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Climate change: Matters arising

Original title: "Which Will Happen First; World War Three or Climate Catastrophe?"

With the drums of war sounding in almost all continents of the world and with the climate issues long pushed to the other rooms with no elephant, these three-part articles will bring into discussion once again the fears and anxiety that I have shared in this column follow by my thoughts in the last 40 years. Next week, part 2 will examine the threat of nuclear war

FOLLOWING the cataclysmic events that marked the end of World War II, the World witnessed a profound transformation. The devastation left by this global conflict was etched into the annals of history, serving as a stark reminder of humanity’s capacity for destruction. Yet, from the ashes of this war-torn world arose a glimmer of hope – the birth of the United Nations in 1945. The United Nations emerged as a beacon of cooperation, a symbol of our collective commitment to prevent further global catastrophes. Its framework allowed for the addressing of various global issues, including conflict resolution, health and environmental concerns, education and cultural promotion, territorial expansion, peaceful military interventions, and nuclear proliferation.

The UN, by default, has succeeded in stopping another global conflict to date. It has succeeded in galvanising the world to respond to environmental catastrophes, natural disasters, hunger, and epidemic. The UN has taken a front seat in the fight against Climate Change, but global response to this probable existential threat to normal life here on earth is largely dependent on good faith promises from member nations.

The United Nations has not had much success in curbing expansionist military incursions in many hotspots around the world. This is partly because the UN has no military force of its own. Whenever one is created, it is a toothless police force strictly designed for peacekeeping and contributed by some member nations.

The failure is also in part due to the complicity of some of the members of the UN Security Council in these conflicts, the same body that was meant to strike down international conflicts decisively. With the respective veto powers of the five permanent members, the Security Council is perfectly structured to never reach a consensus on issues where their national interests are involved. This subjective power ushered in the fractured state that the UN became in the 20th Century when ideological battles and wars were fought between the USA and the Western Democracies on the one hand, and the USSR and the Eastern Block of Communist countries on the other hand.

Post World War II and until the last days of 1991, the World was in the throes of the Cold War between the USA and USSR with their allies firmly in tow. So much energy and resources were poured into this war that the World saw the biggest arms race this planet had not seen previously. Having deployed the atomic bombs in Japan to bring all conflicts of the Second World War to an end in 1945, the USA was ahead of the pack with this weapon of mass destruction and all other antagonists and allies alike were rushing to acquire similar nuclear capabilities for themselves.

The power blocs emerged as USA, USSR, GREAT BRITAIN, CHINA, and FRANCE. India joined the Club in 1974, followed by Pakistan in 1998. Sometime before these dates, perhaps as early as late in 1966, Israel too joined the Club but kept it a secret from the public. All these happened despite the fact that the UN had in 1957 set up the International Atomic Nuclear Agency (IAEA) a watchdog body that was meant to advise and advance peaceful use of nuclear power while keeping a watchful eye on rogue states seeking to militarise atomic power. To date, other nuclear power entrants include North Korea. Iran appears not to be far behind in acquiring one. And if it does, Saudi Arabia might follow too. Japan only needs a change in its constitution before taking the nuclear steps if it feels threatened by North Korea and China. So too is Germany (quite remote actually) if Russia continues with its bluster and sabre-rattling in Europe. There is South Korea which is in a dormant truce in its war with North Korea. If the South at any time feels not satisfied with its defence pact with the USA, they will most likely head in the nuclear arms direction.

The short period we have had after the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the USSR has thankfully allowed the World to address another existential threat to the planet Earth. That threat is Climate Change. Quoting from Climate Change History, a narrative by History.com Editors; “Climate change is the long-term alteration in Earth’s climate and weather patterns. It took nearly a century of research and data to convince the vast majority of the scientific community that human activity could alter the climate of our entire planet.

