The Role of Cross River State in Nigeria’s Fight Against Climate Change

, says a Nigerian activist; Oladosu Adenike, in 2019. Nigeria’s climate has been changing, and this is having a massive negative impact on our country, Nigeria. If you have observed closely, you would see that the duration and intensity of rainfall have increased leading to large runoffs and flash floods in many places across Nigeria. This rainfall variation has been projected to continue, and precipitation in the southern areas of Nigeria is expected to rise.

Droughts have lingered longer in Nigeria, and are expected to continue in Northern Nigeria because of decline in precipitation and rise in temperature. In a country like Nigeria with a population of over 200 million people, climate change is gradually becoming a very serious problem which warrants urgent nationwide attention. And according to a survey conducted in 2015, more than half of Nigeria’s population, (61%) considers climate change to be a major issue of concern. The famous Lake Chad and other lakes in Nigeria have shrunk at an unprecedented rate. For instance, in mid-2019, torrential rainfalls and flash floods hit over 124 LGA within the 36 states and the FCT of Nigeria, displacing over 210,117 people and causing 171 casualties. By the end of the same year, 32 states out of 36 states and FCT were affected, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

African countries like Cameroon, CAR, Cote d’ivoire, Mali, Kenya, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Niger, DRC, Sudan, Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Tanzania were equally affected in the 2019 flood. All of these are caused by the changing global climate, perpetuated by the activities of mankind; industrial or domestic. Before a step further, let us take a short excursus into the import and purports of what constitutes climate change.

Climate is said to “change” when there is a long-term or variation in the average weather patterns that have come to define Earth’s local, regional and global climates. These changes have a wide range of observed impacts on many regions of the world. This can be seen in the sharp increases in extreme temperature which affect millions of people without access to air conditioning, variable rainfall, rise in sea level and flooding, drought and desertification, land degradation and more extreme weather conditions which results in fresh water resources and biodiversity loss (Elisha et al., 2017).

Causes

Globally, changes observed in Earth’s climate since the early 20th century are driven by human activities, especially fossil fuel burning, which raises the heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing the Earth’s average surface temperature to rise. These human-caused (anthropogenic) temperature increases are commonly known as Global Warming. Scientists all over the world attribute the global warming trend observed since the mid-20th century to the human expansion of the greenhouse effect-warming that comes when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from the Earth toward space. Back then in 2015, Nigeria was the 17th biggest CO2 emitter in the world, second to South Africa on the African continent. Carbon dioxide, CO2 is a major contributor to climate change, and certain gases in the atmosphere block heat generated by CO2 and other gases from escaping. Long-lived gases that remain semi-permanently in the atmosphere and do not respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature are described as “forcing” climate change. Gases like water vapour, which respond physically and chemically to changes in temperatures, are seen as “feedbacks”. Gases that contribute to greenhouse effect include: water vapour, carbon dioxide (CO2), Nitrous oxide, Methane, Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

The consequences of changing the natural atmospheric greenhouse are difficult to predict, but some effects or impacts which seem to be occurring or likely to occur include:

• On average, Earth will become warmer. Some regions may see warmer temperatures and others may not.

• Warmer conditions would lead to more evaporation and precipitation (rainfall), but this varies among regions; some becoming dryer, and others wetter.

• A stronger greenhouse effect will warm the oceans and partially melt glaciers and ice sheets, increasing sea level. Ocean water, no doubt, will expand if it warms, contributing to further sea level rise.

