Green infrastructure as panacea for ecosystem services

Building green and sustainable cities in both urban and rural areas has to comply with the ecosystem services that green infrastructure can provide, HELEN OJI writes on the pillars that make a green city in an environment setting.
Building green and sustainable cities consistent with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 11 (SDGs), which is to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, Nigeria at the inception of the SDG endorsed the take-off on the new global measures, and has since been committed to its domestication.
There are other commitments of Nigeria internationally and locally that are consistent with building green and sustainable cities.
These include but not limited to the following, the Paris Climate Agreement and Nigeria’s Nationally Determined Contribution – The National Policy on Climate Change, and the National Adaptation Strategy and Plan Action on Climate Change for Nigeria (NASPA-CCN) – National Housing Policies – Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, Each of these have elements that have implications for building green and sustainable cities.

Green infrastructure
Green city is a concept of urban planning which relies on the ecosystem services that green infrastructure can provide and the three pillars of green city are energy and materials, water and biodiversity, and urban planning and transport. The ecosystem services are at the core of the concept. Sustainable cities built considering social, economic, environmental impact, and resilient habitat for existing populations, without compromising the ability of future generations to experience the same and contribute to the physical, social and mental well-being, and personal development of all its inhabitants. The key principles are equity, dignity, accessibility, conviviality, participation and empowerment, Smart city applies user friendly information and communication technologies developed by major industries for urban spaces. Smart cities provide high quality of life while promoting social and technological innovations and linking existing infrastructures.

Environmental governance and green cities
Environmental policy and ecology concept that considers sustainability in planning and managing all human activities can assist in achieving the goals of a green city. Managing the environmental impact of cities is one of the critical challenges many resource dependent countries are facing. Weak capacities of environmental protection agencies and ministries of environment in protecting the environment while simultaneously improving social quality and standard of living and accelerating economic growth have often been cited as the root cause. The failure to ensure environmental governance of cities can have profound negative impacts on long-term economic development of cities, including the right to life, adequate food, water, and housing.

Green initiatives in the global sphere
Norway has lowest greenhouse gas emissions compared to other cities in Europe. More than four-fifth of school children in Oslo walk or ride bicycles to and from school. Stockholm, Sweden is also a green city and one of the cities in Europe with low greenhouse gas emissions. Rivers in Stockholm have been revived. Copenhagen, Denmark is also considered a green city due to the government’s and the citizens’ efforts to achieve and sustain a very clean and hygienic environment. Freiburg in Germany is one of the cleanest cities in the world. Freiburg has abundance of solar panels on top of its buildings, schools, local churches, and even the City Hall. Malmö, Sweden is a good model of metropolitan sustainability because it leads in the promotion of renewable energy solutions. The city has abundant green and fresh space. Vancouver is Canada’s greenest city and is a center for clean-technology innovation. Solar powered garbage compactors can be found within the city. San Francisco in California was the first US key city that banned the use of plastic bag and launched its mandatory recycling program. Reykjavik, Iceland runs almost on renewable energy.

Nature of urbanisation in Nigeria
Nigeria’s cities are the hub of major economic activities and opportunities, and therefore exert a pull on the people, hence the phenomenon of rapid urbanization. This is associated with poverty, inadequate health, poor sanitation, urban slums and environmental degradation. Related to these are difficult socioeconomic conditions of poorly designed and developed cities, environmental challenges of waste and sewerage management, which are contributory to environment despoliation, toxicity, and heightened emissions. The functions of NESREA which are directly related to our subject matter include: enforce compliance with laws, guidelines, policies and standards on environmental matters; coordinate and liaise with, stakeholders, within and outside Nigeria on matters of environmental standards, regulations and enforcement; enforce compliance with policies, standards, legislation and guidelines on water quality, environmental health and sanitation, including pollution abatement; enforce compliance with guidelines, and legislation on sustainable management of the ecosystem, biodiversity conservation and the development of Nigeria’s natural resources.

Achieving sustainable transportation in cities
The ERGP also considers transportation infrastructure as one of its key execution priorities and effective implementation of this plan is projected to significantly improve the transportation network road, rail and port in Nigeria by 2020. The Abuja-Kaduna passenger rail services is completed and working. A step in the right direction to achieving sustainable transportation in cities. Much still needs to be done regarding sustainable transport and housing in Nigeria if the country will build sustainable and green cities. Redesigning our cities as climate compatible centers is very paramount. Therefore, the implementers of the construction and real estate and transport sectors should pay attention to constructing green/low-carbon houses, restructure our cities with low-carbon infrastructure networks. This may involve collaboration among the different tiers of government, MDAs, international organizations, research institutes, polytechnics, universities, private sector actors, and communities. Green city can be summarized as a new way of approach of ensuring sustainability in urban areas, and at the core of this is an ecosystem service. There are many aspects of sustainable and green cities in Nigeria’s policies, programmes, and pacts, but the country is yet to have cities that can be called green and sustainable cities.

Policy implementation and political will
The problem of policy implementation and the political will are the main limitations. Regulations and standards also important limitations to achieving green cities in Nigeria. We need to combine sustainable solutions with focus on growth and quality of life to make our cities green, sustainable, smart, livable and resilient. Environmental standards and regulations are needed in checking technologies, innovations or solutions recommended for building sustainable and green cities in Nigeria. Standards and regulations are required to realize zero waste cities, green buildings, efficient and integrated public transportation, and clean our water ways. Achieving all these may be difficult, but science solves the problem.