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Deforestation: Fuel for climate change

Deforestation, according to the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, is the cutting or clearing of trees and forests covering a large area without replanting them. National Geographic Education defines it as the purposeful clearing of forested land. This means that those who deforest do so for some reason. The DGB Group makes the purposes of deforestation more explicit, as it defines deforestation as the removal of forests by humans, either for timber or to clear land for other uses such as agriculture or urbanisation.

From history and fast forward until now, forests have been razed for agriculture, animal grazing, and to obtain wood for fuel, manufacturing, and construction. Deforestation has greatly altered landscapes around the world, and Nigeria is the worst hit. According to the United Nations, the country that loses 3.7% of its forest annually has the highest deforestation rate in the world.

Nigeria in 2020 lost 97.8 kilohectares of natural forest, equating to 59.5 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions. The Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) substantiated this in its report, which revealed that the country had lost 96% of its original forests due to deforestation.

The Forest Carbon Partnership disclosed in October 2021 that over 400,000 hectares of forests are cleared each year across the country. Primarily driving the forest loss are the demand for fuelwood and construction timber, as well as agricultural expansion, mining, and infrastructure development, which are worsened by other indirect drivers including poverty, governance issues, technology constraints, and cultural factors.

Legal and illegal logging resulting from corruption and weak law enforcement also contributes to deforestation, while uncontrolled or poorly regulated urbanisation cannot be exonerated. As cities continue to grow, the need becomes compelling and sometimes irresistible to destroy forests, especially in urban areas.

This, as noted in a DBG Group article entitled “Deforestation in Nigeria: Causes, Effects, and Solutions,”, makes deforestation a pressing issue in the country with significant impacts on both the environment and the people who rely on it.

Link to climate change

Khalid Raji’s January 2022 article entitled “Challenges facing Policies Against Deforestation in Nigeria”, published on Earth.org, argued that “Deforestation is a global problem, and its ramifications for climate change are undeniable”.

“Trees absorb and store carbon dioxide. If forests are cleared or even disturbed, they release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases,” the World Wide Fund for Nature WWF noted. Besides, forest loss and damage have been identified as responsible for around 10% of global warming.

Climate Council argued that, averaged over 2015–2017, global loss of tropical forests contributed about 4.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year (or about 8-10% of annual human emissions of carbon dioxide).

Deforestation-induced destruction of carbon sinks and burning of fossil fuels, among other unwholesome activities, have collectively built up more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than can possibly be absorbed from existing carbon sinks such as forests. This carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere drives global warming by trapping heat in the lower atmosphere. Consequent upon this, carbon dioxide has reached its historically highest levels.

An easy deduction here is that it is impossible to successfully fight the climate crisis without stopping deforestation. Therefore, the fight against deforestation must be viewed from the angle of its ability to worsen the impacts of the climate crisis.

The effects of deforestation are profound, both for the environment and human beings. One of them is the disruption of the natural balance of the ecosystem, which leads to soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, and changes in the local climate. It also triggers the release of large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while the local population is not spared its negative consequences, which include slimming access to clean water and increasing the risk of flooding and landslides.

Loss of trees and other vegetation can cause desertification (desert encroachment), as prominently witnessed in Northern Nigeria. Soil erosion is one of the most troubling environmental challenges confronting the southern part of the country, while agricultural yield is hugely undermined. Other resultant impacts of deforestation are flooding, which is becoming a perennial experience across almost all the states of the federation, increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and a host of problems for indigenous people.

Efforts to stop deforestation in Nigeria

In October 2021, Nigeria launched the REDD+ strategy to curb deforestation and reduce forest-related emissions that contribute to climate change. The strategy was put together to guide the implementation of new approaches.

Also at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, Nigeria and 104 other countries committed themselves to ending deforestation by 2030, while they also promised to raise $19.2 billion in public and private funds between now and 2030.  In July of that year, Nigeria submitted its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the United Nations in fulfilment of the COP 21 held six days earlier. Nigeria’s NDC, updated in 2021, pledged an unconditional contribution of 20% below business-as-usual by 2030 and a 47% contribution conditional on international support.

The commitments by those 105 countries have been linked to the fact that they occupy about 85 percent of the world’s forest. Some of the $19.2 billion is expected to be channelled to developing countries to restore the damaged environment.

What has happened to such a high level of commitment by the immediate past administration of President Muhammadu Buhari? Is Nigeria itching towards such a lofty destination? Your guess is as good as mine.

Facing the future

Protecting natural ecosystems and sustainably managing and re-establishing forests are important ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow down temperature rise in the short term by drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. At the same time, we must deeply and rapidly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions levels from fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas. If we do only the former and not the latter, we risk transforming more and more of our carbon sinks into carbon sources as climate change progresses.

The future must be faced with some drastic and decisive actions. The country must promote sustainable agriculture. This helps in reducing the pressure on forests, which can be achieved through the adoption of better farming techniques, such as conservation agriculture, agroforestry, and the use of improved seeds and fertilisers. Another measure is sustainable forestry practises, which include selective logging, reforestation, and afforestation.

Relevant laws must be patriotically and stringently enforced to undermine the efforts of illegal loggers and other activities contributing to deforestation. Equally critical to the efforts to reduce deforestation is the need to reduce corruption to the barest minimum and reverse its destructive effects on the environment and society.

Nigeria cannot afford to sleep on its commitments towards ending deforestation. The 2030 target is still visible, but the needed political will must be demonstrated by the government of the day at all levels. Seven years are good enough to achieve commendable results, even if, for anything, the ultimate destination (ending deforestation by 2030) remains elusive. 

Hasty commitments and sluggish implementation of international agreements and resolutions are bad for the nation’s image. Stronger political will, deeper commitment, and greater efforts are solicited towards achieving the deforestation goal by 2030. If we patriotically pursue the lofty goal in the next seven years, we will undoubtedly reap massive benefits.

Writing by Alfred Ajayi; Editing by Saadatu Albashir and Julian Osamoto

This is an instalment of our weekly climate change series! In the series, we explore valuable information about climate change and its far-reaching implications. Our aim is to increase awareness and foster a better understanding of this pressing global issue.