• Aside from the greenhouse effect, higher atmospheric CO2 levels can both have positive and negative impacts on crop yield. Some scientists have come up to say that elevated CO2 levels can increase plant growth

The Solution to Nigeria’s Climate Crisis

While Nigeria is probably best known today for its oil deposits, the country is also home to a rich diversity of forests and wildlife, including at least 899 species of birds, 274 mammals, 154 reptiles, 53 amphibians, and 4,715 species of higher plants. Biodiversity which is housed in the forest, the world all over is in a state of flux due to advancement in genetics and species extinction. Forests are a stabilizing force for the climate. They regulate the ecosystems. Protect biodiversity, play an integral role in the carbon cycle, support livelihoods, and supply food and services that can drive sustainable growth. Forests when sustainably managed can have a central role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Nigeria's forests are some of the most threatened on the planet due to high population growth rates, conversion for subsistence and industrial agriculture, and logging (Rhett Butler, 2014). As of late 2012, nearly half of Nigeria is forested (defined as land with more than 10 percent tree cover), but the country's rainforests are fast declining. According to the U.N., Nigeria lost nearly 80 percent of its old-growth forests between 1990 and 2005, giving the dubious distinction of having the highest deforestation rate of natural forest on the planet during that period.

Most of Nigeria's rainforests are located in the Niger River Delta. The country's dense forests are concentrated in the states of Cross River, Bayelsa, Edo, Ekiti, Ondo, Osun, Rivers, and Taraba. Together those eight states account for nearly 95 percent of Nigeria's land area that has more than 50 percent tree cover. Many of Nigeria’s thick rainforests are concentrated in Cross River State. Not only does Cross River State encompass one of the single largest remaining tropical rainforests in the country, it also houses some of the nation’s known biodiversity, including endemic and endangered flora and fauna. Cross River state, whose native name is Oyono, is a coastal state in the southern region of Nigeria. With a total surface area of 20,156 km2 (the 19th biggest state in Nigeria), it borders Benue state to the north, Ebonyi state and Abia state to the west, to the south by Akwa Ibom state and Atlantic Ocean, and Cameroon to the east.

Cross River State tropical rainforest is unique in the fact that it has a high annual rainfall of over 4,000mm and a relatively short dry season. The closed canopy cover and scattered emergent trees (reaching 40 to 50 meters in height) of the thick rainforest surrounding the state of Cross River helps regulate temperature and humidity, and is intricately responsible for nationwide or and regional climate patterns through hydrological cycles that depend on the forests. Given the enormous amount of carbon stored in the thick rainforests of Cross River, it has a tremendous potential to alter the nation’s climate negatively or positively if the resource is properly managed.

It is often said that from the soaring plateaus of the mountain tops of Obanliku to the rainforests of Afi, from the Waterfalls of Agbokim and Kwa to the spiraling ox-bow Calabar River, Ikom monoliths there is always a thrilling adventure awaiting the eco-tourist visiting Cross River State. But in the rising and falling landscape of Cross River lies the solution to Nigeria’s climate misfortunes. Equally impressive are the unfathomable numbers of mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles found across the biome.

The role played by this Nigerian state; Cross River is synonymous in context, but not in magnitude, to the role the Amazon plays in the regulation of global climate. Cross River state has the largest area of undisturbed rainforest in the country, and has been described as the “Amazon” of Nigeria; seemingly going unendingly in the Cameroons. The Cross River National Park covers approximately 4,000km2 (bigger than the size of Lagos State) and the terrain is tough, with hilly escarpments, steep valleys and peaks that rise to about a thousand meter. Divided into two parts; the Oban Division (established 1988) and the Okwangwo Division (established 1991), the Oban parts of the forest has an estimated 1,558 plant species, 77 of which are endemic to Nigeria. It is found out that over 60% of Nigeria’s endangered plant and animal species are found only within these forests. These, of course, include the 132 tree species that are listed by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre as globally threatened. As many as 200 species can be recorded from a single 0.05ha plot, a diversity exceptionality witnessed only in the Amazons of South America. These trees also attract butterflies, making the forests richer in butterflies than any other part of Africa.

