As the world leaders gathered in Paris this month to negotiate a new agreement on climate change, a community on Lagos Island, Nigeria was disappearing.
Just inside the nation’s borders, for the first time in its history, Nigeria was at war with itself. Nigeria’s waters have been rising since the 1980s, but until recently, the country hadn’t been seriously affected.
Then, in 2015, there was what local residents called the biggest flood in living memory. But the tragedy didn’t stop there. That year, the megacity population was estimated to swell to 30 million people, adding pressure to a city that just in 2013, had seen massive flooding in the coming days and weeks.
A combination of growing prosperity and rising sea levels are showing their effects. Crossrail, the Crossrail underground rail line, was completed in 2015, bringing international-standard facilities to the city. And housing developments are already to be built, in a crowded city where rents can exceed $900 a month.
But the city’s center is particularly vulnerable, and its homes are facing imminent danger.
“If I were living in a better place, I would be on the edge of my seat,” says Titi Ojo, the sole breadwinner for her family of 12.
As Nigeria celebrates this week on April 22, which sees the climax of this year’s international conference on climate change, the focus of the COP21 was to “finally set a path for bringing the world together to address climate change.”
But those hopes for a stronger global response to the challenges posed by climate change are now being undermined by politics.
Rice farmers in the Congo River Basin still haven’t been compensated after collapsing their livelihoods. In 2013, angry groups of women staged a series of sit-ins in Paris in protest, demanding they be compensated for a decade of stagnant growth and devastating floods that have rendered thousands of them homeless.
As in Nigeria, when it comes to climate change, the African region is a risk factor. Africa is home to half of the world’s population, but only 22 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to 2012 census data.
So far, no action has been taken to prepare countries for climate change. Such inaction means that even if leaders manage to reach an agreement in Paris on effective measures to curb global warming, damage will already have been done.
Across Nigeria, urban planners are recognizing the growing impact of a changing climate. In 2015, the Ikoyi area of Lagos was the site of a public project to halt coastal flooding by constructing floating houses in the lagoon.
While the homes still sit in water, in response to the rising tides, they are now being docked in a floating dockhouse where they can be restored to their original stadia. The current residents of the homes, who choose to live near the sea to take advantage of the city’s efficient transportation system, have become crucial in the rebuilding process.
The plan to build the floating houses has proven so successful that they now comprise one of the environmental test cases with which the federal government aspires to build a template for other nations affected by climate change.
“It has proved to be a successful project and a model,” says Rector Adeloye Tambute, chairman of the Lagos State Commission for Maritime Affairs. “As you know, the commission organizes a lot of coastal mapping projects to identify locations most vulnerable to flooding. The Ikoyi test case was a pilot where we submitted location data for all the targeted areas.”
To the extent that the project can be followed, the results should be used to ensure the river flood barriers and the floating homes are effectively managed for the long term, Mr. Tambute says. The ministry has been advocating this for years. “But as a state we have seen the challenges of climate change and related disasters, and we have learned from that. It is our duty to maintain existing water bodies for future generations.”
In Nigeria, the challenges are similar. More than 40 percent of Nigeria’s population are living in coastal areas. When sea level rises and the tidal cycle brings more water, houses built in poor areas – such as industrial areas, slums, and commercial and residential areas – may be rendered vulnerable.
By 2080, it’s estimated that coastal areas will be the most vulnerable part of the country. Nigerian environmental scientists have been advocating for the country to create protection from sea level rise by the building of large-scale flood barrier structures. In the meantime, poor communities in Lagos, located on the front lines of the disaster, are beginning to be displaced, as their homes