2019 Biodiversity Day: Perspectives from Nigeria

By Edel-Quinn Agbaegbu

The 2019 Biodiversity Day celebration came up less than one month after I was nominated as the Nigeria Country Representative, Voluntary Peer Review (VPR) Process, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).  It was a handy reminder to me of the meaning and import of CBD.

The Convention, short form reference for CBD, is the international legal instrument for “the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources” that has been ratified by about 196 nations of the world. The United Nation, UN, General Assembly had, by its resolution 55/201 of December 20, 2000 proclaimed May 22, as the International Day for Biological Diversity. This proclamation is in full recognition that biological diversity (biodiversity) is a global asset of tremendous value to present and future generations, but a good number of the species are being significantly reduced by certain human activities.

Cristiana Paşca Palmer, PhD, Executive Secretary, CBD

The global celebration, marking the International Day for Biodiversity (IDB) Wednesday, 22 May, 2019 is informative. A notification from the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Executive Secretary, Cristiana Paşca Palmer, PhD, Ref.: SCBD/OES/CPP/CSt/DAIN/fd/87872 14 February 2019, stated that this year’s celebrations of the International Day for Biological Diversity, with the theme; “Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health” focuses on biodiversity as the foundation for our food and health and a key catalyst to transforming food systems and improving human health. This theme which aims to leverage knowledge and spread awareness of the dependency of our food systems, nutrition, and health on biodiversity and healthy ecosystems also celebrates the diversity provided by our natural systems for human existence and well-being on Earth.

Our different ecosystems provide us with food, textile, clear water, clean air, medicine, energy and recreation. Economy, commerce, business and health are all dependent on the work of ecosystems. Without jungle and seas for instance, there would be no parks, nor corals. Without seeds we know, there would be no food; without forage, no cattle, nor meat; neither would there be proteins, nor animals and indigenous people. Genetic diversity, we know is an un-deciphered library whose richness contains solutions and roadmaps to humanity challenges such as, health, food insecurity and poverty. A diverse world gives us the flexibility to adopt to change, including climate change.

Biodiversity as we know is essential for ecosystem’s health, sustainable food production and resilient livelihoods. The air, water and food required for our existence rely on biodiversity but the impact of the growing demands of increasing global population is compromising access to these basic human needs. Unsustainable agricultural practices and productive systems such as industries, energy and mining including urbanisation processes are taking toll on the wealth of our biodiversity and the health of the ecosystems. The pace of biodiversity degradation threatens devastating and grave consequences to humanity if it goes unchecked. While changes in climate may be reversible, there is no remedy once specie becomes extinct.

Safeguarding our natural resources and biodiversity on earth therefore, is critical to people’s health and planetary wealth as well as overcoming major global challenges. We must strike a balance between quality and diversity, while linking productivity to sustainability in addressing the needs of the people and to feed the 10 billion people projected to live on planet earth in 2050. It should be noted that agricultural sectors are major users of biodiversity and have great potential to contribute to its protection. This implies that, ‘‘we have to innovate and transform the agriculture sector. It is fundamental to produce food in a way that preserves the environment and biodiversity. Business as usual, is no longer an option” – Jose Graziano da Silva, FAO Director General.

Halting biodiversity loss, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 15), is strongly linked to all other SDGs and key in answering related question. As such, keeping the ecosystems resilient and safeguarding our planet’s biodiversity is fundamental to poverty eradication, human health and livelihood. Today, there is an unequivocal recognition of ecosystem services and relevance in contributing to the health and the wellbeing of the planet. Natural systems’ resources are indeed finite and diverse for a sustainable human existence in our competitive world and give us the flexibility to adapt to change, climate change inclusive.

For Nigeria and for us all, advocates for biodiversity conservation in Nigeria believe this year’s celebration was a challenge indeed. The need exists to join hands in getting Nigeria, the giant of Africa, and its citizens to gain a better knowledge and understanding of the significance of integrating biodiversity in the human adaptation scenarios to global changes. Given the huge expectations of the global community, especially the sister states, there are other reasons why Nigeria should have greater interest in mainstreaming biological diversity. Among them is her growing population.

Nigeria, the most populous African country, is estimated at 183, 523, 434 people as at July 2015/, equivalent to 2.51% of the total world population. (Source: Worldometers). More than 70% of this population live in rural areas where they depend on agriculture and other natural resources for their survival (FEPA, 1992). Biodiversity also supports the teaming populations in urban areas and the pressure is increasing due to over-exploitation occasioned by high demand. It is a fact today that biodiversity loss is a global challenge, particularly in emerging economies with high poverty rate.

There is also the issue of deforestation in Nigeria. Some reports, like World Rainforest Movement (1999) estimate that over 70-80% of Nigeria’s original forest has disappeared.  The area occupied by forests is believed to have been reduced to 12%. In the period between 2000 and 2005, Nigeria has lost about 2,048ha of forest (FAO, 2005). Although the Nigerian government established several forest reserves for conservation of forest resources, these forest reserves have been seriously neglected and received little or no improvement in terms of investment and management (Pelemo et.al, 2011). Very worrisome is the fact that everywhere in Nigeria, biodiversity-related laws are broken openly. The implication of these loses is that many plants and animals, including many potentially valuable species are on the fast track to extinction. The USAID Report on Biodiversity and Tropical Forestry Assessment (2002) recorded that there are too many – too many environmental threats in Nigeria affecting Biodiversity. Laws exist, but there proper implementation remains a challenge. For instance, is a law against felling of trees in Nigeria, but this is not easily obeyed. Nigeria lacks capacity for law enforcement particularly on biodiversity.

