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Nigeria’s climate policy must acknowledge multiple challenges

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In the recently culminated 28th Conference of the Parties, held in Dubai between November 30, 2023 and December 12, 2023, Nigeria injected its somewhat discordant note into the global composition swirling around the climate change issue. The nation challenged the conference to think differently about the existential risks facing resource dependent countries in a zero-carbon future.

COP28–an assembly of over 90,000 delegates hailing from 150 nations converged on an apparently harmonious confluence of voices, collectively accentuating the exigency of confronting spectre of a three degree Celsius global temperature rise by 2100 – called for unity around the issue of a zero-carbon future. President Bola Tinubu represented Nigeria’s delegation with discernible authority, orchestrated the participation of 422 official delegates, comprising academics, journalists, business magnates, development partners, climate activists, and representatives from communities interested in the unfolding saga that is climate change.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP, serves as an indispensable annual convocation (sometimes jamboree) that unifies nations globally to address the pressing challenges posed by climate change. Conceived under the aegis of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, this conference provides an arena for international leaders, negotiators, scientists, activists, and stakeholders to engage in discourse and negotiation, endeavouring to discover common solutions to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The primary objective is to formulate global accords and pledges conducive to fostering a resilient and sustainable future. Each successive COP builds upon the achievements and challenges of its antecedents, perpetuating the quest for a comprehensive and efficacious global response to climate change. COP28 stands as a progression from its precursor, COP27, which was held in Egypt in 2022.

The Nigerian delegation embarked upon a mission to articulate the nation’s stance on climate action even as the deforestation of Nigeria is ruthlessly implemented at an accelerating pace.  It is estimated that that Nigeria has lost 12 per cent of its forest reserves, unreplenished, since 2020. The timeless refrain, “The times they are a-changin’’ by Bob Dylan resonates aptly as Tinubu steered the nuanced dialogue on Africa’s role in the worldwide climate movement. Parallel to India’s steadfast defence of continued coal usage, as expounded by Leena Nandan, India’s environmental secretary, at COP28, Tinubu advocated a judicious equilibrium between climate objectives and the economic exigencies of developing countries. Africa, posited the President during a panel discussion on Africa Green Industrialisation, convened by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the President of the United Arab Emirates at COP28, ought not to be relegated to a passive role in the global pursuit of environmental goals. Emphasising Africa’s minimal carbon emission contributions, Tinubu canvassed for empathy and support in facilitating a judicious energy transition, persistently beseeching the developed world to discern the unique challenges confronting developing countries. The President drew a poignant analogy between Nigeria’s substantial reliance on hydrocarbons for foreign exchange and the implausibility of severing Africa from its economic lifeline; likening it to “asking a church rat not to eat the Holy Communion”: a somewhat sardonic metaphor. To facilitate a seamless transition, Tinubu underscored the imperative of immediate investments in Africa’s alternative energy sources by the international community.

Scrutinising Nigeria’s performance at COP28, concerns arise regarding the substantive weight and calibre of arguments presented, considering Nigeria’s role as the preeminent voice not solely for itself but for the entirety of West Africa. Some critical questions immediately arise: Are we formulating the requisite questions? Are we articulating our specific challenges in a manner that resonates with and is comprehensible to the Western audience? Perhaps, Nigeria ought to emulate China’s nuanced approach to these conferences; strategically presenting a unified and solid front with representatives spanning diverse ministries in climate negotiations, thereby fortifying its position. Did Nigeria consult with and harmonise a position with other ECOWAS countries, especially the Francophones before the conference? Are its positions consistent with policy, priorities within the country? Nigeria must ensure that the economic, financial, and security dimensions of climate change are integral to its deliberations.

Indeed, climate change is an intricate issue necessitating a comprehensive response transcending environmental considerations alone. It is imperative for developing nations to involve a diverse array of stakeholders, extending beyond the confines of the Ministry of Environment, when embarking upon the pivotal process of shaping climate decisions. While the environmental sector undoubtedly holds prominence, collaboration with key players from other sectors is indispensable for a holistic approach. The inclusion of representatives from the Ministry of Finance is imperative to harmonise climate strategies with economic parameters, ensuring sustainability without jeopardising financial stability. Additionally, the pivotal role played by a nation’s central bank in facilitating funding channels for sustainable projects and navigating the intricacies of climate initiatives cannot be overstated. Acknowledging the role of the National Security Adviser is equally critical, given that climate change has transmuted into a security concern for myriad developing countries. The confluence of resource scarcity, environmental degradation, and climate-induced migration can exacerbate existing tensions, triggering internal migration with the attendant security issues, rendering climate decisions inextricable from national security considerations.

The often overlooked nexus between the effects of climate change and national security warrants heightened scrutiny. Resource scarcity, extreme weather events, and displacement have the potential to foment conflict as the climate crisis intensifies. Disputes between nations may ensue due to resource shortages stemming from dwindling arable land and water, and hydro-dam projects exacerbate the potential for conflict originating in shifting climatic patterns. Crafting climate policies that bolster resilience and mitigate instability necessitates that developing nations, more susceptible to climate change effects, incorporate security considerations. An agile and adaptable future in the face of evolving climate challenges mandates the simultaneous repositioning of security strategy.

While Nigeria’s commendable endeavours to secure funding commitments during COP28, notably through the establishment of the Loss and Damage Fund and Tariye Gbadegbesin’s appointment as CEO of the Climate Investment Fund mark significant strides, caution must prevail. It is crucial to acknowledge that, as a developing nation, Nigeria cannot commit to the same sweeping measures in the fight against climate change as developed countries.  Effectively diminishing reliance on fossil fuels and carbon-based energy sources necessitates a sophisticated strategy, one that Nigeria and West Africa must strategically present as a united front with representatives from all pertinent ministries and stakeholders in climate negotiations, thereby augmenting their collective position.

Nigeria must ensure that the economic, financial, and security facets of climate change are reflected in its deliberations, recognising the complexity of the issue within the context of the nation’s current developmental stage. In the global pursuit of addressing climate change, negotiations must consider the multifaceted challenges faced by different countries, affording them the latitude to devise paths aligning with their unique circumstances. In other words, complexity thinking must take centre stage in its negotiating position.

Nigeria, in honing its narrative, must ensure that its stance on the issues of climate justice within its contribution to the cacophony of demands by different nations resounds prominently on the world stage, is comprehensively understood and acknowledged by the major players in the unfolding game that is climate change.

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