What We Learned from Attending the Environmental Roundtable Discussion for Africa

The International Environment Roundtable for Africa (IERA) took place last week Thursday, 1st September. Co-founder of Green Habitat Abdulmumin Tanko and I (Sadiq) joined fellow environmentalists from Nigeria and other African countries at the event organized by GreenLife Magazine in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja. The theme of the one day event centered on “curbing environmental degradation & climate change through activism.” The conference organizer has gathered the Honourable Minister for State on Environment Ibrahim Usman, the coordinator UNEP climate change Programme  in person of Dr Richard Munang, and other notable people to raise their voice on how environmentalism should be done in the country.

Founders of Green Habitat

L-R: Sadiq Gulma, Abdulmumin Tanko and Umar Mahmud

 

Two discussions were held as part of the event. The first was with a group of students from neighbouring Universities of Abuja, Nassarawa and Minna tagged the African Environment Town Hall. The students discussed how government can step up dedication and efforts to fight environmental degradation. The key areas where the discussants felt the government can do more are on waste disposal, afforestation programmes and early environmental education. It was important to listen to them understand how environmental policies can improve our environment. I 100% agree on their deliberations, especially on early  environmental education.

The main discussion of the day had 6 people on the table. Mr Uche Agbanusi, the former president of the Nigerian Environmental Society (NES),  Dr Richard Munang, the Minister of State for Environment, Dr Newton Jibunoh of Fight Against Desert Encroachment (FADE) Foundation and the Deputy Director of Environmental Protection Agency of Ghana, Mr Appiah.

Aggregating the 2 different discussions of the day, these are the lessons and messages that made the strongest call.

Activism: start early and start now

It is not that it has not started, but environmental activism needs to increase. African (environmental) activism needs to dream bigger, echoed Dr. Munang. Sensitization must increase in order for the local people living in villages not to continue cutting down trees to make charcoal and sell on the roads. Deforestation can be disastrous in many ways. Africa as a continent is losing $68 billion annually to land degradation. People ought to know the harmful effects of climate change, reiterated the Minister. Quite frankly, if many people become aware of their actions on the environment and the corresponding effect, they will be moved to change their actions. If one tree is cut down, what is lost? Programmes discouraging deforestation must translate all results of cutting down a tree to the people.

Dr. Munang comprehensively answered the follow up question on how big we can dream. “It is not just about going from door to door and organizing seminars. Government policies should also encourage environment friendly acts.” Such policies for instance can mean giving tax incentives to companies providing renewable energy solutions such as 0% VAT. Although, a proper framework must be put in place for ideas like these to flourish. The government and all other key stakeholders must act together to improve and make such guidelines, reiterated Mr. Appiah.

If we do not act now, we will always be playing the catch up game.

Define an Effective Communication Strategy

How do you explain climate change to someone who does not know what climate is? Most environmental NGOs get it wrong when communicating climate change says the former president of NES. Take erosion for instance. In a typical geography or environmental science class, the teacher can simply mention desert encroachment and erosion to be exacerbated by climate change. This may not be easily communicated to a layman but what can and should be said is something peculiar and comprehendible to them. A discussant mentioned that erosion can be explained by pointing to a building whose earlier buried foundation has now become exposed because the sands have been washed away.

The communication strategy is key and should be clearly spelt out in order to make impact. Inform them where you are going with your activism, why you are doing it, what you are doing and other basic but important questions. The local people have to be carried along and should be made to see and understand the whole process involved. They shouldn’t be left in the dark.

Localize Environmental Activism

Solutions from abroad cannot work for most African cities, Ibrahim Usman stated. Africa and Nigeria have peculiar problems that need local innovations and actions. Even in Nigeria, the challenges in Abuja are to some extent different from those in other states. It is therefore important that when environmentalists communicate environmental protection and conservation to local people, they should speak of how the environment affects the local people.

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All Panelists of IERA 2016 (credits: IERA2016.com)

The event rounded up by the organizers honouring some people in their quest for environmentalism. Mr Richard Munang was awarded the African Environment Hero Award, Dr Newton Jibunoh got the Environment Legacy Award for his work on desertification. The Nigerian Television Authority was awarded the (environment) TV channel for screening two TV programmes on environment every week. Sterling Bank got award for its Corporate Social Responsibility .

Generally, the discussions were fruitful and added dedication to how serious Nigeria is on fighting climate change. But the main act is translating the talk into action. What are you doing to protect the environment?

 

Behrendt & Rausch FotografieSadiq Abubakar Gulma steers the organizational mission of Green Habitat. He is a member of the Green Talents International Forum for High Potentials in Sustainable Development, a LEED accredited green building professional and has a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering. His research interest and work lie in investigating and improving the thermal conditions of urban built environments. Follow him on Twitter @TheCivineer

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2 Responses to What We Learned from Attending the Environmental Roundtable Discussion for Africa

  1. Nasiru Lawal says:

    Impressed by the way young generations are taking up the environmental challenge. I must say this is a remarkable achievement Sir Gulma. My take and contribution though very late is that, if we must achieve sustainable environmental awareness or campaign, we must employ the ” INTEGRATED APPROACH”. As regions, areas and places have peculiar characteristics and so they have peculiar environmental problems/challenges. It is very important that we understand the human-spatial relationships that exist in that environment and their underlining factors that leads to unsustainable use of that space in question. By integrated approach, I mean religion, locations, commercial activities and culture of the people of that environment. I could remember visiting some villages around Mountain Elgon National Park in Uganda, where residents of that area were restricted from using the forest for fire wood. But these people were not completely denied access to other forest services such as: using the bamboo shuts, each woman is allowed to get dry wood from the forest and so many services which are at the regenerative potential of the forest. The most interesting part is that these forest users, (women mostly) were given alternative to forest services. Government in collaboration with certain NGO’s provided Micro loans to these women and trained them on how to use such loans in establishing them selves, some were given sheeps/cattle to rear not for beef or dairy but for their excrete as it serves as a major input in Biomass technology which is an alternative to fire wood. There are many of such initiatives where you can only achieve sustainable environment if you provide environmental users with an alternative and bring them on board in your quest as stakeholders. This happens also when indigenous people of Mount Elgon were employed as officers and staffs of that forest reserve. On religion, we have imams and pastors who knows very well what their religion says about using resources of the environment in an unsustainable way(things like:waste, extravagance). There, they can come up with programs that will help reduce waste at least to environment’s carrying capacity. I hope this will help. Thank you for your tireless efforts in making the sustainable development dreams come true..
    Nasiru Lawal
    Bsc. Geography
    Msc. Environmental Science.

    Like

    • Dear Nasiru Lawal,
      Thank you very much for following up and reading our blog. Your insight to the problem is apt. It is just what we need, realistic views and solutions to our peculiar problems. From my experience of living and noticing what is going on in Nigeria, I would say the integrative approach is not fully utilized. We (problem solvers) often times do not acknowledge some of the problems that exist. Instead, the focus is just on solving the aspect of the problem we want to solve and in the way we want to address it, not the right way. There is a bit of obsession with just doing for doing sake and not doing very well to eradicate the problem. At Green Habitat, we are striving to do a very good job in our quests.
      Please keep sharing your views, perhaps some may see the ideas you are sharing and pick it up as some thing to do.
      Thank you.

      Sadiq Gulma.

      Like

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