Nigeria’s power situation has been at an all time low since the national grid collapsed early this year. A few days ago, Nathaniel Bassey, a Nigerian gospel music icon, shared an Instagram post with the caption, “Generator Empire”, the economic cost of running offices, businesses, and homes on generators. On Sunday, 5 June, we joined the rest of the global community to observe World Environment Day and I couldn’t but dwell on the environmental cost of using generators, the detrimental impact of air pollution and how to address it.
Exhaust fumes from cars and petrol and diesel-powered generators, smoke from bonfires and emissions from gas flaring significantly contribute to air pollution. Air pollution is responsible for the greatest number of deaths globally, causing an estimated 7 million premature deaths every year. Nine out of 10 people breathe unclean air and people in low and middle-income countries suffer the highest exposures.
The National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) is the agency tasked with the responsibility of protecting and developing Nigeria’s environment and according to the 2014 Act that established it, every Nigerian has a right to clean air. The Act empowers NESREA to provide regulation for improved control of the nation’s air quality and to enhance the protection of all life and resources affected by air quality. Regrettably, the regulations are not adequately enforced and political will has been lacking to tackle some of the most common clean air violations, such as bush burning and emission of fumes.
Nigeria’s air quality ranking
In the IQAir 2021 World Air Quality report, Nigeria was reported to have a PM2.5 concentration that is 6.8 times higher than the World Health Organization (WHO) annual air quality guideline recommends. This placed the country as the 18th most polluted country in the world and Port Harcourt as the most polluted city in Nigeria.
PM2.5 particulate matter is one of six routinely measured air pollutants and is commonly regarded as the most harmful to human health due to its prevalence in the environment and broad range of health effects. It is generated from many sources, the most common human-made being through internal combustion engines, power generation, industrial processes, etc. In 2021, the WHO updated its global air quality guidelines recommending that PM2.5 should not exceed 5 µg/m3 annually.
Solving Nigeria’s environmental problems
Air pollution poses a global threat and this year’s World Environment Day theme, #OnlyOneEarth, provides us with an opportunity to reevaluate how we treat our environment, as well as the chance to come up with collective and individual action plans to join the global drive to protect and restore our planet.
At the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November 2021, President Buhari committed to ensuring that Nigeria cuts its carbon emission to net-zero by 2060. He also pointed out that before this can be achieved, Nigeria required technical and financial support as well as critical infrastructure to be put in place.
Cognizant of the fact that a good number of air pollutants are emitted as a result of human activities, governments and agencies at all levels must commit to ensuring that the NESREA Act is fully implemented, ensuring that proper legal regulation and implementation of all laws regarding clean air should be pursued in full.
Knowledge and awareness on climate change in Nigeria is low. The relevant government agencies and their partners should address the lack of public awareness on harmful environmental practices by providing the required information and improving the level of environmental education among the people — this should be treated as matter of urgency. There is a need to ensure that regulations are enforced, and penalties are applied where there is a lack of adherence.
Government should take note of the fact that the root causes of air pollution and its adverse impacts are predominantly socioeconomic in nature and take steps to tackle this by proposing the affordable use of green and renewable energy alternatives like wind energy and solar power. Beyond being a solution for tackling climate change, investing in these energy sources also offer economic potential as the possible industries that could stem from this could help boost the economy and provide employment opportunities.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, in his message on World Environment Day, said “This planet is our only home. It is vital we safeguard the health of its atmosphere, the richness and diversity of life on Earth, its ecosystems and its finite resources. But we are failing to do so. We are asking too much of our planet to maintain ways of life that are unsustainable. Earth’s natural systems cannot keep up with our demands”.
He warned that forcing the earth to sustain an unsustainable way of life will not only hurt the Earth, but also its inhabitants. A phenomenon we are already experiencing. Making sustainable living our default lifestyle is therefore our only option to guaranteeing that we breath clean air and live healthier lives.
This World Environment Day should serve as a reminder to Nigerians that we cannot afford to be complacent about the issues surrounding our environment. Citizens and government alike must demonstrate full commitment to tackling air pollution to guarantee health and safety for all and for me, it begins with provision of clean energy, which includes having adequate power supply.
What do you commit to doing to reduce air pollution in your community? What do you think you can do to help restore our planet?