Postscript by Waziri Adio
The 2022 United Nations’ conference on climate change starts today in Egypt. This conference marks the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, which effectively secured the place of climate change on the global agenda. The meeting in Egypt is popularly known as COP27, a shorthand for the 27th annual meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP), which in turn is the highest governing body of the UN climate change convention.
These annual meetings are designed to track progress on climate commitments, set new agendas, and build further consensus on how to slow global warming and minimise its devastating impact on people and the planet. It is usually attended by accredited observers and by high-level representatives, including presidents and prime ministers, of the 197 countries that ratified the convention in 1992. Even when it can be a bit raucous and success can be tricky to measure, the yearly COP is the most consequential meeting on the most consequential issue of the moment.
COP27 has also been tagged the African COP. This is not because it is the first time the conference is holding in Africa but because this meeting is expected to put a deserved spotlight on Africa’s special climate vulnerability and needs. Sub-Saharan Africa is responsible for only 3.8% of global greenhouse emissions (compared to 23% by China and 19% by the United States of America), but Africa bears a disproportionate brunt of the consequences of climate change and lacks the spare resources to undertake needed mitigation and adaptation.
Also, Africa’s low development outcomes are likely to be further compromised by commitments of developed western countries, their companies and activists on energy transition. Africa needs a big voice and coordinated action to negotiate fair and just energy transition and for support to cope better with the challenges of climate change. Ordinarily, Nigeria should be able to make a compelling case for the continent and for itself in Egypt. But this is unlikely to happen, if the preparation for—and the quality of representation at—the meeting are good indications.
Interestingly, Nigeria’s participation at COP27 is framed by certain developments that should force it not only to take climate change more seriously but also to become one of the most vocal climate advocates. One, we are in the midst of a terrible flood which has impacted 33 of the 36 states of the federation, led to the death of at least 600 people, and affected more than 2.5 million people. The full economic costs are still being computed but they may be at par with or be higher than the N2.6 trillion incurred by the nationwide flooding of 2012. There is also the potential after-effect in terms of possible water-borne diseases, crop failure and higher food prices. Changing weather patterns are deeply implicated in perennial flooding in the country. It is projected that the floods and their impact will get worse with time.
The second noteworthy development is that Nigeria is increasingly afflicted with some seemingly intractable conflicts a few of which are climate-related. The conflicts between farmers and herders and the resultant insecurity in the North Central and the North West have their roots in the struggle over land and water, which are becoming prized but vanishing resources partly due to desert encroachment. The shrinking of the Lake Chad by about 90% in 50 years created a livelihood crisis that contributed to the appeal of radical Islam and the hold of terrorism in Borno State and some other parts of the North East. As the next report of Agora Policy makes clear, climate change is one of the underlying factors behind growing insecurity in Nigeria.
The third development is how the dominant narrative on energy transition is likely to negatively impact government revenue and Nigeria’s developmental aspirations. The transition away from fossil fuel will, down the line, reduce the income that the Nigerian government can draw from taxes on and sale of oil and gas. It will also impact the inflow of foreign exchange, as the oil and gas sector still accounts for more than 70% of Nigeria’s exports. But more insidious is the ban on investment in gas, which though is cleaner than coal and oil, is still classified as dirty energy. Reduced investment in gas will not only rob Nigeria of vital revenue, but will also hurt its capacity to use its abundant gas to generate electricity for industrial, technology and domestic needs.
For these and other reasons, Nigeria should be one of the strongest voices in the climate change space not just in Africa but globally. For us, climate change is not an academic exercise, a theoretical concept or a potential challenge. It is the here and now, it is existential, and it is likely to get worse.
Yes, we have an energy transition plan, coordinated by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. In the plan, we made a commitment to achieve net-zero by 2060, and estimated that the plan would cost $1.9 trillion. At a time when most or all of revenue goes to debt service, it is important to think of how to mobilise such. VP Osinbajo has been outspoken on the need for a just energy transition, advocating for different paths for developing countries and for support from the rich to the vulnerable. He has written two informed think-pieces in Foreign Affairs and The Economist.
But we need to do much more to leverage our size and the risk we face to get the needed support. That we are not doing, or not doing enough of. Climate change is a classic collective action problem. No country, no matter how well resourced, can go it alone. Nigeria and others definitely need support from the rest of the world, especially the developed countries and the development partners.
South Africa got an $8.5 billion package from COP26 in Scotland. Will Nigeria get any support or even make a strong case for one in COP27? It will be a pleasant surprise if this happens. We are going through a devastating flood which has put a sizeable portion of our country practically under water. But the world barely took notice. And why should the outside world cry more than the bereaved when the devastation has not received more than tokenist gestures from within? Given the failure of leading candidates for the 2023 elections to articulate a lucid climate change position even with the opportunity offered by the floods, the official and societal response to climate change is not likely to change soon.
But it needs to, and quickly too. Some recent talking-points provide openings for us to step up. The first is that the world is not on track to meeting the target of keeping global warming at 1.5 degree Celsius. This portends great dangers for all, especially for the vulnerable. There is space for leadership, a role that Nigeria has both the locus and purchase on. The second issue is the way American and European governments and companies have walked back to fossil fuel (not just oil and gas but also coal) following the energy crisis that came in the wake of the war in Ukraine. Of course, the power equation is asymmetrical: those who make the rule can bend it to their needs. But this also shows there is room for flexibility. Nigeria and others can appeal to this need for flexibility on at least the use of and investment in gas even after the war in Ukraine is resolved.
The last issue is the increasing talk about climate reparation. A vigorous case is being made that the developed countries which have historically been the worst emitters of greenhouse gas should compensate the least emitters and the most vulnerable countries for the loss and damage from global warming. This will be one of the hot topics in Egypt and beyond. It is a reincarnation of the polluter-must-pay concept and strikes at the need for climate justice. This is another space crying for a Nigeria, to raise its and others’ voice and agency. But Nigeria can only do all these when it gets over its climate apathy.
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Publish date : 2022-11-06 06:43:27