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Litigation as solution to climate change impacts in local communities

By Obiabin Onukwugha

Climate change has continued to impact the lives of many, especially in local communities where extractive activities take place.

In embarking on such ventures, the government and companies responsible for these activities fail to put into consideration, the negative impacts of their businesses on the socio-economic wellbeing and rights of host communities.

Recently, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) delivered a landmark judgment which indicted the Swiss government of violating the rights of old women by not taking steps to mitigate climate change.

The ECHR in the ruling said Switzerland had “failed to comply with its duties” to combat climate change and meet emissions targets, violating the European Convention on Human Rights.

The lawsuit, Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland, was brought by roughly 2,000 women over the age of 64 who argued they were more vulnerable to extreme heatwaves caused by a warming planet.

In Niger Delta, South/South Nigeria, the story of oil extraction in the past 68 years has been that of tears, regret and in recent years, resistance.

With the help of civil society organizations and environmental activists, these host communities are now aware that they can pursue their right to better environment and restored livelihood. Though there are few landmark judgments at the Hague SPDC have been made to pay compensations and take steps to restore the environment, for most communities, such justice is still a far cry.

On daily basis, the people are faced with the stark reality of climate change impacts ranging from flooding, loss of ancestral heritages as a result of ocean surge, fully erosion and low crop yield.

To address these issues, A Lawyer, Prof. Ibibia Lucky Worika has recommended the use of litigation as a means of getting social-ecological justices for the environment.

Worika , a lecturer with the Rivers State University also called on all Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Nigeria to come together in order to get social-ecological justices for the environment and communities, emphasizing that the issue of climate change can no longer be ignored anymore.

Worika noted the increase in climate change litigations around the world, revealing that in the United States alone, there are over 200 climate justice litigations.

The professor of law, who spoke while delivering a keynote address at the 3rd Niger Delta Alternatives Convergence by Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), with the topic “Almost Seven Decades of Hydrocarbon Extraction: Imperatives for Socio-Ecological Justice in Niger Delta”, in Abuja last week, also stressed the need why climate change issues should be taken seriously by the Nigerian government.

He said: “Legal means can be used to compliment our social actions. It will help have a comprehensive result in social-ecological justice.

“The United Nations mentions that climate change is the defining issues of our time and that we are at a defining moment from shifting weather patterns that threatens food production, and raising levels sea that increase the risk of catastrophe flooding and impact of climate change by global, scope and unprecedented.

“Without drastic action taken, adapting to the impacts, the result will be disastrous.”

Worika pointed out that the Niger Delta region is highly vulnerable as they are closed to the Atlantic Ocean. According to him, the Supreme Court has taken a stand by allowing people to litigate issues that have to do with the environment even if they are not directly involved, and encouraged NGOs never to give up in helping communities get environmental justice.

He noted that the lack of proper environmental accountability and integrity on the part the oil and gas companies operating in the region over the decades has resulted in a detrimental damage to the environment, human rights and local inhabitants.

He further stated that the failures of an effective regulating control on the part of the government have worsened an already bad situation.

“Public interest litigation will help address some of the barriers in access to justices as poor communities without financial strength can now sue based on the supports of public spirited organizations like NGO’s and individual.

“There are about three paths to socio-ecological justices which he called social action, executive orders and the legislature to initiate a law that forces oil companies to do the right thing in terms of social and ecological justices,” he added.

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