In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified Africa as one of the most vulnerable continents to climate change though it contributes barely 4% to global heating. IPCC also characterized Nigeria as a climate change “hot spot” where major weather shifts would be before 2100.
Events over the last decade show that these shifts are already on us. And the impact of these on poor working people has been devastating.
In 2012, the country witnessed the worst floods in its history. 7.7 million people were affected in 32 out of its 36 states. More than half a million homes were destroyed, leaving 363 people killed 2.1 million became internally displaced. Ever since then, the rainy season has been marked with heavy floods. Ocean surges and rising sea levels have also submerged several villages in coastal states.
By 2015, 35% of the country’s total landmass had been affected by desertification. States affected are in the northern Sahel region. Lake Chad in this region used to be the sixth-largest lake in the world. But it has shrunk by 90% over the past forty years.
The combination of desertification and drying up of rivers and lakes has been a significant factor in the sharp increase of violent clashes between cattle herders and farming communities. These have left thousands of poor people killed in recent years.
Deforestation is one of the reasons for desertification in the northern states. But it occurs in all other regions as well. More than 14% of primary forest has been lost in the past eight years alone. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, Nigeria has the highest rate of deforestation in the world. This is driven by timber export, logging, construction, and subsistence agriculture.
The federal government’s response to climate change has been a sham at best. It has failed to make oil companies stop gas flaring. Despite setting a deadline six times, this is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. This is despite six deadlines – 1979, 1984, 2004, 2008, 2016 and 2020.
It organizes behavioral change campaigns for rural persons to stop using wood for fuel towards curbing deforestation. But it fails to address the poverty behind this use. The price of kerosene which most poor farmers otherwise use to cook has shot through the roof. Attention is also not paid to for-profit deforestation activities of businesses.
Each year government warns of impending floods and advises people to relocate. But most of those affected live in overcrowded shantytowns in the first place because they could not afford better housing. But when floods come, private companies get tax breaks for donating to provide food and clothing to internally displaced people.
Workers and other poor people are getting increasingly concerned about the impact of climate change on their lives. Newspapers and electronic media help spread the message.
But most people are yet to connect this revenge of nature and the profiting-making system of capitalism that exploits working people and the environment alike. Most NGOs are content with proposal-driven workshops and small-scale demonstrations.
The trade unions have not prioritized climate change campaigns. They have not also been speaking out for poor people to be protected from floods and provided with alternatives to wood for fuel.
SWL activists in the trade unions, campuses, and communities have argued for the need to struggle for “system change and not climate change.” This led to the Young Workers Movement (which brings together young trade unionists from all sectors) joining the 2019 Climate Day of Action.
We can stop the climate crisis and the barbarism of capitalism only with a solid international movement of working-class people and youth. Activists in the trade unions and social movements need to argue for mass action and campaigns that prioritize this.
For more voices on climate change from the Global South, see here in the Socialist Worker (Britain)