In the wake of dwindling oil revenues and sustained environmental hazards, activists have called for Nigeria’s transition to a zero carbon economy.
At the 8th Annual National Environmental Congress in Port Harcourt, Monday, environmentalists said a shift to a non-fossil fuel dependent economy has become inevitable.
”We are drawing attention to the need for energy transition for Nigeria,” said Godwin Ojo, Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, the organizers of the congress which was tagged ‘Extractives and Energy Transition: Roadmap for Zero-Carbon Development.’
“We strongly believe that a global social change is in the making. That social change is the world is changing from fossil fuel moving towards renewable energy.”
Mr. Ojo said the conference was called to draw attention to the fact that Nigeria should not be caught napping in the energy revolution that is underway.
“We strongly believe that a zero carbon development is essential for Nigeria. So we are looking at a post-petroleum economy and how Nigeria can transform from fossil fuel dependency to renewable oil dependency,” he said.
“This is crucial because in 30-50 years from now, the impact of climate change will be monumental, even more catastrophic and there’s need for mitigation and adaptation to climate change issues. This is why there is urgency and need for this transition.”
The congress began with a one-minute silence to Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Ogoni environmental activist who was hanged by the Sani Abacha-led military junta 20 years ago.
It also paid tribute to Oronto Douglas, the late Special Adviser on Research and Strategy to former president Goodluck Jonathan and a founding members of ERA/FoEN.
“The struggle of the Ogonis and the legacy of Saro-Wiwa remains for all people involved in environmental justice struggles both as a signal of hope and victory, and as an emblem of resistance ever staged against multinational corporations on a global scale in both intensity and spread,” Mr. Ojo said.
“Since 1993, Shell remained expelled from Ogoni with over 28,000 barrels of crude oil locked in. With the avoidance of potential carbon emissions into the atmosphere by the non-extraction, the Ogonis deserve fair and adequate compensation from the UN Green Climate Fund.”
Sofiri Joab-Peterside, who delivered the keynote speech, said amid the increasing impacts of climate change, the Nigerian government should create an enabling environment to support a low carbon development pathway.
“This implies that it is not in the best interest of the nation to build fossil fuel power plants that will exacerbate the corruption associated with the Petro-State,” said Mr. Joab-Peterside, a lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt.
“The international financial institutions represented by the World Bank appear to have a strangle-hold on Nigeria’s energy acquisition bid.
“The Bank seems to be more interested in creating processes that ensure continuation of fossil utilization due in partn to the huge lobby power of the extractive industry and associated profit for oil deriving from the externalization of the environmental and social cost of oil.”
Iniruo Wills, the Commissioner for Environment in Bayelsa State, said environmental activists in Nigeria are struggling to fill an “institutional gap” left by the government.
“The level of degradation in the Niger Delta region is such that we must, sometimes, breach even niceties in order to say it as it is,” said Mr. Wills.
“And the truth is that what is going on, at least the extent to which it is happening would not have been if our government institutions and if our regulatory institutions were strong enough to do their work.
“The truth is that at all levels of government, at all tiers of government, we don’t have strong regulatory and monitoring institutions.”
According to Mr. Wills, government often depend on civil society organizations for information, support, and reports because of their wide network of officers and contacts at the community level.
“So sometimes when something happens, there is an oil spill, there’s a gas leakage, there’s a forest fire, we may get information and pictures from them even before we respond,” said Mr. Wills.
“There is obviously a lot more work still left to be done. Part of that work has to do with strategy and direction and focus. Perhaps, some of our efforts, some of our energies, we need to redirect them to even the quality and approach to engagements with governments to look at how we do our work.
Mr. Wills also said the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation should share in as much blame as the oil companies over the pollution in the region.
“It is important to bring NNPC into the picture,” he said.
“It was interesting to see in the news, the last day or two, that NNPC has just announced a new target of about 3 million barrels of oil per day within the next one year or so.
“And it occurred to me, in setting these new targets of increasing oil production, how about setting a target, being the majority shareholder, for the next 12 months to ensure that there is a comprehensive clean-up of the Niger-Delta?
“Until that is done, NNPC would be guilty of looking only at the money and not caring who dies, which rivers are polluted, which forests are wiped out, and how many futures are annulled in advance.”
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES outside the venue of the conference, Jagoda Munic, Chair of Friends of the Earth International, called for more awareness on gas flaring activities for the international community.
“I’m from Southern Europe and for us it’s even difficult to comprehend gas flaring there because it’s an energy source that is really important, that you buy on the market, it’s not something that you flare in the air,” said Ms. Munic.
”For instance, two years ago when we had solidarity actions with Friends of the Earth Nigeria and we were presenting, there was a film about poisonous fires, about gas flaring in Nigeria broadcast to the audience. People were actually shocked that something like that is existing.
“So I will say the first obstacle is communication because many people cannot comprehend that someone is just burning gas into air. Second obstacle is implementation of legal framework. In Nigeria, this is illegal here, should be stopped, but because of a lot of pressure by big international companies, it’s not stopping.”
The third obstacle, according to Ms. Munic, is the challenge of bringing multinational companies under the rule of law.
“We are campaigning hard on that,” she said.
“Of course it’s still not enough but for instance right now we are in a big coalition with a civil society organization that is demanding the UN to make a legal binding treaty that is going to stop corporate impunity, particularly multinational companies in other countries, when they abuse human rights.
“So I think, if we succeed in that, and UN has agreed to pass such treaty, now they are developing it in terms of content. That will give us a tool to basically put more legal pressure on international companies.”
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