In the 1800s, experiments suggesting that human-produced carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases could collect in the atmosphere and insulate Earth were met with more curiosity than concern. By the late 1950s, CO2 readings would offer some of the first data to corroborate the global warming theory. Eventually an abundance of data, along with climate modelling and real-world weather events would show not only that global warming was real, but that it also presented a host of catastrophic consequences”.

Through dogged persistence by researchers and environmentalists who struggled to explain the weather-induced catastrophes that were becoming alarmingly regular, the issue of climate change and environmental protection gained more attention within the UN in the latter half of the 20th century. One of the significant milestones in addressing this was the signing of the treaty; United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), by 154 countries in 1992 during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The UNFCCC coming into force in 1994 laid the groundwork for subsequent international agreements and efforts to combat climate change.

The next most notable and impactful agreement that followed this historic treaty was the Kyoto Protocol, established in 1997, which set legally binding emission reduction targets for developed countries. Later, the Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015 by 194 parties (193 countries and 1 entity, the European Union), became a landmark treaty under the UNFCCC. It brought nearly all nations of the world together in a shared commitment to combat climate change and limit global warming. The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to keep global temperature rise well below 2 Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with efforts to limit it to 1.5 Celsius with time.

Having reached these historical thresholds, how are the individual countries and united ideological and economic blocks dealing with either of these two threats?

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The Threat of Nuclear War

…we must be vigilant to keep our leaders in check, reign in their evil impulses when we perceive them sprouting, and vote them out of power when the opportunity comes. People like Trump, Putin, and Kim Jong Un should not be given political power of any sort. When they appear, the free world must isolate such leaders. It is a collective effort and a duty of care for all countries on Earth 

THE World we live in today, known to us as the planet Earth, may never be the same again if World War III were to erupt. Tensions have been steadily simmering among countries with nuclear capabilities, with some showing an alarming eagerness to employ these weapons not just for deterrence but out of perceived threats or territorial ambitions.

Nuclear-capable nations are now spread across every continent, except for Africa, where South Africa voluntarily dismantled its nuclear arsenal after the end of apartheid and the presidency of Nelson Mandela. Since the conclusion of World War II, the World has become an increasingly chilly place for these nuclear-armed states and a bed of hot water for the non-nuclear capable. Most countries that proceeded to acquire nuclear arms capability after the Second World War were non-members of NATO or USSR, and as such feared annihilation from belligerent neighbours. This is true of Israel which feared its Arab neighbours, true of India which cast wary eyes over China and Pakistan, true of Pakistan which feared India, and true of South Africa which was willing to commit mass suicide rather than give up Apartheid Governance over the majority indigenous population.

The disintegration of the Soviet Union set most of the East European nations free. Having abandoned their unproductive communist system of governance for a chance at Democracy, they remained wary of the Goliath in the east that has suppressed them for decades, Russia. Unable to join the nuclear arms race partly for economic reasons and partly for deference to the UN’s IAEA, they sought territorial guarantees from NATO. And NATO was ready and willing to accept their candidacy for one small price: commitment to Democracy. Today, NATO has assimilated the whole of Europe under its wings. The result is that Russia’s entire western flank is bordered by NATO countries except for Belarus (‘Little Russia’, a dictatorial ally) and Ukraine (a Western ally on the verge of joining NATO) with whom Russia is currently at war.

The Russian-Ukraine war is nothing but a territorial grab by Russia. It wants Ukraine to abandon attempts to join NATO and remain under Russia’s influence, this is even though Russia granted independence to Ukraine in 1991. The United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia signed the Budapest Memorandum on December 5, 1994, along with Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The memorandum affirmed Ukraine’s security and sovereignty in exchange for giving up its nuclear weapons (part of the old Soviet Union’s stockpile) to Russia. What Ukraine feared and sought international guarantees against in 1994, had come back to destroy it in 2014 and 2022. Ukraine is now locked in a war of survival against Russia, which is bent on annihilating the country and has threatened the latter and its allies with the use of nuclear weapons at some point in the future.

