Why does climate risk matter?
`Its potential to create adverse consequences cannot be overlooked. Everything is impacted – lives, economic, social, investments, infrastructure, and ecosystems.
Using the boiling frog analogy, put a frog into a pot of hot water, and it would hop out again pretty sharpish. But if you put it into a pot of cold water and gently heat it, there comes a point at which the frog cannot recognise the threat and it slowly boils to death.
The frog failed to react to threat to life, because the water heated slowly, it was too complacent about those changes to risk in its environment.
Are we frogs in slowly heating water with climate risk working its wonders on our ever erratic weather?
As businesses, are we simply reacting to the effects of climate risk or taking steps to ride its wave and cease the opportunities?
Government must recognise the effect of climate risk in its role of protecting lives and providing for its citizens.
Nigeria has grown in population size and is forecast to grow more. In 1950 our population
was less than 40m, in 1990 it was 90m, thirty years later we are around 217m and at
that rate of growth (using forecast average birth rates) we shall reach over 400m by 2050. Yet our fertile land is shrinking, the supply of water and power is erratic and with life expectancy at 64 years this is way below countries of a similar size to ours.
The facts are that we are growing our population with less land to feed them on, and less
certainty of the basics for life; a roof over our heads, food with which to feed ourselves, and
clean portable water.
The risk is far more complex, however, and the indicators are that we are getting fatter,
wealthier and longevity is increasing more than ever before. Ladies are having fewer
children. So what is happening?
We were once stuck in the Malthusian Trap 1 named after the 18th-century English cleric and economist Thomas Malthus. The trap argues that any increase in food production or other resources that allowed the population to grow was quickly consumed by that increased population, which then led to food shortages and population decline.
That is no longer the case. With the progress of industrialisation, we have broken out of the Malthusian Trap,
producing enough food to feed the mounting millions, enough scientific breakthroughs to
conquer old killers like malaria, smallpox and the measles, and enough political advances to
dwindle violent death and survive pandemics like Covid. More of our children survive longer
because the rates of child mortality have plummeted in Nigeria, and that is driving the rate
of births downwards because the old tenets of needing to have large families are reducing
Risk is complex, as I said before. Each thread of the web of risk is interconnected with a
myriad of others. Break or stress one thread and the consequences have a knock-on effect
in many other areas.
Imagine a map of the web of risks for Nigeria. The risk of poverty links to lack of irrigation
which links to climate risk. The risk of social unrest, bandit attacks links to societal change which links to climate risk. Can you see that it is all interconnected?
Human actions have changed a complex and delicately balanced global natural ecosystem,
triggering a chain of reactions. But we are not doomed. There is something amazing
happening in Nigeria today. The literacy rate is increasing, more people are going to
university, there is greater gender equality, our vibrant energy – the substrata of
that which makes us Nigerian – is not diminished by Covid or all the challenges of past years
and there is more awareness of the need to protect our environment. Maybe some of these
improvements need to change faster to keep up with the new challenges and we need to
tackle some big issues like governance and corruption as well as deal with those that want
to hold us back.
Each organisation can do much to assess the likelihood and impact of climate risk, its effect
on the major goals of the organisation and what can be done to mitigate and adapt to its
effects whilst taking action to assess the rate of change of climate risk. Too many
organisations think that conducting a risk assessment of the threats to the organisation is a
one-off activity. I’m sorry to say, that this is like heating the soup today and expecting it to
be at edible temperature tomorrow. Risk assessment is a continuous exercise that must
measure the rate of change of risk.
The cloud on the horizon of climate risk, means that we do need to take stock and measure
our ‘frog’ environment, do it now and put in continuous measurements. We have come far.
We have proven over the millennia in Nigeria that we learn from adversity and (gradually)
change our behaviours. Now is the time for us to make our plan for mitigation and
adaptation, difficult as it is with our feet in the first waters of the 2023 floods.
This is the second article in this series looking at Climate Change and Risk in Nigeria by Robert Mbonu.
The scene is set to look next at moving towards solutions to these challenges in the next series.