The executive director of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Dr. Godwin Ojo, has identified environmental injustice as a major impingement to ecosystem restoration and resilience.
He made this known at an event organized by Frontline Energy and Environmental Services to mark the 2021 World Environment Day (WED) with the theme, ‘Ecosystem Restoration’, pointing out that ecosystem disturbance would continue due to increasing lack of access to justice.
Speaking on a paper presentation titled ‘Ecosystem Restoration and Addressing Living in Agony with Ourselves and Nature’, he said this year’s WED theme provided the opportunity for critical reflections on the state of the nation with particular reference to ecosystem restoration in Nigeria, adding Nigeria is facing massive environmental degradation, deforestation, desertification and destruction of rural livelihoods and that access to justice was denied or narrowed in ways that favour the companies to continue environmental degradation with impunity.
“The concept of victims sleeping on their rights, or where violations are apparent, yet, the burden of proof on environmental issues that require scientific proof and huge legal fees are placed on the victims of environmental destruction. Rather, the TNCs should have the responsibility to discharge their responsibilities and show how they are meeting regulations and standards to preserve the environment and ecosystems restoration which they often neglect.
“As a result of impunity in the extractive and mining sectors, ecosystem disturbance is left unaddressed. There are over 10,000 oil spill sites in the Niger Delta and none has been adequately cleaned up. In northern Nigeria desertification and drying up of Lake Chad has put pressure on water supply, fisheries and rural livelihoods. Ecosystem restoration includes conservation efforts, and the need for local people to be involved in environmental protection, remediation and conservation,” he said.
Ojo averred that the way forward was living in harmony with nature and ourselves and not in agony, pointing out that living in harmony with nature was a crucial challenge that required a deep transformation in global production and consumption patterns, adding there was the need for a switch from fossil fuels dependence to just energy transition in renewable energy alternatives.
“Environmental sustainability not only requires ecosystem recovery but also that socio-political and economic domains are subsumed as subsets of development. To action the Paris Agreement of 2015, a post petroleum economy is long overdue for Nigeria to shift focus from oil and gas to other productive sectors such as renewable energy sector and development of cleaner technologies to address climate change and provide green jobs. Nigeria is yet to make the commitment to switch from oil and gas to renewable energy sources even though European countries are already ending production of petrol-diesel engines from 2025 onwards.
“Nigeria can become the renewable energy hub for West Africa if it takes advantage of the emerging renewable energy sector and divest public finance, loans and subsidies from oil and gas exploitation and invest in renewable energy. There is the need for energy democracy in the form of decentralized energy systems in mini-grids and off-grids systems whereby individuals, communities and groups can form energy cooperatives as prosumers for energy production and supply and share in roles and responsibilities as well as the benefits,” he added.
He further said living in harmony with nature required reversing the ecosystem degradation to build the earth resilience in richer biodiversity, soil fertility, timber and fishery.
According to the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2012-2030, “the restoration of 350 million hectares of degraded terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in the world could generate US$9 trillion in ecosystem services, the removal of 13 to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and improvement of livelihoods of those who depend on them. It also helps to regulate diseases and reduce the risk of natural disasters and pandemics. At the national level, restructuring to ensure a return to local control of local resources is the surest way to ecosystem restoration. The environment is our life. It is not for sale. Ecosystem restoration is now,” he added.