To buttress this point, President Buhari continued, that Nigeria “is requesting financing for projects using transition fuels such as gas”, and just for people wondering how this is compatible with the agenda of COP26, he concluded the defence of gas thus: “Our transition plan also highlights the key role that gas will play in transitioning our economy across sectors, and the data and evidence show that Nigeria can continue to use gas until 2040 without detracting from the goals of the Paris Agreement.
President Buhari’s five-minute speech at COP26 presented Nigeria’s views, hopes and attitudes to current discussions about scenarios for the earth’s climate in the next few decades – and whether we, as a civilisation, are prepared to take the necessary measures to limit the impacts of global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, as well as control related global greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists have warned that although the climate is already suffering severe damage caused by emissions presently in the atmosphere, the already shocking climate impacts we see today will begin to go from shocking to outright terrifying.
Why are Nigeria’s views, hopes and attitudes important?
A recent study published in The Lancet in 2020 with the title, “Fertility, mortality, migration, and population scenarios for 195 countries and territories from 2017 to 2100”, suggests that Nigeria will have a population of between 400 – 790 million people by 2100. The same study suggests that Nigeria’s economy will be the ninth largest in the world by then – larger than those of Canada, Brazil, and Russia.
Nigeria will almost certainly have the numbers (people and economic activity) to make an impact on the overall success of initiatives being discussed today. If there is one thing these discussions demonstrate, it is the latency of the consequences of decisions. If you want a result 40 years from now, then, now is the time to make decisions and affect the choices that would lead to the future desired outcomes.
Back to the speech.
The president’s opening line was stark and to the point: “I do not think anyone in Nigeria needs persuading of the need for urgent action on the environment. Desertification in the North, floods in the centre, pollution and erosion on the coast are enough evidence. For Nigeria, climate change is not about the perils of tomorrow but what is happening today. Nigeria is committed to net-zero by 2060.” He went on to state the priorities of the Nigerian people, namely: Energy, water, desertification control, clean cooking and waste management. Nigeria, he added, wishes to build more hydropower dams, solar projects, and “is looking for partners in innovation, technology and finance to make cleaner and more efficient use of all available resources”.
The transition could be eased and made acceptable by foreign technical and financial support… Also, improvements in trading terms and access to world markets (think of extending the US government’s African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to all G-8 countries, so that Nigeria and countries that commit to certain climate goals are able to export virtually everything but arms, duty-free, for 20 years to the G-8), which could trigger a boom in Nigerian exports…
To buttress this point, President Buhari continued, that Nigeria “is requesting financing for projects using transition fuels such as gas”, and just for people wondering how this is compatible with the agenda of COP26, he concluded the defence of gas thus: “Our transition plan also highlights the key role that gas will play in transitioning our economy across sectors, and the data and evidence show that Nigeria can continue to use gas until 2040 without detracting from the goals of the Paris Agreement. Gas will be key for addressing the clean cooking challenge, which is also a challenge of deforestation, and for giving our electric grid the stability and flexibility to integrate renewables at scale. Nigeria will need to integrate an unprecedented 7GW additional renewable capacity each year to achieve net-zero”. All of this, the president added, would “require adequate technical and financial assistance from international partners. The president added that “greater effort should be channelled towards assisting developing nations to meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) commitments through the pledges made by the developed countries to provide at least $100 billion yearly”.
The president proudly declared that Nigeria’s commitment to a just transition is reflected in “our ambitious Energy Compact, which includes the government’s flagship project to electrify five million households and 25 million people using decentralised solar energy solutions”. Finally, the president underlined the position of the Federal Government of Nigeria, that the Energy transition in Nigeria will follow a “bottom-up transition pathway”, and that the government and people of Nigeria will expect financial and technical support for the transition, noting, for emphasis, that “the outcome of this conference must result in quick resolution of all outstanding issues pertaining to the finalisation of the Paris Agreement Rulebook, Adaptation, Mitigation, Finance, Article 6 and Loss and Damage”.
Translation: Nigeria understands the imperative, the science and can even do a lot by itself. Beyond that, Nigeria will need technical and financial support to make decisions that allow it to give up or reduce energy sources that are threats to the climate, while assuring the growth of the economy, the provision of jobs, and lifting the poor population towards a more decent standard of living. Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa, it holds the largest natural gas reserves on the continent, and is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas. Due to all sorts of reasons, some self-inflicted and others not, the Nigerian government still relies heavily on revenues from crude oil and natural gas – and its non–oil revenue comprises only 3.4 per cent of GDP, one of the lowest in the world. Giving up reliance on gas will be costly to the economy and government finances.
