World Environment Day: ‘Strict Laws Needed to Protect Earth, Meet 2030 SDGs’

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    Over 100 countries marked the 2020 edition of the annual World Environment Day on June 5. Legal Editor, JOHN AUSTIN UNACHUKWU, ADEBISI ONANUGA and ROBERT EGBE sought the views of legal experts on how best Nigeria can protect her biodiversity through appropriate legal frameworks.

    The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on June 5 this year marked the annual World Environment Day, which encourages worldwide awareness and action for the protection of the environment.

    This year’s theme, ‘Biodiversity’, focused on the provision of essential infrastructure that supports life on earth and human development. It is expected that this will help to provide an opportunity for driving public awareness before the 15th meeting of the Parties (COP 15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). COP 15 was expected to take place in October 2020, but will be rescheduled for 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Law’s role in environmental protection

    Minister of State for Environment, Sharon Ikeazor, highlighted the law’s role in environmental protection.

    She said: “It is well known that human activities such as hunting, deforestation unsustainable agricultural practices etc cause biodiversity loss.

    “To protect and preserve our biodiversity and to save our endangered species from extinction we have to create awareness and sensitisation of forest communities, provide alternative livelihoods to the communities to reduce their dependence on the forest and its resources.

    “Most of all, we have to strengthen the enforcement of laws such as the Endangered Species Act through training and development of user friendly guide to the Act.”

    Ikeazor canvassed the need to inculcate the culture of conservation in people but bearing in mind that in some areas people need to be provided wirh alternative livelihoods.

    “We also encourage and teach farmers in forest based communities to practise climate smart agriculture. Also government is combating illegal wildlife trade by promoting plant-based alternatives to the use of endangered species as traditional medicines.

    “Restoration protection and conservation of our biodiversity will not only protect our environment but will create thousands of jobs for our people especially the women and youth.

    I have grown very passionate about conservation ever since joining the ministry and mangrove and wetlands conservation and restoration has interested me.

    I commend the efforts of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society, Rachel Ikemeh and Iroro Tanshi and all great conservationists. Let us restore, conserve and protect our biodiversity. It is Time for Nature” Ikeazor added.

    Biodiversity Convention

    Vice-Chancellor, Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. O. A. Fagbohun (SAN), who assessed how Nigeria can achieve Biodiversity sustainability, recalled that in December 2000, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed May 22 as International Day for Biodiversity (IDB) to commemorate the final adoption of the Convention on Biological Diversity (Biodiversity Convention) on 22 May 1992.

    He said: “Since then, the UN Conference on Biodiversity (CBD) has been organising the Conference of Parties (COP) meetings to commemorate IDB.

    Between 2002 and 2019, UN CBD set different themes for IDB, ranging from forest biodiversity (2002); biodiversity and poverty alleviation (2003 & 2011); biodiversity: food, water and health for all (2004 & 2019); marine biodiversity (2012); island biodiversity (2014); and biodiversity for sustainable development (2015), to mention a few.

    “So far, 14 COP meetings have been held by UN CBD. On September 5, 2019, the theme for the IDB 2020, which will feature 15th meeting of COP (COP 15), was announced by Executive Secretary of the UN CBD, in conjunction with the Government of People’s Republic of China to be ‘Ecological Civilisation: Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth’, and will hold in China. The theme has, however, since changed to ‘Our Solutions Are in Nature’.”

    Fagboun noted that while the Biodiversity Convention is the main and leading international instrument on protection and conservation of biodiversity generally, there are other biodiversity-related conventions that pertain to specific areas of biodiversity.

    Other conventions

    The VC noted that the UN CBD listed them as the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species; the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (1975); the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (2004); the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (1971); the World Heritage Convention (1972); the International Plant Protection Convention (1952); and the International Whaling Commission (1946). In Africa, the African Union Convention on Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources 2003 also protects biodiversity.

    Fagbohun said: “The principal objectives of the Biodiversity Convention are stated in Article 1 to be conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its component and equitable sharing of the benefit of the benefits arising from its genetic resources. In Article 2, biological diversity is defined to mean the variability among living organisms from all sources including terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems.”

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    Why law must protect environmental biodiversity

    According to him, the survival of the human race is closely tied to sustainable use and exploitation of various areas and aspects of nature’s biodiversity.

    “The food we eat, the water we drink, the books we read, the houses we live in, the air we breathe, including other things we value and enjoy are all products of our biodiversity.

    Therefore, any grave damage caused to the natural environment by human conduct such as unsustainable deforestation and logging, irreparable water pollution and over-exploitation of wildlife will, apart from having serious negative effects on our biodiversity, have far-reaching effects such as loss of different species of flora and fauna and assured failure to meet our 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goals 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15,” the professor said.

    He referenced the erstwhile Executive Secretary of UN CBD, Christiana Pasca Palmer, who said: ‘biodiversity is not a luxury, but a fundamental pre-requisite for our well-being. It is the foundation of our food systems and our health. We cannot afford to overlook our dependence on Nature or take her abundance for granted.’’

