by Raeesah Chandlay
Growing up in Richa village in Bokkos, Nigeria, Naphtali recalls waking up in the early hours of the morning to the sounds of chirping birds and nature. He was already aware that those sounds may soon disappear as development had begun its encroachment into rural spaces. The realization sunk deeper when he moved into an urban area and was no longer surrounded by nature and green spaces. But at the time, the young Naphtali could not speak English, and this barrier excluded him from seeking information and finding answers.
The Emergence of a Climate Leader
Naphtali learned about the concept of climate change in 2015. His interest grew when a friend invited him to participate in a volunteer project via the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since then, he has been raising awareness on social media about the impacts of climate change. As a young environmentalist, Naphtali was especially passionate about curbing plastic pollution, which was a great source of frustration. This led to a collaborative project focused on upcycling plastic waste, but Naphtali was about to commence his studies in physics at the Watson Institute and did not have the resources to fund this new venture.
He started looking at other ways to make a difference and turned his attention to tree planting for its role in carbon sequestration. Naphtali joined community youth, and together they embarked on a mission to plant 17,000 trees. He was able to gather 220 volunteers, and within three months, they planted 600 trees without external funding. The tenacious team reached out to several organizations for seedling donations and coordinated tree planting activities at schools and other community spaces.
Education and Youth Service
During his final year as an undergraduate, Naphtali incorporated the impacts of climate change in his thesis, which focused on the effects of particulate matter on environmental pollution.
After completing his undergrad, he participated in the National Youth Service Corps, through which he continued his work in climate change, educating youth on sustainability, and reducing carbon footprints – and during this time Naphtali was appointed the state coordinator for the Nigerian Youth SDG network.
Through his work in climate change, he was awarded a scholarship for his postgraduate studies in Technology Entrepreneurship and Design at the Nigerian University of Technology and Management (NUTM).
Global Climate Leader Training
Naphtali became known as “the climate guy” in his community and was introduced to the Climate Reality Leadership Corps Global Training. He credits the training as a game-changing experience as it increased his scope on the effects of climate change and enabled liaison with fellow climate action groups. Naphtali has encouraged many of his volunteers to sign up for the training.
“Joining the Climate Reality network was one of the most interesting things that has happened to me. It has given me a voice and a point of authority.”
Naphtali completed the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training, and was selected to be trained in regenerative agriculture under the African Climate Reality Project’s Sink Our CO2 campaign. He also participated in the WWF One Planet One City Challenge – an initiative by WWF that invites cities in participating countries to report ambitious and innovative climate actions and demonstrate how they deliver the 2015 Paris Agreement. This year, WWF partnered with the African Climate Reality Project amongst other organizations, and Naphtali was selected as one of the Climate Reality Leaders who contributed to a manifesto that was presented at COP 26.
An Unexpected Tragedy
Tragedy hit in 2020 when Naphtali lost his father to Leukaemia, and this loss deeply affected him. Naphtali’s father was an ardent supporter of his studies and activism. Through his studies, Naphtali was able to link the effects of environmental pollutants with diseases such as leukemia and other forms of cancer.
The recycling of plastic waste is a challenge in developing countries such as Nigeria, and people resort to burning plastics as a form of disposal. Through Naphtali’s studies, he learned how the burning of plastics releases carcinogenic particulate matter into the atmosphere. His father’s passing further highlighted the hazardous effects of environmental pollution on human health. The experience galvanized him to raise awareness among his family and community.
The Impacts of Climate Change
In Plateau State, low crop yields and a high rate of deforestation are causing fierce competition for space and other natural resources, resulting in clashes between crop farmers and herders. For these reasons, Naphtali and his crew believe in and champion the value of tree planting.
As a creative, Naphtali sees nature as a source of inspiration and finds his passion in connecting nature with human existence. At the heart of his vision is the desire to bring nature back to urban environments and help create a balance between nature and development.
“If we don’t act now, it will be stories we tell our children and generations to come about the trees and the birds that disappeared in the name of development.”
On a mission for the planet
Naphtali maintains a full calendar in his mission to create a greener future. In addition to his tree-planting activities, he has also undertaken clean-up exercises in his community.
He recently founded CLIMRENEW, a social enterprise that proffers solutions to climate change through creating awareness and designing better sustainable solutions around renewable energy, plastic waste management, and regenerative agricultural practice.
Naphtali is also a member of the Sathi Fund and the Ocean Heroes Network, which is a partnership between the Captain Planet Foundation and the Lonely Whale Foundation.
But the life of a climate activist is never easy. Naphtali has found that his work in climate change has impacted his social circle, with many of his former friends believing it to be a hoax. On the other hand, it has attracted interest in others who have become curious about his work.
One of the biggest challenges has been communicating the science behind climate action to communities where there is an educational barrier. There are also financial drawbacks in tackling climate change, but Naphtali maintains that he “always makes a plan.”
Despite these challenges, Naphtali advises other Climate Reality Leaders and activists to maintain resilience and be consistent in their work. It is also essential to build a network so that you don’t end up working in silos.
“One day surely, even if it doesn’t pay impressively, many people will benefit.” – Naphtali Akudung