Seasonal Climate Prediction and heat of the moment

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By Greg Odogwu

“Temperatures in most parts of the country are expected to be warmer-than-normal (i.e. hotter than the average seasonal temperature).” – Prof. Charles Anosike, DG/CEO, Nigerian Meteorological Agency

There are a lot of things the ordinary citizen takes for granted. They may be in the headline news, but when they do not directly affect the life of the man in the street, nobody cares. Two of such issues are meteorology and climate change. When, last two months, the United Nations World Meteorological Organisation, the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Service and the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association released an alarming report stating that last year, 2023, was the hottest year in recorded history, nobody seemed to notice. But now that we are pummeled by a nationwide heat wave, everybody has begun to ask questions: Why is our land as hot as hell?

They are not only asking questions; they are taking action. When it comes to matters of life and death – which climate stress has become – people do not wait for the experts, they simply adapt, taking simple practical steps that aid self-preservation, to the best of their knowledge and ability. This is why, for the sake of my readers, the health advisory aspect of this year’s Seasonal Climate Prediction, presented to the country a fortnight ago by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (which has a duty to advise the government and people of Nigeria on all aspects of weather and climate), is hereby quoted.

Advisory on meningitis risk states, “Frequent thorough hand washing is advised. This helps to prevent the spread of germs. Practise good hygiene. Don’t share drinks, foods, straws, eating utensils, lip balms, or toothbrushes with anyone else.”

Advisory on heat stress states, “Know how hot and humid it is going to get today, this week, and this month to help plan outside activities. Keep an emergency kit at home that contains oral rehydration salt packets, a thermometer, water bottles, towels, or clothes to wet for cooling, a handheld fan or mister with batteries, and a checklist to identify and treat symptoms of heat stress. Know how to help. When possible, close the curtains during the hottest parts of the day and open windows at nighttime to cool down the house. Do not go outside during the hottest times of the day if you can avoid it.

“When outside, wear sunscreen and try to stay in the shade or use hats and umbrellas for protection. Drink water at regular intervals before you are thirsty. Overdressing in the heat can make you dehydrated and hotter faster, so wear light and loose clothes. Cotton is ideal during hot days to help reduce heat rashes and absorb sweating. Carry a water bottle and a small bottle, so you can hydrate and cool down by placing a wet towel on your neck.”

The SCP is an annual presentation by the NiMet, which provides insight into some essential climate parameters and their expected behaviour within the season, with the national rainfall pattern making up the most prominent index. Specifically, there are varied implications of the 2024 SCP for key economic sectors. The agricultural sector is critical because it solely depends on weather and climate. The year shows that the onset of the growing season is likely to vary from normal to delayed in most parts of the country

Therefore, farmers in the areas predicted to have normal to short length of the growing season are encouraged to plant early and use early-maturing varieties of crops; farmers should avoid fertilizer application just before it rains, in order to prevent leaching and runoff of the applied nutrient; farmers in coastal and wetland areas should adopt alternative and additional livelihood activities to mitigate the effect of possible flooding; farmers in areas predicted to have severe dry spells are advised to use drought-tolerant crop varieties; and each Nigerian state should seek professional advice from relevant agencies.

It is also instructive to note that because of the present heat wave, livestock production is in critical need of informed directives, one of which is that they should lower stocking density during the stress period defined by the SCP as between February and May. Other precautions and strategic adjustments are in feeding and nutrition, environmental sanitation, pest control and deworming measures, and dredging of aquatic ecosystems.

Other impacted sectors that are required to adopt the advisory accordingly are water resources management, transportation (road, air, water, and rail), marine environment and blue economy, power (solar, wind and hydroelectric), telecommunication, health and disaster risk reduction.

Last year was recorded as the warmest in recorded history. But considering the intensity of the present heat wave, this year could even surpass that record. According to the CCCS, WMO and the NOAA, 2023 did not just break the 2016 heat record, it shattered it by a wide margin. The data shows that 2023 was 1.48°C warmer than the pre-industrial period, which is dangerously close to the 1.5°C threshold that countries of the world agreed to respect in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, with 2.0°C not to be crossed.

Indeed, breaching this limit could push us into risks of more storms, droughts, extreme heat, and flooding than humanity can safely handle. To me, it is this troubling scenario that should open the eyes of the government and citizens of Nigeria. This present heat may just be a sign of things to come, and this should be a wake-up call for all of us. We must do all that is in our power to limit carbon emissions by living more sustainable lifestyles.

Last year’s record-high temperature average sparked heat waves, floods, and wildfires around the world. Climate analyses showed that many of those extreme weather events would have been virtually impossible had it not been for global warming caused by rising carbon emissions. Ironically, back in 2015, scientists who worked on the Paris Climate Pact – to which Nigeria is a signatory – thought it would be decades before we reached 1.5°C. But emerging data suggests that every single day in 2023 the global average temperature was at least 1°C warmer than pre-industrial average’s, half were above 1.5°C, and two days in November surpassed 2°C. Perhaps, this explains why we are presently experiencing such heat stress in Nigeria.

The NOAA data put the 2023 average at 1.3°C above pre-industrial levels but warned that 2024 had a one-in-three chance of hitting even higher temperatures, and a 99 per cent chance that it would rank among the top five warmest years in human history. The irony is that whereas climate change impacts are increasing worldwide, progress on reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuels remains extremely slow. According to new research published on December 5, 2023, by the Global Carbon Project, global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion have climbed again to hit record highs in 2023. Emissions have risen by 1.1 per cent compared to the previous year’s levels and sit 1.5 per cent above pre-pandemic volumes recorded in 2019, thus continuing the trend of increasing emissions over the past decade despite a brief decline during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is a call for all stakeholders to take the current heat wave as a tool for advocacy and informed climate action. Just as NiMet has improved on its more-than-a-decade SCP by adding Pidgin in the language of presentation – including Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba – targeting the grassroots; the present ecological realities require a people-oriented strategy for sustainable green transformation and just transition. Nigeria is a regional leader; therefore, her citizens should embody the African climate resilience required for this season and beyond.

…Odogwu is a public affairs analyst