By Akachukwu Okafor
In 1973, following the publication of Dr Fritz Schumacher’s widely acclaimed “Small is Beautiful”, the world’s attention was drawn to Schumacher’s concerns that the prevalent “big is better” system/culture of industrial production, materialism, consumption and management of natural resources was problematic and unsustainable.
Energy resources such as coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power were treated as infinite resources with no concern given to their negative impact, majorly pollution on the environment. Schumacher warned that nature and the earth would not be able to resist the rate of pollution for much longer if a change of culture was not pursued.
Today, we know better about the impact of industrial production on climate change. Importantly, he proffered simple means of production using technology that were small scaled, decentralized, labour intensive, people centered, environmentally sound, and energy efficient. His belief was that such technology and means of production would be biologically sound, build up soil fertility, and produce beauty, permanence, compatible with human needs, and also be nonviolent to nature. Schumacher called this sort of technology “intermediate technology” which has come to be known by different people as soft, radical, people, democratic, indigenous, alternative, and appropriate technology.
These phrases capture how climate change responses must happen, if they are to make the desired impact especially at the bottom of the pyramid, among poor and vulnerable populations in local communities where the effects and impact of climate change are most felt. Schumacher’s concerns, and the new approaches he promoted, may not have been taken seriously in the 70s when he started the movement, however today, it has become the bedrock upon which climate responses – mitigation and adaptation projects are built.
For instance, climate projects and programmes funded by Green Climate Fund, a United Nations Framework for Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) financing mechanism would never support projects and solutions that are not targeted at indigenous people, or which are not participatory, people centered, democratic, inclusive of all gender especially women, radical, causing paradigm shift, appropriate, enabling and strengthening to community voice and agency. With all these in place, it is easy, effective and efficient for stakeholders – individuals, communities, governments, multilateral development agencies and the private sector to lead effective climate responses using science, technology, community activism, policy and other instruments that are necessary for positive impact.
In Nigeria, unfortunately, the government is bent on developing Nigeria’s coal potentials to contribute 30% to Nigeria’s energy generation mix. From my analysis, pursuing this ambition under different scenarios will contribute over 65.46Mt of carbon emissions annually to Nigeria’s already concerning emissions. Unfortunately, this will easily erase any contributions that Nigeria would have made through implementing its UNFCCC Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under either of the 20% and 45% emissions reduction target scenarios. While, this policy direction is yet to be pursued, however, coal mining licenses have been given out to mining companies whose mining operations are already causing host communities environmental and social problems.
Appropriate responses to these incidences have been to demand a policy reversal by government, demand that regulators enforce all environmental, social safeguards, laws, guidelines and standards if they must issue mining licenses, and enforce complete and comprehensive remediation activities in areas impacted by mining operations. On the other hand, environmentally focused non-profit organizations have led interventions in host mining communities to educate them on their rights as host communities which must be respected and upheld by operating mining companies, the impact of coal mining and other environmental degradation to their communities, and on effective approaches to holding the operating companies and government regulators accountable.
Other responses have also been assisting the communities in developing local solutions that will help in impeding and reversing the impact of present and future environmental and climate change challenges and guiding these communities to adopt appropriate renewable energy solutions for their energy needs. I have facilitated some of these responses with positive outcomes and tremendous impact, especially in enabling and strengthening community activism in some Kogi and Federal Capital Territory communities. The power of technology, particularly information technology via social media and the internet has helped these local communities significantly in their advocacy campaigns, information sharing, and in conducting further research to improve their knowledge. The climate responses aimed at educating local communities and indigenous people on how to protect their environment and themselves from the impact of climate change should be promoted by more organizations, as they are very relevant to our Nigerian context.
As Global population is set to grow to 9.8 billion by 2050 and close to half of that population residing in Africa, everyone needs to be concerned about how these populations will be fed. Ensuring food security in the midst of the desertification, deforestation, droughts, competing needs for water and land resources calls for prompt responses to climate issues that will improve the agricultural and food systems. These would require efficient and effective application of appropriate irrigation, soil fertility, pest control, seed storage and preservation, processing, and marketing sciences and technologies.
Fortunately, a number of unilateral, bilateral and multilateral development interventions are being pursued in this direction. In Nigeria and Ghana, I have had the privilege of working on some smart agricultural, environmental and climate focused projects including design and implementation of solar powered milling facilities for agricultural produce; a tomato processing facility to reduce the percentage of tomatoes that perish after harvest, and irrigation projects in remote off-grid rural, coastal communities as well as young social impact businesses. Commendably, these projects which were sponsored by European government development agencies and non-profits gave the communities the agency to determine the solutions that are appropriate for their situation and pursue their implementation. These local solutions have given communities the power to be better prepared to build a more resilient future against the impacts of climate change.
Essentially, focus should be on what is not being done as much as it is on what is being done. In Africa, the low urgency to build a strong, unified, appropriate climate response at all levels of climate governance is more alarming, because many African nations are yet to decide and get committed to climate change (energy and environment) policies that are enabling for effective fight against climate change. What this means is that the vulnerable populations and communities that will be impacted would never be able to build strong defenses from future impacts.
For instance, a decision by Nigeria not to pursue coal energy generation will help provide clear policy guidelines and frameworks of how its future energy demands must be achieved, which would help it to galvanize into taking serious practical steps towards a low carbon future. An additional advantage is that climate adaptation plans will also be prioritized. Unfortunately, as we know, Africa would be impacted in diverse ways by climate change more than other continents, therefore it is a matter of urgency and appropriateness that we get the word out in as many ways as we can to our population.
Okafor, is a Mandela Washington Fellow (Public Management, University of Maine) and a Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex trained Energy Policy, Innovation and Sustainability Expert.