliberal conditionalities and policies that brought about the destruction of local agricultural support systems. They also destroyed social safety nets and made our countries dumping grounds for all sorts of products which today appear in the form of untested GMOs originating from corporate laboratories that are not in the least concerned with our interest.

Today the framework that would have protected our environment is being shredded, and Nigeria is leading the pack in this ignominious degradation. This reverse leadership is very visible at the ongoing CBD Conference of Parties (COP24) with Nigeria and South Africa as the main negotiators. The most contentious items at the negotiation include what to do with extreme genetic engineering including synthetic biology (Synbio) and gene drives organisms (GDOs). These are technologies that have dire socio-economic and ecological consequences for Africa. Reports from the COP show serious opposition to gene drives with a number of countries demanding spoke a moratorium on the technology. Opposing countries include Bolivia, El Salvador, Grenada and Egypt. Shockingly, most African countries at the COP have become advocates for gene drives probably with the hope of attracting grants and other pecuniary benefits to their governments.

Observers believe that the inexplicable enthusiasm of a group of African nations, including Nigeria, to reject a moratorium on gene drives and to promote their release may be connected to the Gates Foundation’s funding for the production and release of gene drive mosquitoes in Burkina Faso by an organisation called Target Malaria.

Gene drives is a new gene-editing technology that makes it possible to have species-wide genetic engineering through the aggressive spreading of genetic changes through the wild. Analysts posit that gene drives have a high potential for unpredictable, and even uncontrollable, impacts on biodiversity, wildlife and ecosystems.

The products that the synthetic biology industry is bringing into market include a vanilla flavour produced using synthetically modified yeast and some special oils used in soaps and detergents derived from synthetically modified algae. The replacement of natural vanilla with a synthetic variety has implications for millions of farmers, many of them Africans, who depend on them for livelihoods. They also have social and cultural implications. In addition, scientists warn that genetically modified algae and yeast could have unpredictable health effects and ecological impacts if they escape into the environment.

To say that opponents of GMOs are fear mongers is a sad way of demonizing Africans as fearful of new technologies. If fear is a factor in the demand for strict risk assessment of new technologies, that fear must be one that rises from the fact that public officials who should protect our interests are instead being tied to the apron strings of corporate and pseudo philanthropic interests. The Tortoise principle requires that we setup platforms for the critical assessment of new technologies.

As the world edges towards unleashing unregulated technologies that have the capacity to wipe out species, and can readily be made into biological weapons, we have a duty to review how we regulate our foods and environment. A situation where the most vulnerable continent, with scant capacity to regulate and contain basic genetic engineering, cheers on the merchants of the technology spells nothing but trouble.

First published as Of Genetically Modified Cotton and The Tortoise Principle at https://leadership.ng/2018/11/23/of-genetically-modified-cotton-and-tortoise-principle/

 

Do Not Betray Africa on Extreme Genetic Engineering

24f6f9cf-069e-41e4-aa98-cdc61885d841.jpegDo Not Betray Africa on SynBio and Gene Drives

As representatives of a broad range of African civil society organisations (CSOs), we do not feel represented by the delegations of Nigeria and South Africa, speaking on behalf of African Group, in their attempt to speak on behalf of the people of Africa on the issue of synthetic biology (synbio) and gene drive organisms (GDOs).

Throughout the history of the United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, African delegates have championed the defence of our biodiversity, protection of our seeds, indigenous agroecological practices and culture. They have always advocated the need for a precautionary approach.

In the past, African delegates have strongly defended our ecological life-support systems from threats, such as Terminator technologies (seeds designed to be sterile).

We are now alarmed at what is going on at COP14 and how our concerns for our environment, biodiversity and communities are being betrayed and threatened by delegates from some African nations. In particular, they are not representing our concerns about gene drives and synbio.

Most countries in Africa are still grappling with the threats from basic genetic engineering and associated agro-toxics and do not even have experience or capacity for basic regulation of the risks for those first-generation genetic technologies, let alone synbio and GDOs.

Gene drives, such as those being promoted by Target Malaria, aimed at releasing gene drive mosquitoes in Burkina Faso, are a deliberately invasive technology designed to propagate genetic material across an entire population – potentially wiping out entire species. As Africans, we are forced to confront this new and serious threat to our health, land, biodiversity, rights, and food supply.

African government delegations appear to have been neutralised. They have fallen from grace on the altar of the multi-national corporations, gene giants and private foundations. The African group’s position at the CBD slavishly replicates the position of these interest groups.

As Africans, we do not wish to be lab-rats for Target Malaria’s experiments. We refuse to be guinea pigs for their misguided disruption of our food systems and ecology.

We call on the African and all other delegates to put the brakes on this exterminating technology. We reject any form of representation that is against the interest of our peoples and biodiversity. We call on the governments of Africa to call their delegates to order and avoid acquiescence to unfolding intergenerational crimes.

Signed by the following organisations:

-Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa.

– La Via Campesina Africa

– Friends of the Earth Africa

– Coalition for the Protection of African Genetic Heritage (COPAGEN)

– CCAE Collectif Citoyen pour L’Agroecologie

– Fahamu Africa

– Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment, Uganda

– Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers Forum (ESAFF)

– Comparing and Supporting Endogenous Development (COMPAS Africa)

– West African Association for the Development of Artisanal Fisheries (ADEPA)

– Plate-forme Régionale des Organisations Paysannesd’ Afrique Centrale (PROPAC)

– Convergences Régionales Terre-eau et Autres Ressources Aturelles

– Network of West African Farmer Organizations and Agricultural Producers (ROPPA).

– Terre á Terre, Burkina Faso

– Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in West Africa (FECCIWA)

– African Centre for Biodiversity

– Inades-Formation

– Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC)

– Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement (JVE International)

– Institute de Researche et de Promotion des Alternatives en Development Afrique (IRPAD)

– The Africa CSOs’ Coalition on African Development Bank

– Health of Mother Earth Foundation

– Committee on Vital Environmental Resources, Nigeria

– The Young Environmental Network, Nigeria

– Community Empowerment Initiative (GECOME) Nigeria.

– Gender and Environmental Risk Reduction Initiative(GERI), Nigeria.

– Climate Change and Amelioration Initiative( ECCAI), Nigeria

– Pearls Care Initiative (PCI), Nigeria

– Intergrity Conscience Initiative (ICI).Nigeria

– Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Association

– Rural Women’s Assembly

-Rural Alliance for Green Environment (RAGE), Nigeria

– Bio Interrity in Natural Foods Awareness Initiative, Nigeria

– Initiative for Peace, Empowerment and Tolerance, Nigeria

– Integrity Conscience Initiative (ICI), Nigeria

– Eco-Defenders Network, Nigeria

– Green Alliance Network (GAN) Nigeria

– Rural Environmental Defenders (U-RED) Nigeria