Ukraine’s war with Russia is the nightmare of most non-nuclear armed nations of the world. That is precisely why smaller nations that have the economy to support the acquisition of such weaponry would proceed to clandestinely acquire it when their very existence becomes threatened. Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea fit into such category. Other countries may be doing so as of now without our knowledge. Big nations that still nurse expansionist ambitions are the cause of these quests for nuclear arms. Due to technological advances, conventional warfare is becoming difficult to win. The days of blitzkriegs with columns of armoured tanks and infantry troops trotting behind under cover are over.

Missiles, air bombardments with airplanes, and drones now play major roles in battles. Precisely for those reasons, nuclear weapons delivered with intercontinental ballistic missiles (IBMs) look so attractive.

In a previous article titled “Food Before We Die,” I wrote that “Russia may not stop with Ukraine. With the love Putin shares with Donald Trump, both of them may be preparing the grounds if Trump becomes the president again to bring back the old Soviet Union under Russian control and, as such, we might be looking at a new map of Europe without NATO and without European Union as is known today. Some of us have not forgotten that Putin played some part in the election of Donald Trump as the president of United States of America in 2016. It is, therefore, possible that both of them may have agreed to make NATO obsolete and start the process of dismantling Europe.

With that in mind, let us look at the scenario that Putin is not able to take Ukraine completely because of support from the USA and Europe, and Trump fails to become president in 2024, then the fear shared by many of us is that Putin may fall back to his nuclear arsenal and, if that happens, the World may once again experience another world war. This time it will be fought with nuclear missiles and bombs. With nine nations including North Korea sending missiles to each other, there will be nothing left of the beautiful planet as we know it because the radioactive fallout from such a war will render good parts of the world unliveable even for its unborn children. We know what happened in Japan from 1945 to recent. Some scientists have also posited that if all nuclear arsenals in the world were to be exploded on Earth, the detonation forces would be strong enough to knock the planet off its axis.

A similar shadow of conquest looms in the Asia-Pacific region, where if tensions were to escalate between China and Taiwan with its ally United States of America over control of the South China Sea corridor, a war could break out. This raises the question: Will China’s expansionist ambitions if it wins the war stop at Taiwan’s doorstep or continue further afield?

In the Middle East, Israel clings to its nuclear capabilities, preferring to mobilise allies in Western countries to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Yet, some argue that allowing Iran to have nuclear capabilities might bring peace, similar to what happened between India and Pakistan.

Fortunately, we have not reached the threshold for deploying the nuclear options, but it may well be in the very near future. One may then ask; “Why haven’t we had a nuclear confrontation since 1945”? There are no simple answers, but a few reasons are worth stating.

Firstly, the sheer scale of destruction when atomic bombs are deployed is unimaginable. For a leader to do that in this modern world is mostly incomprehensible.

Secondly, the after-effects of radiation from the bombs linger for a long time and since radiation is airborne, it knows no boundaries.

Thirdly, the principle of mutually assured destruction deters crazy leaders from engaging in nuclear warfare. For instance, a nuclear pre-emptive strike on a nuclear-armed nation will not possibly knock out all of its nuclear arsenals. So, there will be retaliatory strikes leading to mutual destruction of the warring nations. In other words, there will be no winners, both will incur incalculable losses.

It thus appears that the main reason for acquiring nuclear weapons is for deterrent purposes. However, we must be vigilant to keep our leaders in check, reign in their evil impulses when we perceive them sprouting, and vote them out of power when the opportunity comes. People like Trump, Putin, and Kim Jong Un should not be given political power of any sort. When they appear, the free world must isolate such leaders. It is a collective effort and a duty of care for all countries on Earth.

