Two days ago the Washington Post summarized the outcome of the recent Climate Change Conference held in the Peruvian capital in these words: “… the Lima Accord may nudge countries to do better on climate change (but won’t solve the problem)”. It looks like we might have to live with the health impacts of climate change for a while longer than hoped.
Climate and Health
Climate change affects human health both directly and indirectly hence the need for a global agreement on approaches to curb it. It can be a driver of disease migration. The spread of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes into non-endemic regions is a good example of this. Climate change is also causing the exacerbation of health effects resulting from the release of toxic air pollutants in vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, and those with asthma or cardiovascular disease. The following are links to scientific papers elaborating on the health impacts of climate change (see for examplethis, this, and this).
In its discussion of the latest agreement, the New York Times notes that each nation will agree to enact domestic laws to reduce carbon emissions, and put forth a plan by March 31, laying out how much each one will cut after 2020 and what domestic policies it will pass to achieve the cuts. However, the Lima Accord does not include legally binding requirements that countries cut their emissions by any particular amount. There is no clear mechanism to ensure that these national efforts are meaningful or an obvious way to enforce these self-imposed obligations.
One reason why the Lima Accord is coming out so soft may be the position of developing nations on international treaties to curb climate change. While many developed countries, including the United States, insist that any climate treaty must curb emissions by developing countries, countries like Nigeria counter that the wealthy nations have polluted their way to richness and so it is their responsibility to take the lead until developing countries have caught up.
Nigeria and Climate Change
That notwithstanding, Nigeria is doing its bit to contribute to global progress on the issue of climate change. At the International Conference on Energy and Climate Policy recently held here in the United States, Diezani Alison-Madueke, the Nigerian Minister of Petroleum Resources, threw some light on our country’s aspiration for a carbon-neutral economy. She pointed out that “As a signatory to the Kyoto protocol, we have recently developed a Draft Policy to address climate change in Nigeria. Our Draft Policy focuses on the following: adaptation, mitigation, finance and technology,’’. Interestingly, Nigeria is not yet considering the geoengineering option.
The Minister also drew the attention of the world to the protracted issue of gas flaring and environmental degradation in the Niger Delta wrought by the activities of major international oil companies operating in Nigeria, despite moves by government to outlaw gas flaring. Those moves include fines. Unfortunately, it appears that paying those fines is a reasonable cost of doing business for the multinational oil companies. This is reminiscent of the cap-and-trade policy enacted here in the United States. It is debatable whether such policies actually work.
An idea for progress
As climate change continues unchecked and the health impacts worsen, we must come up with innovative ideas for global governance. As a Nigerian I would like to see Western nations put some more pressure on their own companies operating in developing countries like mine.
We need international pressure on the multinational companies that continue to flare gas because it is cheap to do so. They avoid options such as re-injecting the gas or refining it for use because they can afford to. Such companies are often too powerful to be controlled by the governments of developing nations.
Since the Lima Accord is asking countries to put forward plans dictated by their own economies and domestic politics, it is my hope that the Nigerian government will somehow work with Europe and the United States to bring an end to gas flaring, make a big step on climate change and ensure real impacts on global health.
This article was first published by the University of Michigan Risk Science Center