Issues about biodiversity have not received high degree of attention in Nigeria. Infact, it is not in  contention that matters about biodiversity and the environment, actually trail behind other sectors in policy and legislative considerations. The great essence of biodiversity as a life support system for millions of Nigerians is yet to receive recognition and serious consideration in national policy and legislative action.  Few existing laws on biodiversity require updating, perhaps, with the exception of the new laws establishing the National Environmental Standard and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA); and the law establishing Grazing Commission. Indeed, Biodiversity issues have been relegated to the background and treated as if it’s a matter only for few conservationists, scientists and environmentalists in Nigeria.

These issues  and many more ,largely account for why no major attention was officially paid to 2019 Biodiversity Day celebration in Nigeria ,compared to greater attention official paid to  two other  national events of the week: Children’s’ Day celebration, May 27, and Democracy Day, May 29, the date for handover of power to a new government.

The situation in Nigeria is a sharp contrast to how biodiversity was celebrated in some other countries. In Pakistan for instance, it was reported that the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, in collaboration with the Ministry of Climate Change, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Serena Hotels, celebrated the International Day for Biodiversity at the Serena Hotel in Islamabad on May 22, 2019, with keen interest.

The event was reportedly attended by the senior representatives of the federal and provincial government departments, international development partners, United Nation Agencies, Diplomatic Missions, Government ministries, academia, the private sector, as well as the media and environment experts. All the speakers appreciated IUCN in taking lead to organize and convene the stakeholders together at this important and informative event to share technical information and exchange of ideas and initiatives.

In his remarks, the Chief Guest, H.E. Mr. Malik Amin Aslam, Advisor to Prime Minister on Climate Change, Government of Pakistan  was reported to have showed concern over the Biodiversity loss which can destabilize ecosystems, promote outbreaks of infectious diseases, and undermine the development progress, nutrition security and protection from natural disasters. Mr. Aslam also shed light on the recently launched Report on the “Impact of Billion Tree Afforestation Project on Biodiversity” by IUCN Pakistan. He added that the report also assesses the contributions of the project to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Convention on Biological Diversity and the Aichi Biodiversity targets. It also highlights the accomplishments of the project in terms of contributions of the BTAP to the goals, objectives and targets under the above-mentioned instruments.

In Nigeria, nonetheless, the need and importance of public education and awareness for mainstreaming and implementing the Biological Diversity targets was highlighted by sustainable biodiversity actors, among them, Every Woman Hope Centre, (EWHC) an NGO to which I belong. As EWHC head, I seized the opportunity offered by a two day workshop in Abuja, Nigeria, to canvass the need for biodiversity sustainability in Nigeria. In the workshop which was jointly organized by Imperial College London, (ICL) and the University of Nigeria Nsukka, (UNN) on May 23 – 24, 2019, at Ibeto Hotels, Abuja, Nigeria; with the theme: “Energy for Development’’: emerging issues regarding to biodiversity conservation for improved livelihood were  discussed in various sessions of the historic gathering.

In a session on Clean Cooking and Clean Heat, to clean cooking issues and Cookstove Technology; as well as provisions of heating and cooling, from Solar and Thermal technologies, I highlighted the need to safeguard biodiversity in the course of transformation to improved energy systems. It was recommended that the Cookstove Technology should be mainstreamed into sustainable electricity infrastructure, as a roadmap towards reducing air pollution for a healthy ecosystem and improved food systems.

During the session on features of low carbon energy systems in Nigeria, including pathways to achieving nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement, the urgent need for use of renewable energy systems and applications were discussed. Looking towards decarbonizing the energy systems in the country, the significance of pursuing the route of biogas technology for the conversion of waste to energy and manure was demonstrated. The technology is appropriate for emerging economies and can create jobs in the energy field for the growing population.

In my contributions, I advocated the need for the Nigeria government to give policy support to biodiversity mainstreaming, and enforce global sustainability standards in production. I equally stated that there should be a roadmap towards domesticating the various Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), which deal with various environmental issues and a strong growth in the uptake of biodiversity initiatives. I also highlighted the need to synergize actions of the developmental actors like the policy makers, in implementing actions of the Convention, alongside the vision by Parties, non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations, indigenous peoples and local communities, the scientific community and individuals alike.

Because our biodiversity significantly underpins most SDGs, its loss consequently constitutes a threat to both security and peace. Its essentials are not only for proper functioning of earth’s systems, they are also key to the delivery of ecosystem services that are crucial to human dignity and wellbeing. Conserving our planet’s biodiversity and keeping the ecosystems resilient are very fundamental to poverty and hunger eradication, improved human health and better livelihood. Efforts therefore, should be made towards achieving the objectives of the SDGs and the CBD by connecting people and nature for an inspiring future. We must not fail in this mission.

Edel-Quinn Agbaegbu is the Executive Director, Every Woman Hope Centre (EWHC)

Nigeria Country Representative, Voluntary Peer Review (VPR) Process, CBD

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