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The Threat of Climate Change

…our forests, the lungs of our planet are facing unprecedented challenges. The lush greenery of Africa and the Amazon, once abundant sources of life have been depleted at an alarming rate. These ecosystems have borne the brunt of human activities, giving way to infrastructural developments without adequate replenishment. As the forests disappear, we lose not only biodiversity but also critical carbon sinks that help regulate our climate

MEANWHILE, the spectre of climate change draws ever closer to our doorsteps, affecting nearly every corner of the globe. From the cruel wildfires that ruined the beautiful Hawaiian Island of Maui, bushfires in Algeria that reduced towns to rubbles, wildfires in Canada (of all places) that blanketed eastern USA down to the Gulf of Mexico with smoke, wildfires in California that burnt down hundreds of hectares of land turning them into deserts for the incoming floods to wash away in mudslides, to earthquakes in Morocco, floods in Nigeria and Libya, and desertification in Syria. Communities worldwide are grappling with nature’s fury. Although earthquakes are not consequences of climate change, the sufferings that follow these earthquakes are made worse by the adverse weather conditions caused by climate change.

In my most recent article, “Climate Change with a Vengeance”, I stated that, “our forests, the lungs of our planet are facing unprecedented challenges. The lush greenery of Africa and the Amazon, once abundant sources of life have been depleted at an alarming rate. These ecosystems have borne the brunt of human activities, giving way to infrastructural developments without adequate replenishment. As the forests disappear, we lose not only biodiversity but also critical carbon sinks that help regulate our climate”.

Regions of the Sahel, which include Senegal, Mauritania, Mail, Niger, Chad, Sudan, and Eritrea, and those bordering the Sahel face ongoing desertification (desert Encroachment and environmental degradation). More than sixteen countries in Africa and some other continents are affected by desertification, primarily due to a combination of environmental, climatic, and human factors.

I have personally explored the growing impact of climate change on our world. Quoting from my book titled “How Little We Are”, “The Sahara is the largest hot desert in the World with an area of 9,200,000 square kilometres which is comparable to the area of China or the United States. My findings and knowledge of the terrain, which is slightly different from other deserts like the Gobi Desert and the Negev Desert, informed the content of my initial briefing to the government, and all that led to proving how little we are for not understanding nature.”

I cannot stop wondering about how much nature has given us and how little it has received in return. There is a quote that says, “If all mankind were to disappear, the world will regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. But if insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos”. For such a tiny part of the entire ecosystem, humans have contributed the most to its deteriorating state. The world’s 7.6 billion people only represent just 0.01 percent of all living things on earth.

Governments worldwide are making efforts at the local, national, and international levels to combat desertification and promote sustainable land management practices to protect this fragile ecosystem and improve the well-being of their communities. Here in Nigeria, these efforts must be relentless. I have heard arguments from highly placed personalities that since we barely burn enough fossil fuels in Nigeria that could impact the Ozone layer we should slow down on implementing the protocols required of us by the Paris Accord. This argument is flawed for the following reasons and more.

Firstly, we need to look at the totality of our carbon footprints. We may not have as many vehicles on our roads as the Europeans. We may not have as much industrialisation as they do either, but our vehicles, generators, forest destruction, overgrazing, and desertification taken together more than produce a sizeable quantity of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

Secondly, relying on such arcane arguments will breed complacency in adopting mitigating measures to contain disasters. Such disasters include flooding, wildfires, deliberate bushfires, erosion, forest depletion, and coastline erosion. I will give two examples.