    Fagbohun added: “This seems to suggest why the theme for IDB 2020 is Our Solutions Are in Nature. Indeed, our solutions are in Nature, as the bearer and mother of all biodiversity. A legal regime that sufficiently protects Nature will resultantly protect and conserve all or most of the aspects of biodiversity.

    “Countries such as Ecuador and Nicaragua appear to have realised this and placed themselves ahead of time. Their Constitutions (2008 and 2014 respectively) specifically recognise that nature has rights, which extend to rights of survival and regeneration. Nature’s biodiversity cannot be exploited to the point that its survival, regeneration and natural restoration will be at stake. These countries recognition the ecocentric approach to biodiversity protection and conservation.”

    No Nigerian legal framework for nature’s right of survival

    The Don observed that despite Nigeria being a state party to most of the conventions mentioned above (some of which have even been enacted into laws), it does not have a legal framework in place that specifically holds out nature as having rights of regeneration, restoration and survival.

    “The approach favoured by our legal framework is substantially anthropocentric, with minor provisions on environmental protection here and there,” Fagbohun said.

    He noted, however, that the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) has, pursuant to the powers conferred on it by the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency Act, made a number of regulations, some of which appreciably relate to biodiversity protection in the area of conservation of threatened species, coastal and marine area protection, ozone layer protection and protection of endangered species, among others.

    He added: “In Nigeria dearth of laws on environmental protection in general and biodiversity sustainability, in particular, has never been our major problem. We have a wealth of legislation on overall environmental management in Nigeria, even though some of the laws are not up to date with modern realities. The principal problem is the issue of a lack of effective enforcement of the existing laws and regulations on biodiversity sustainability and dedicated compliance with international obligations on biodiversity protection and sustainability.

    “The Aichi Biodiversity Targets, for example, are time-bound 20 targets that are used by the UN to measure state parties’ response to their obligations under the Biodiversity Convention. According to the Sixth National Report submitted by Nigeria to the UN CBD in 2018, Nigeria projected that by 2020 most of these targets would have been met. Well, this is 2020 and most of these targets on biodiversity protection and conservation remain unmet. The simple reason is lack of enforcement, majorly due to lack of political will. For want of space, the report is not to be discussed in details here. To achieve effective biodiversity sustainability in Nigeria, the government at all levels must be willing and ready to take the bull by the horns”.

    Check over-exploitation, lax legal protection.

    Professor of Energy, Environmental Law and Deputy Vice Chancellor of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, Damilola S. Olawuyi, harped on the world’s need to better protect rare plants, animals and other biological forms facing extinction due to over-exploitation and lax legal protection.

    Prof Olawuyi added: “International law, especially the CBD, therefore encourages countries to put in place laws and institutions aimed at protecting the world’s diverse species and resources from extinction, such that present and future generations can continue to access them.

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    “For example, Nigeria is exceedingly rich in biodiversity. Nigeria is home to more than 5,000-recorded species of plants, 22,090 species of animals, including insects, 885 species of birds, 109 species of amphibians, 135 species of reptiles and 1,489 species of microorganisms. The mangrove swamps in the Niger Delta region contains a rich community of flora and fauna. In Northern Nigeria, Savannah vegetation belts such as the Hadejia Jama’are-Nguru wetlands, the Jos and Mambilla Plateau, also consist of rich areas of biodiversity. With a land mass of approximately 932,768 km2 including deep mangrove forest in Southern Nigeria, and the Savanna in Northern Nigeria, the richness and diversity of animal and plant species in Nigeria can sustain the diverse religious, aesthetic, cultural, social, economic and ecosystems use for which biological resources are required in many parts of the country.”

    Constitution backs environmental protection

    Addressing the challenges to combating plastic pollution of marine life in Lagos, Head of the Department of Private and Property Law, Faculty of Law, National Open University of Nigeria, Abuja Dr. Erimma Gloria Orie said: “In Nigeria, plastic wastes are a big nuisance. Lagos alone, for instance, generates 9000 metric tons of waste daily, 86% of which consists of plastic bottles and bags.

    “Although there is no data to show the exact figure for how much plastic waste is affecting Nigeria, according to a UN report, banning plastic bags in Nigeria can cut litter down by more than 60 percent… “However, despite the efforts of the government, the huge plastics pollution of marine life in Lagos remains a big challenge due to a variety of reasons including ineffective implementation of the relevant laws.”

    She noted that the Constitution requires that Nigeria shall protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air and land, forest and wildlife.

    “The Nigerian government also established the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) which was replaced in 2007 by the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) Act.

    “The Act has the mandate to enforce compliance with laws, guidelines, policies and standards on environmental matters. Similarly, the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) as the custodian of Nigeria ports has institutional mandate to provide waste reception facilities. It maintains a pollution monitoring unit even though it has contracted out its waste management responsibility to a private company.”

    ‘Law against environmental pollution not obeyed’

    Dr Orie recalled that “In 2019, Nigeria banned the use of plastics. The law provides that any store found giving plastic bags will either pay a fine of N500,000 or face a three-year jail sentence while manufacturers will pay a 5 million Naira fine. This law is not obeyed because there is a disconnect between the citizens and the law.

