Over Christmas, I made a long trip to Lagos. It’s one of my favourite cities in the world and I’ve been countless times, but this time was different. In recent years, I have come to realise how much action needs to be taken over the climate crisis.
The work of Greta Thunberg and others have made me feel acutely aware of my contributions to the environment – both positive and negative – as well as the larger issues. So when I went to Nigeria, it felt like my eyes had been opened.
Never had I been so aware of the plastic filling the drains, sewers and Lagos Lagoon; of the pollution so thick it made my eyes water and my breath short; of the diesel-guzzling generators upon which millions of Nigerians rely due to the country’s intermittent electricity; of the chauffeurs that drive the upper classes the shortest of distances.
That is not to say there isn’t important work going on. Climate activists such as Oladosu Adenike – who has worked with Greta – deserve praise. But there is a lot of work to be done.
My trip made me think of all the green initiatives being pursued in the UK. Compared to the dismal scenes I was seeing in Lagos, bike-to-work schemes suddenly felt futile.
It’s no secret that western countries and superpowers like China are the global leaders when it comes to CO2 emissions. Nations like the UK need to be leading the way and we must be sure we are doing all we can before trying to lecture anyone else. However, it’s now clear to me that if we’re serious about saving the planet there must be consolidated thinking with every nation – particularly developing ones.
These nations are currently building generational-lasting infrastructure and have a unique opportunity to make these projects green from the offset. Unlike developed nations who are desperately trying to reverse age-old systems and habits to be more planet-friendly.
There are some existing initiatives in countries like Nigeria to help preserve and protect their environment. Lagos Assembly member Ibrahim Ajani Owolabi says the local government in Africa’s second most populous city is not ignorant to the fact that the environment is a growing cause for concern.
“We have youth empowerment programmes that now teach people how to turn plastic waste into things like playground equipment, school benches and chairs, roofing tiles, floor tiles.” he says.
Owolabi also cites a programme he’s spearheading in his local constituency called “Light Your Adugbo”. Adugbo means neighbourhood in Yoruba. Gases from the melting of plastic – which would be burnt anyway – can be stored and used to power generators. A staple part of many Lagos homes as a power source, but nevertheless a source of pollution.
These initiatives are a start but on a federal level and an international level the dots must join.
A 2019 study published in the journal Nature Communications found 300 million people globally currently live in areas where by 2050 an annual flood will be expected. Places like Bangladesh, India and Thailand are the most vulnerable nations.
Other developing countries like Nigeria must take the climate crisis seriously. Its 850km coastline is already feeling the effects of coastal erosion, particularly in parts of Lagos on the island that is prone to flooding during the rainy season.
Olive Emodi is an ambassador for End Single Use Plastic NG, an initiative that does what it says on the tin by lobbying government and educating as many ordinary people it encounters about the cause. “We are already in a critical state with the extreme weather conditions; the rains are lasting longer than they should and our streets are getting flooded,” she says.
“Plastic is constantly blocking our drains and we may be in for some more flooding and displacement of people from their homes.”
This means action needs to be taken immediately. It begins with education about personal responsibility, such as not taking five plastic bags for 10 items while out grocery shopping. But it’s also the responsibility of governments around the world to unify and put pressure on big business to be more environmentally friendly.
Emodi says there is still hope for cities like Lagos which has an estimated 21 million people in an area about three-quarters the size of London. But if people in power do not act swiftly there is an existential threat as the population continues to increase and more single-use plastic is consumed.
“This will lead to more floods that will lead to more displaced persons, more consumption of plastic in our food and water and even more deaths,” she says.
Political will must be conjured up to continuously share information and innovative ideas on how to be more green among different nations.
Developed countries are beginning to wake up from their sleepwalk into an environmental crisis. They have a duty to make sure their developing counterparts aren’t left behind in this race against time.
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