The Okwangwo Division of the forest is home to about 80% of all wild primate species in Nigeria (Bradt Guide, 2021). This is where the famous Cross River gorillas share the habitat space with other mighty primates like drills and chimpanzees. Other rare species which can be found here include leopard, small antelope, a variety of monkeys, buffalos and forest elephants. The gorilla which was declared extinct in Nigeria over 40 years was rediscovered in 1987, and the huge international publicity that followed this event, made the government to gazette Cross River National Park in 1988. My recent travel through Odukpani down to Calabar was nothing short of an exciting experience. The rainforest found here are some of the richest and oldest across Africa, and reports by biologists and naturists as far back as the 1920s, emphasize its extreme biological richness. Cross River state was the first state to have a forestry commission in Nigeria, as well as the first logging moratorium in 2000.

Although Nigeria belongs to major negotiating blocs at international climate talks like the Paris Agreement, the G77 and China, the African Group, and the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, the Nigerian government has not yet made any substantial progress to this end. In 2006, Nigeria’s federal government introduced a Natural Forest Policy in a bid to curb deforestation. This national policy was ratified by all states of the federation, but was not enforced and so, hence contributing little impact on deforestation figures. Nigeria is one of a number of African countries with a growing youth climate movement, and the fact that many of them have spoken up so strongly against climate change in recent times should send them a message, or perhaps tell them they are not doing things the right way.

Halting the loss and degradation of forest ecosystems and promoting their restoration have the potential to contribute over one-third of the total climate change mitigation that scientists say is required by 2030 to meet the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement. Forests provide USD 75-100 billion per year in goods and services such as clean water and health soils globally. Forests are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. By strengthening forest management, FAO supports and encourages countries to achieve sustainable forest management, which is an effective framework for forest-based climate change mitigation and adaptation. Good forest management secures the survival of forest ecosystems and enhances their environmental, socio-cultural and economic functions. It can both maximize forest’s contribution to climate change mitigation and help forests and forest-dependent localities to adapt to new conditions caused by climate change. In 2019, President Buhari announced the country’s commitment to mobilise Nigerian youths towards planting 25 million trees to enhance Nigeria’s carbon sink at a UN climate summit in New York, USA. What has become of that opinion or pronouncement? Nigeria had also committed to restoring 4 million hectares of forest under the Bonn Challenge, a global tropical forest restoration project sponsored by the government of Germany and the International Union of Nature (IUCN). What has been done in that regard? Just this year, the federal government approved a new National Forest Policy aimed at “protecting ecosystems’ while enhancing social development. What is the level of follow up and implementation on this policy?

From farm to fork, I still very much believe in the fact that it is largely the responsibility of our government to provide the roadmap and direction by which the ethical orientation of a people can be remoulded. Why is our government so lax in enforcing and implementing the various forest protection policies that ought to safeguard the Cross River National park, and many other forest parks in other parts of the country? What stops us from implementing these policies to the hilt? Going through the haystack of our history as an independent state, this and many other ugly narratives, has inevitably become part and parcel of our collective existence as a nation. Too bad! And until our government realizes this, we would continue to make endless walks round the circle in confusion. It is not enough for the government to just generate the interests of the masses by way of bringing up a new policy; they should be able to sustain it over the long while. We should learn as a people to begin implementation on any policy we bring up before the ink dries up on the instrument.

There is no doubt that the mismanagement and neglect that engulfs other Nigerian parks is gradually taking its toll on the Cross River National Park; which portends danger to its rich and unique biodiversity. Though the forests of the park crisscrossing the state are very much in place, it is crystal clear that both divisions of the park are facing the brunt of daily small-scale logging and farming in some areas. And hunting as I write is being practiced, endangering many species like drill, chimpanzee, Preuss’ and Sclater’s guenons, as well as the forest elephant. But one thing I must beg to say is that the illegal farming, hunting and logging activities going on in these forests should be controlled to avert the increasing threat that is currently being faced. Forest landscapes must be restored and rights-based land use must be enabled. Better late than never, if Nigeria really understands the weighty consequences that climate change is causing her, the government ought to be up and doing to make amends while things have not yet gotten out of hand to keep climate within the globally accepted two-degree temperature increase limit. The thick rainforests of Cross River state could be the undeniable game-changer in Nigeria’s sluggish fight against climate change.

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