The toughest environmental challenge of the 21st century is climate change. Global warming, rising sea levels, drought, and other extreme climate related events such as flooding, storms, all resultant effects of climate change have the capacity to wreck national economies, create food insecurity and threaten the very survival of the human species.

Against this setting, the Forestry Association of Nigeria (FAN) Akwa Ibom State branch in collaboration with the Department of Forestry and Natural Environmental Management, University Of Uyo, and the Directorate of Forestry and Environmental Conservation, Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources, Akwa Ibom State organized a 2-day national workshop on ‘Forests and Climate Change’.

The 2-day workshop which held on the 8th and 9th of October, 2015 at the Centre for Entrepreneurial Development, University of Uyo was an intellectual platform for interactive discourse on apposite measures for mitigating adverse consequences of climate change in Nigeria.

In his welcome address, the Chairman and National Vice President of Forestry Association of Nigeria (FAN) Akwa Ibom State branch Dr. Samuel Iwa-Udofia said the theme of this year’s workshop was absolutely apt in content and timing, especially in the face of mounting environmental calamities in the world, including Nigeria, caused by apparent climate change.

Dr. Iwa-Udofia stressed that the continued trend of environmental abuses in Nigeria has provoked and indeed aggravated the current incident of climate change. “It is  our expectation that the deliberations at this gathering of intellectuals will expose the in-depth risk inherent in the ongoing human abuses on the forest resources, in an attempt to sustain livelihood, with appropriate remediation’’ he added.

According to various papers presented during the workshop, one of the biggest contributors to climate change is carbon dioxide, of which the human race has produced increasing amounts since the industrial age. Trees decrease the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by absorbing it from the air and converting it into clean oxygen which they release, and carbon which they store.

Healthy forests, because of this natural process, serve as the most efficient, inexpensive, and natural system to combat climate change. This year’s workshop was organized for the sensitization of the general public on the clarion call for peoples’ participation in afforestation/reforestation as the surest means of mitigating the unfriendly impact of climate change.

Consistent with the seventh annual Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas (CCERA) released by global risk analytics company Maplecroft, a worrying combination of climate change vulnerability and food insecurity is amplifying the risk of conflict and civil unrest in some countries including Nigeria.

Maplecroft identifies 32 ‘extreme risk’ countries in its Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI) with Bangladesh ranked 1st and most at risk, and Nigeria 4th.

If the government of Nigeria mean well for the much broadcast agricultural transformation programme, they must give adequate attention to forestry development as a veritable foundation upon which productive, profitable and sustainable agriculture thrives.

Prof. Trenchard Ibia, Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Uyo representing the Chief Host, Prof. (Mrs.) Comfort M. Ekpo, Vice Chancellor, University of Uyo noted that the major global threats to human existence –hunger, poverty, population pressure, armed conflicts, displacement of persons, air pollution, soil and environmental degradation, desertification, deforestation and several natural disasters – are intricately intertwined, collectively contributing to climate change and necessitating a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary approach to finding solutions.

The Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Uyo, Prof. Iniobong Akpabio in his Keynote Address stated that forest is regarded as the kidney of the world and their duty is to purify the atmosphere of pollutant gases. Unfortunately, about 17.5 million hectares of forest land is destroyed yearly and this accentuates the challenges of environmental disaster. He continued that Adaptation and Mitigation are the two main responses to climate change. While Mitigation seeks to address its causes, Adaption aims at reducing its impacts.

Presenting Lead Paper 1, Prof. Enefiok S. Udo, Chairman Senate Business Committee of the University of Uyo stated that as a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, Nigeria has not done enough to mitigate climate change and help the citizen adapt to it judging from her attitude towards sustaining forest resources in the past.

“The Plan of Action on Climate Change of 2011, the 2006 Draft National Forest Policy and National Adaptation Strategy should be major tools for fighting climate change through sustainable forest management but still are not backed by law for successful implementation” Prof. Udo remarked.

According to Dr. Val Attah, Chairman of Akwa Ibom State Hospital Management Board, deforestation accounts for about 20% of all the greenhouse gas emissions and Nigeria records the highest rate of deforestation in the world. He proposed that one tenth of the proceeds from petroleum should be re-invested in the re-establishment of forests devastated by prospecting oil companies as a mitigation measure.

The Director of Forestry and Environmental Conservation Akwa Ibom State, Obong Etido Okoneyo in his presentation “The Status of Forestry Development in Akwa Ibom State” stated that the forestry and wildlife policies and programmes of the state government are aimed at complete transformation of the sub-sector to reposition it to execute on the prime responsibility of sustainable production of forest resources.

The workshop was formally declared opened by the Honourable commissioner, Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources, Akwa Ibom State, Dr Iniobong Essien, representing the special guest of honour, His Excellency, Deacon Udom Emmanuel, Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State.

Dr. Essien in his speech reiterated state government commitment to combating climate change as demonstrated by the ground breaking ceremony by His Excellence for the establishment of a factory for the production of LED bulbs, an environmentally friendly bulb expected in the market within a year, and by the planting of a symbolic tree on the 28th anniversary of the state.

In order to effectively mitigate climate change, national and international collaborations are necessary as well as efficient management of existing forest reserves, creation of awareness using appropriate media, forest governance, effective implementation of forest laws and regulations, encouraging regeneration and afforestation with adequate funding, provision of incentives like free tree seedlings to invoke public empathy for the fight against climate change.

The 2-day workshop also marked the commencement of FAN’s collaboration with some communities for the rehabilitation and sustainable management of community forests across the state. This is a prelude to partnership with the global Reduced Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Taking a cue from David Suzuki Foundation (DSF), today’s atmosphere contains 42% more carbon dioxide than it did before the industrial age. The question now is – what have you done to off-set your emission of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere? Plant a tree today!

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