Environmental pollution has continued to generate unpleasant challenges for health and economic development in Nigeria. A plethora of environmental laws and policies targeted at solving these environmental issues have been enacted with a view to safeguarding the environment both for the present and future generations.
The situation however does not seem to abate and this has been traced to the proper enforcement of these laws. The issue continues to degenerate with no visible solution in sight. Section 37 of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (Establishment) Act 2007 defines “Pollution” as any man-made or man aided alteration of chemical, physical or biological quality of the environment beyond acceptable limits and pollutants shall be construed accordingly.”
It can thus be inferred from this definition that any human intervention which affects the natural state of the environment to such an extent that the society finds it unacceptable, qualifies as pollution. It is clear that the law does recognize that in our modern industrial society especially with the technological advancements being witnessed pollution of some kind or to some degree is inevitable.
What is objectionable and intolerable however is that it does not exceed certain limits where it would pose hazardous and deleterious effect on man and his surroundings.
Ensuring a sustainable use of the environment is one of the focus of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs are also referred to as ‘Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ (United Nations 2015) or the ‘Global Goals’. The concept of the SDGs was raised for the first time at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012.
One of the objectives was to produce a set of universally applicable goals that will balance the three dimensions of sustainable development, that is, environmental, social, and economic. The SDGs are a set of 17 global goals with 169 targets between them.
The program aims to guide policy and funding for the next 15 years, that is, 2015 to 2030 and beginning with a significant undertaking to end poverty everywhere permanently. The goals are built on the lessons learned from the MDGs especially, the MDGs’ failure to address the structural causes of poverty, inequality and exclusion, as well as environmental sustainability.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are;
End poverty in all its forms everywhere,
End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation.
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (noting agreements made by the UNFCCC forum)
Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.
The goals are a carefully thought out plan to within 15 years reduce poverty and hunger, and save the world from the worst effects of climate change (occasioned by environmental pollution), it is important that we rigorously integrate the sustainable development goals into our legislation to inspire commitments and drive implementation.
The Nigerian Environmental governance structure needs to embrace the sustainable development goals as a culture in order to reduce the nagging plague of environmental pollution.It is worthy to note that the idea is for all the goals to work together in sync and not to be isolated from each other in order to achieve the aim of a future just 15 years off that would be rid of poverty and hunger, and safe from the worst effects of climate change.
The aims of these goals if synchronized into the existing legal framework in Nigeria on environmental protection to ensure that the current scale of environmental pollution is pruned down to the barest minimum. The aim is to chart a course to ensure that on or before 2030 the aim of having a clean environment is achieved.
For example infusing SDG 6 into our existing water legislation in Nigeria will focus the attention on water-related ecosystems addressed in SDG 6 which include wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes, which sustain a high level of biodiversity. Where this effectively done, the resultant effect will be a well-managed water-related ecosystems which would culminate to addressing the competing demands for water, mitigate climate change risks and help to build community peace and trust.
Having our laws tailored towards the focus of this goal is therefore essential for achieving sustainable development, peace and security as well as human health and well being. This integration would also ensure that the quality and safety of surface and ground water used for drinking, working, cooking, bathing and agriculture is no longer threatened by pollution which is usually caused by solid waste, unsafe runoff, waste water treatment, mining, manufacturing and other industrial sources. Goal 13 focuses on Climate Change and its effect on the environment.
Tailoring legislation in this direction will create the urgency come up with policies that would create awareness that our daily activities such as use of electricity-generating plants, chemical manufacturing facilities, mining operations, deforestation, and the use petroleum-powered vehicles, area a major source of pollution. This awareness will drive down the incidence of air pollution and ultimately combat climate change and its effect locally and translate globally.The environment is our collective heritage as such we must see it as our responsibility to protect it.
In spite of having a number of laws targeted at the reduction of environmental pollution in Nigeria the problem still persists.
The laws are largely seen as ineffectively because of the problem of implementation. The SDGs are a global commitment and Nigeria cannot afford to be left behind in its plan to make the world a better place. Infusing the aims of the SDGs will assist in making the laws on environmental pollution reduction more robust. There is the need however to fashion out ways to improve on the implementation level of the laws. There is more that still needs to be done by the policy makers to make the laws to be management oriented rather than rule oriented.
Opeyemi.A.Gbadegesin LL.B, B.L, LL.M is a lecturer in the Department of Public Law in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ibadan.
He is also a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Ibadan with research interests in Natural Resources Conservation, Environmental Protection, Public Health and Sustainable Development.
Emeraldscape Environmental Development (EMEND) is a non governmental organization set up to promote sustainable environmental culture, create awareness through the media, conferences, seminars and workshops on global environmental issues to ameliorate the impact of global warming.