by ‘Ifreke Inyang
Esther Agbarakwe is fondly called ‘Esther Climate’ by her friends and the reason is simple, she is very passionate about the environment. She believes that as people, we have a direct responsibility to protect the environment so she works with young people to see how they can educate and raise awareness on climate change and how to protect the environment. She speaks more about her passion to YNaija. Excerpts:
“… being Nigerian is the best way to be.”
So what exactly do you do?
I involve myself in climate change advocacy as well as research. We recently submitted a report on young people for climate change in the Niger Delta. I run the Nigeria Youth Climate Coalition founded in 2009 and with a huge network of young people, we work together on environment and other issues. We are part of the International Youth Climate Summit Movement and African Youth Climate Change Network.
Why the environment?
I was raised in Calabar which we all know is the cleanest city in the country and also my parents were farmers so I felt closer to the environment. I looked around me and found that there were no young people working on the environment so I became challenged to see how I can inspire and involve young people into environmental issues because our environment is very critical to the survival of the human race and it is very important that we protect it.
Why should the Nigerian youth be interested in environmental issues and how can we participate?
Young people need to know that their environment is fast depleting, and that their actions causes further degradation. They can contribute effectively by advocacy, to hold government accountable and also by keeping the environment clean, reducing the amount of energy we consume by switching off our laptops when they are not in use, we do not need to have 3 phones or Blackberries because they consume a lot of energy, instead of throwing away our used clothes, we could hand them down to our younger ones or even the less privileged. I think that it is high time young people lent their voices to demand that our government does something to protect us because we shall be here long after our parents are gone.
What are the health implications of environmental degradation?
A lot of health problems are associated with the environment for example in the North, where there is minimal rainfall, some diseases like meningitis prevail. You have issues of malaria, migration to the city which causes overcrowding, sexually transmitted diseases and so forth.
How involved has government been in your work?
Quite involved. We work with the Federal Ministry of Environment and they are aware of our programs, for instance on June 4th we shall be having a climate change workshop on the hills, we chose the hills because we want to move from our constitutional approach of sitting in the classroom, burning energy. we want to take young people to the environment so they can appreciate it at its best. The event is meant to raise awareness on climate change and forestation because the high level of development means that we are losing our forests.
Do you think the government is doing enough?
Well in the past, they weren’t doing much but recently there has been an upswing in the level of interest. Recently, the House of Assembly passed the climate change bill and it has been sent to the president to sign so the only way that they can prove to the people that they are serious is to sign the bill into law. This will result to setting up a commission that will give the government a legitimate, structured approach to environmental management. It is going to be one huge step.
What exactly is the climate bill all about?
Climate change is one of the biggest issues currently facing the world. The changes caused by a lot of human activities will eventually destroy the world if we do not act now. There have been reported cases of rising sea levels in Lagos Island and Lekki. Also, some parts of Ibadan and Osun State experience floods everytime it rains, so these are things we should guard against and the bill goes a long way.
What are some of the challenges you face when trying to get the message across?
A lot of young people do not know what climate change is all about and the ones that do are not really interested but these are things that are important to us.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I see myself working with government and the UN advocating for climate change and environmental protection.
Your profile is quite intimidating. Do you feel that you have ‘arrived’?
I feel that there is a lot of work to do and we need more young people to join us.
Who are your role models?
Truth is, anybody that helps us in our struggle is a role model to me but in Nigeria, Rev Nimo Bassey has been a mentor to me over the years, he is one of the top environmentalists in the country.
How do you unwind?
I climb hills, go hiking, watch movies, read a lot of books – as you can see I am currently reading “The winning attitude”. I also try to catch up on family time.
If you weren’t doing this, what else would you be doing?
I think I was ordained to do this so maybe God would have given me something else to do.
What does being young and Nigerian mean to you?
It means being alive and being the best person in the world because being Nigerian is the best way to be.
Do you plan to relocate in the future?
I don’t, this is the best place to be.
What do you love most about being Nigerian?
The young people. We have amazing young people doing amazing things and I am inspired by them.
Any memorable experience?
It was spending three months in the German hills with an amazing group of people from 11 countries, having the time of my life, developing friendships and having fun.
What is your greatest fear?
The fear of our government disappointing us.