  1. Up until the first decade of this Century, the Lagos Bar Beach was eroding at an alarming rate with ocean surges sending sea water to flood Akin Adesola and Ozumba Mbadiwe Streets. Lagos State proceeded in 2008 to execute shoreline measures to protect the beach from further erosions. Now what was the cause of the ocean surges and beach erosions? Two issues were at play here. The first was that in building the Tin Can Island Port in Apapa some ocean dredging work to allow ships with deep draft to proceed to the new port was carried out. The maintenance of this channel was causing the build-up of sand bars on the ocean floor near the continental shelf (the beach) which in turn was developing strong currents that were eroding the beach. The other reason was that due to global warming, there has been an increased melting of polar ice in both the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans. These have led to about 25mm-75mm rise in sea level worldwide. These numbers may appear too small, but when you have hurricane-force winds driving sea waves at high tides, you can easily end up with waves of water up to 4 meters high hitting the beaches on a regular basis.
  2. In 2012, the Lower Niger Basin suffered from devastating floods that caused massive loss of lives, destruction to homes and farmlands in Kogi, Delta, and Anambra States. Ten years later, in 2022 there was another flooding similar to the first. The first flood was blamed on unprecedented rainfall. In the latter case, the flood was said to be caused by Cameroun who released excess water from their dam to the downstream Benue River channel. The excuses coming from Nigerian authorities were completely lame. Yes, unprecedented rainfall dumped a lot of water in the area in both cases, but that was extreme weather-induced. Yes, Cameroun relieved the pressure on their dam over the Benue River by allowing excess water in the reservoir to drain through the spillways into the downstream channel as they would under such circumstances. Again the excess water in the reservoir was extremely weather-driven. And all these are now occurring with increased frequency. In all these, we forgot to dredge the Benue and the Niger River channels as we were expected to do, or build another dam downstream of the Benue River as requested by the impact assessment study carried out at the time the dam in Cameroun was built. Even twenty-five years after the first Niger Bridge was built, one could still navigate to Onitsha or Lokoja in a big boat or ferry. Today, you cannot do any due to the presence of sand bars and mini islands in the Niger River.

I have for over 30 years sounded alarms to the dangers of ignoring the desertification going on in the north. Overgrazing and desert creep are the primary drivers. It is very easy to set up and maintain grazing fields in the north. We do not need to move our cattle along the roads and farmlands from state to state in search of grass and fodder. Those of us who have been able to travel abroad can see cattle grazing in enclosed fields and paddocks. They are not let loose on the countryside to trample on people’s farms and properties. Nigerians are dying from clashes with Fulani Herdsmen. And we are all looking the other way. That is unconscionable.

Climate change-driven disasters are already affecting our daily lives. From extreme heat, torrential rainfalls, flooding, mudslides, wildfires, hurricanes, typhoons, and tornadoes.

We cannot deny these facts anymore. There is currently a global effort to reduce the amounts of green gases in the atmosphere in order to limit the heating of atmospheric temperatures worldwide. One major element of this global project is the transition to electric vehicles (EV). This will gradually limit the availability of vehicles with internal combustion engine (ICE) which use fossil fuels. Again, some people have argued that Nigeria should not be in a rush to go green since we are an oil-producing nation. Well for starters, we do not even refine the oil that we produce. We also do not manufacture the vehicles or their ICE components. So, if the world shifts to EVs who will produce the ICE ones for us? Besides Nigeria will become liable to Carbon fines on an international level for endangering the planet.

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Which Will Destroy Us, Nuclear Holocaust or Climate Change?

Climate change-induced phenomena occur daily, gradually, but incrementally. It is true that if we do not reign in greenhouse gas emissions, we might reach a point where the heat index will become irreversible leading to a planet burn out at some point

IN terms of immediate catastrophic impact, an all-out nuclear war will obliterate the planet Earth. However, it is expected that before we get to that precipice, cooler heads will prevail.

On the other hand, Climate change-induced phenomena occur daily, gradually, but incrementally. It is true that if we do not reign in greenhouse gas emissions, we might reach a point where the heat index will become irreversible leading to a planet burn out at some point.

As we stand at this crossroads of potential global conflict and environmental crisis, we must heed the lessons of history and the urgent call for collective action before we destroy everything the earth has to offer.

The future remains uncertain, and the question of whether World War III or a Climate catastrophe will come first is one we dare not answer definitively. Instead, let us answer the calls to action, working tirelessly to ensure that neither of these grim scenarios becomes our reality.

Together, we hold the power to shape a future where peace prevails, and our planet thrives. The choice is ours, and the time to act is now. In the face of uncertainty, let us forge a path toward a brighter tomorrow, where cooperation, resilience, and a shared commitment to our World’s well-being will light the way forward.

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