    “However, unlike Nigeria, similar law has been effectively implemented in some climes….For the regulation to be effective in Nigeria, the government must show the necessary political will to implement/enforce the law and lead by example.

    “The government ought to embark on education and awareness-raising campaigns on the effect of humans ingesting plastic; education to promote behavioural change and need to increase the effectiveness of providing hard infrastructure to reduce the amount of solid waste material including plastics entering the marine environment.

    “The introduction of ‘the user fees’ will have an immediate effect on consumer behaviour with a decrease in single-use plastic bags. Furthermore, reducing the proportion of persistent plastic in the waste stream can be addressed through the further development and use of fully biodegradable alternative biopolymers (bio-plastics). A new type of bio-plastic has recently been developed that is based on chitin, a natural highly abundant polysaccharide found in crustacean shells and insect cuticles.”

    Problem of political will

    Lagos-based legal practitioner and President, Friends of Nature Global Foundation, Dr. Agu Sussan Oluchi, noted, among others, that some politicians seem unable to take the tough decisions needed to protect the environment.

    Agu said: “Although concerns for the environment are at least as old as the process of industrialisation, it will appear that the bane has always been the lack of political will to make the tough choices needed. The emergence of International Environmental Law as a distinctive legal regime was a notable development of the late 20th century. It responded to a heightened awareness of the denigration of the air, water and natural resources throughout the world. The past 30 years has witnessed the negotiation of a number of multilateral and bilateral instruments to address global and regional environmental issues.”

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    She also noted that International Environmental Law “has become increasingly driven by the concepts of sustainable development, precautionary principle, polluters pay, amongst others which now underpins to a great extent the global environmental debate.

    Dr Agu advised everyone to take interest “in conserving and enhancing the sustainable use of biodiversity in all aspects of our managed ecosystems, as a means to increase their sustainability, productivity and resilience. We must integrate biodiversity values into national and local planning, development processes, poverty reduction strategies and outcomes, education, health and accounts, across all sectors. Time is short.”

    Local efforts to strengthen biological diversity

    An Associate Research Professor of Law & Director of Studies at the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Dr Emmanuel E. Okon, noted that “for the UN to decide that the theme for this year’s World Environment Day ( June 5, 2020) is celebrate biodiversity, the readily assumption is that the focus of the day will go beyond the usual raising of global awareness to acknowledging or commemorating biodiversity with a social gathering or enjoyable activity.”

    He noted local efforts to strengthen biological diversity.

    Okon said: “In Nigeria, the Federal Government has not only adopted the National Policy on Environment and Agenda 21 for the country, it has also enacted many legislation that will directly enhance conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.

    “Examples of such legislation are National Environmental Standards Regulatory and Enforcement Agency (Establishment) Act, Environmental Impact Assessment Act, National Park Service Act, Sea Fisheries Act, Inland Fisheries Act, Nigerian Urban and Regional Planning Act, Animal Diseases (Control) Act; and Bees (Import Control and Management) Act.

    “In addition, trade and commerce legislation like the Endangered Species (Control of International Trade and Traffic) Act and the Hide and Skins Act will indirectly protect Nigeria’s biodiversity. States of the Federation have also enacted laws on residual matters such as town planning.”

    Nevertheless, the Don observed that enforcement of these laws is poor.

    He said: “While the Supreme Court of Nigeria in Centre for Oil Pollution Watch v NNPC has resolved the problem of locus standi requirement which hindered non-governmental stakeholders from seeking to enforce compliance with environmental laws, public awareness of the biodiversity crisis, even among the educated class, is extremely low.

    “But despite the relative success of states in ensuring the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources, biodiversity loss has continued at an alarming rate. Presently, one million animal and plant species are at the risk of extinction. The collapse of ecosystems will threaten the wellbeing and livelihoods of everyone on the planet.”

    What should be done?

    Dr Okon made several proposals to remedy the problems.

    He said: “To slow and halt the rapid decline of species and habitats, we must address how human societies manage land and seascapes and the resources that are being extracted from them.

    “First, all states should intensify effort to educate and inform their citizens about the crisis and values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably. There is need to enlighten everyone that all ecosystems overlap and are interdependent.

    “This supposition underpins the idea of the earth consisting of a single ecosystem (biosphere), and the need for environmentalists, policy-makers and owners of development projects to examine how ocean, land and atmosphere affects or is affected by each other.

    “More importantly, the application of ecosystem approach in the conservation and management of biodiversity should not be limited to issue-specific (biodiversity) because in reality environmental issues and challenges as well as other sector issue are interconnected and interdependent.”

    He noted that similarly, celebration of biodiversity will not be very effective if the other sectors of the economy such as transport, energy, agriculture, infrastructure, industries, etc .are ignored.

    “They are all one and must be celebrated as one. This is probably the best approach states parties to the CBD should adopt when finalising the new Global Biodiversity Framework at Kunming, China in the early 2021.

    “They must move beyond traditional notions of ‘nature’ and ‘conservation’ to engage with all relevant sectors of the economy and civil society,” he said.

    Culled: The Nation

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