Leadership: There were floods. Lives were lost. Property was destroyed. Victims are still living on a wing and a prayer. The government threw N17.6billion at them. Curiously, throughout the recent national broadcast on measures being put in place to stem the tide, climate change – the primary cause of the problem – was not mentioned. This blatant omission can only be suggestive of a seeming cognitive confusion among policy makers as to the scope and reach of environmental regulation in Nigeria.
From the United Kingdom to India, Japan to the United States, governments have in response to the menacing effects of climate change set out far-reaching regulations that seek to promote biodiversity and sustainable development. This rules-based approach not only guarantees transparency and predictability, but also ensures that the complex regulations required to safeguard the environment conform to international best practices. Unfortunately, policy makers in Nigeria seem averse to the rules-based approach to regulation. They instead, prefer a procurement-driven approach that allows for administrative discretion and one that achieves little or no regulation.
A classic example of the procurement-driven approach to environmental regulation in Nigeria is the process that led to the birth of the national committee on ecological problems – the Ecological Funds Office. The Fund was originally established in 1981 through the Federation Account Act. The enabling Act has subsequently been modified by Decrees 36 of 1984 and 106 of 1992 respectively. It was, most recently modified by the Allocation of Revenue/Federation Account etc (modification) order of 8th July 2002. In 1981, the Fund received 1% of the proceeds in the Federation Account. This was reviewed upwards to 2% in 1992. This fund is meant to provide resources for the amelioration of ecological problems such as flood, drought, oil pollution, amongst others.
The enabling statutes have over the years placed the Fund under the control of the President, to be disbursed and managed in accordance with such directives as may be issued from time to time. None of the enabling statutes made any effort to establish a legal regime for an efficient and effective regulatory framework for environment and sustainable development. The primary objective was, regrettably, procurement and disbursement of funds.
Government’s inability to adopt a rules-based, legally binding framework, as opposed to a procurement-driven approach is indicative of either a poverty of ideas or institutional malaise. Otherwise, how does one rationalize a N17.6 billion ‘bail out’ without an articulate policy roadmap that addresses the regulatory challenges and proffers solutions for mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change? There is an urgent need to reverse this trend and Mr. President’s refusal to sign into law the 2011 Climate Change Commission Bill is salutary. The Bill, as it is, simply seeks to create another bureaucracy that would assume the functions of the extant Ecological Funds Office. Unfortunately, the Bill fails to set out a precise and transparent legal framework for the regulation of the environment, especially as it relates to mitigating the effects of climate change. A review of the Bill, with a view to reflecting contemporary realities is therefore imperative.
In reviewing the Bill before assenting, Mr. President should be guided by the United Kingdom’s experience on this score. In 2008, the UK passed the Climate Change Act, a legislation that introduced the world’s first long-term legally binding framework to tackle the dangers of climate change. The Act, among other things, created a new approach to managing and responding to climate change in the UK by setting ambitious, legally binding targets and strengthening the institutional framework for environmental social governance.
The Act sets a target of at least an 80% cut in greenhouse gas emissions in the UK by 2050. This target is against a 1990 baseline. A carbon budgeting system that caps emissions over five-year periods would ensure that the UK stays on track for the 2050 target. The Act also creates the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) – a new independent, expert body to advise the government on the level of carbon budgets and on where cost-effective savings can be made. Most importantly, the Act requires the government to report to parliament at least every five years on the risks to the UK of climate change, and to publish a programme setting out how these will be addressed.
Given the foregoing, it is clear that current efforts to address the ravaging effects of climate change in Nigeria is not in line with contemporary global realities. While Government must be commended for assisting the victims of the disaster, a more holistic approach must be adopted. However, beyond the withholding of assent, Mr. President must urgently carry out a review of the Climate change Bill and send back to the National Assembly for speedy consideration. The government also has to foster inter agency collaboration among relevant environmental, disaster and emergency management institutions, with a view to ensuring that the nation is well equipped to detect and respond to the ravaging effects of flooding and climate change. This is important should we seriously want to tackle environmental degradation and promote sustainability in Nigeria.
— Dr Owie, an International lawyer, is executive director of Climate Change Africa
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