CLIMATE CHANGE: A 2 Degrees Warmer Nigeria

Yobe State, 2013
Teaser Image Caption
Yobe State, 2013

Eleven northern states – the so-called frontline states – representing 43% of the country’s land mass, are facing a relentless expansion of the Sahara. Africa’s biggest desert is expanding southwards by more than half a kilometer each year. With a continued rise in carbon emissions and more global warming, it is likely that the sand dunes will reach Abuja. Current science indicates that the number of hot days will double in Nigeria – with implications for agriculture as well as human and animal health. By 2020, if no climate change adaptation is implemented, between 2-11% of Nigeria’s GDP could potentially be lost. Where forests used to cool the climate in northern Nigeria, exposed landscapes and communities suffer from intense solar radiation. At the same time, people continue to cut down the remaining trees for cooking and baking of bread. A typical bakery uses one tree per day – that’s one forest of 300 trees lost every day for Jigawa State alone.


Onitsha, 2012
Much of Nigeria’s catastrophic erosion is man-made and due to poor environmental management such as blockage of water ways and sewage systems, often through misguided construction projects. But carbon emissions and the resulting global warming exacerbate the erosion problem, as rains are becoming more extreme and flush precious farm lands, forests, buildings and whole roads into greedy gullies. The estimated 3,000 gullies present in southeastern Nigeria vary in size - some are vast complexes of eight kilometers with fingers one or two kilometers long. Flooding and gully erosion is taking a large toll on the health, environment, economic and social assets of mostly poor Nigerians. The World Bank estimates the economic losses from erosion at more than 100 million dollars per year in terms of injuries and premature death, loss of vegetation cover and environmental services, income losses and yield reduction (farm to market mobility disruption), damage to infrastructure (transport, water systems, telecommunications, social infrastructure), as well as private property, social dislocation, and migration.


They might not know that global carbon emissions are the cause of their problems, but millions of Nigerian farmers – both women and men – are living the reality of climate change in form of degrading soils, diminishing harvests and resulting hunger. With further increases in carbon emissions, food security will be under extreme stress in Nigeria as large areas of land will become useless. Long-term records show that over the past 105 years, the average amount of rainfall per year dropped by 81 mm. As temperatures increase, agricultural outputs decline because of high evaporation rates, reduced soil moisture, lowering of the groundwater table and shrinking of surface water. Heat stress reduces farmers’ productivity and leads to rapid deterioration and wastage of farm produce. The biggest obstacle, however, is lack of knowledge on how to adapt to the changing climate – only 5% of Nigerian farmers have access to improved, climate resilient seeds. Bush burning remains a significant source of carbon emissions and is the no.2 emitter in Nigeria, after gas flaring in the Niger Delta.


Global warming has raised global sea level about 8 inches since 1880, and the rate of rise is accelerating. Rising seas dramatically increase the odds of damaging floods from storm surges. A Climate Central analysis finds that the likelihood of so-called century floods occurring will double until 2030. A climate change projection map for Lagos shows how the megacity will be flooded: under a 2 degree global warming scenario, coastal areas such as Lekki Phase I will be totally submerged whilst Lagos Island and Amuwo Odofin will be partially under water. Under a 4 degree global warming scenario, a huge area of Lagos would be under water, from the Lekki Free Trade Zone and its new deep sea port (currently under construction) all the way north to Surulere and Lagos Mainland. The catastrophic flooding of 2012 will repeat itself many times over, as rivers suddenly swell with excessive rains.


Even before the violence in the North East spiraled out of control, young populations in northern Nigeria were facing an extremely devastated environment. Water shortages led to farmlands turning into sand dunes and the number of kidney patients was rising as people simply did not have enough drinking water. There is a steady and silent movement of thousands of people southwards, all the way from Lake Chad to Sokoto and Kebbi States, as the land does not feed its people any longer. The southward movement will soon be met by a northward movement of climate refugees from flooded zones in Nigeria’s coastal regions. When all of these internally displaced people converge in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, increasing conflict is the likely scenario, with a wide variety of manifestations such as farmer-herder conflicts, community clashes over access to water, tension between so-called indigenes and so-called settlers, legal action of landlords versus farm workers, and more.