The transition could be eased and made acceptable by foreign technical and financial support – with investments in new industries to replace the massively important oil and gas sector, investments in new replacement energy sources (solar, wind and nuclear), as well as investments in improving internal economic activity and internal competitiveness (upgrading wider infrastructure – ports, railways, etc). Also, improvements in trading terms and access to world markets (think of extending the US government’s African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to all G-8 countries, so that Nigeria and countries that commit to certain climate goals are able to export virtually everything but arms, duty-free, for 20 years to the G-8), which could trigger a boom in Nigerian exports (with Nigeria being among the top producers of lemon, ginger, gum Arabic, cassava, handwoven and printed textiles, amongst other things in the world). Without this support, and significant improvement in international economic solidarity, the Nigerian government will resist any call for further self-sacrifice as it sees it.
This resistance is stiff, will remain unyielding, and enjoy near-universal political consensus. Students of Nigerian politics know that once there is such a position in Nigeria, shifting it will not work. Working with Nigeria to achieve what would be good for Nigeria and the world is not only possible but necessary. In concrete terms, the lowest hanging opportunities are not hard to find. These include:
(1) Unblocking the completely artificial barriers to funding fully developed large scale solar projects, which could begin to contribute gigawatts of electricity within a year and a bit;
What the President could not say (he was in a diplomatic setting) but which Nigerians understood he meant, was that if help will not be forthcoming, Nigeria will do its best and then, it will adopt the siddon look attitude… In Pidgin English, ‘siddon look’ means “let’s see how it goes’; “I am unconcerned with the goings-on (wetin concern me?)”; “I will keep watching till I feel it is necessary to talk”; “the environment is not conducive”; “see if I care?”
(2) Supporting companies already deploying innovative clean cooking models to enable as much of the 40 million households that do not have access to LPG cylinders and cookstoves to get them, perhaps on a pay-as-you-go model. Nigeria produces enough LPG to stop the 60,000 verified deaths of mostly women from exposure to the pollutants released from cooking with charcoal, firewood, kerosene, and cow dung;
(3) Engaging in results-based support for NGOs working on the Great Green Wall, an African-led initiative, which aims to restore the continent’s degraded landscapes and transform millions of lives in one of the world’s poorest regions. Teams planting the right trees, according to pre-agreed plans, could be funded following verification through satellite-based monitoring. It is not beyond the capacity of available technologies and agreements to provide pathways for carbon credit funding to be directed to support a massive and sustained programme aimed at stopping the endless march of the Sahara Desert southward, which threatens communities, and destroys ecosystems;
(4) Increasing the support for climate-resilient agricultural initiatives massively, as championed by institutions such as the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan, but with funding tied to verifiable results from productive partnerships with farming communities. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other such organisations do a great job in this regard, but the resources required for the effort go even beyond the capacity of the wealthiest private foundations;
(5) Prioritising urban development and regeneration. Nigeria needs urgent and practical help in re-imagining its cities and towns, many of which have become unliveable places, which are tied to transportation and energy systems that are irredeemable, unless tackled at the root; cities that have become THE problem. Cities like Abuja and Lagos will continue to be massively polluting if they keep growing beyond 20 million and seven million without working and reliable electricity supply systems; without municipally delivered potable water networks; without viable capacity to deal with the waste generated by what passes as modern lifestyles; without trams, city-wide light railways and functional public transportation systems that are safe to use, affordable and attractive to all socio-economic groups; and without effective zoning controls and building regulations. Organisations such as the UK Ordnance Survey have a huge capacity to work with UN-Habitat and other agencies to offer assistance in this regard.
Otherwise: What the president could not say (he was in a diplomatic setting) but which Nigerians understood he meant, was that if help will not be forthcoming, Nigeria will do its best and then, it will adopt the siddon look attitude. No, that was not a typographical error. ‘Siddon look’ is a correct phrase. In Pidgin English, ‘siddon look’ means “let’s see how it goes’; “I am unconcerned with the goings-on (wetin concern me?)”; “I will keep watching till I feel it is necessary to talk”; “the environment is not conducive”; “see if I care?” We cannot afford for a country as big and important as Nigeria to end up indifferent. We cannot afford this, also, in the words of Elie Wiesel, because “only one enemy is worse than despair: indifference. In every area of human creativity, indifference is the enemy; the indifference of evil is worse than evil because it is also sterile.” We cannot end up disconnected and dis-concerned.
Jerome Okolo is co-founder, Safi Africa Energy.
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