Taking Nigeria’s green transition beyond policy to action

14 Nov 2022, 12:00 am
Martins Hile


Nearly one year after the federal government enacted the Climate Change Act in November 2021, the pilot carbon budget has not been released.

Gas flaring

Nigeria and over 70 other countries have set targets to achieve net-zero greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions over the next three to five decades. The idea is to eliminate the emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere and warm the planet, or at the least balance additional emissions by an equivalent amount being removed. Commitments to net zero by mid-century are necessary to reverse global warming, which is causing extreme weather events that are occurring with more frequency and a lot more severity.

Participation in the race to carbon neutrality has transcended national governments. Scientific evidence and growing environmental challenges impose a moral obligation on everyone to act now to mitigate the impact of the damage already done and avert the worst that could happen. Around the world, cities, businesses, academic institutions, and individuals are responding to the obligation to foster a resilient planet and a more socially inclusive world.

Given humanity's vulnerability to climate change, emission-reduction (or low-carbon transition) plans are not to be taken just at face value. The rhetoric needs to be matched with strategic priorities and concrete actions. For instance, Nigeria's stated plan to reach net-zero GHG emissions between 2050 and 2070, and the country's commitments to doing so, have been evaluated by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT). The group, which provides independent scientific analysis of governments' climate action, has rated Nigeria's targets and policies as "almost sufficient." This means that the country's climate commitments are not yet consistent with the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting average global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and, therefore, require moderate improvements.

Specifically, CAT says Nigeria’s energy sector plans are at odds with the Paris Agreement because of the country's plan to expand oil and gas production. Moreover, Nigeria is not on track to achieve its 30 per cent renewable energy target by 2030. Nearly one year after the federal government enacted the Climate Change Act in November 2021, the pilot carbon budget has not been released. The emissions quota and the first five-year Action Plan were expected to be published within one year of passage of the law, in line with Sections 19(2) and 20(2) of the Act.

Delays in the implementation of the Act were inevitable given the tardiness in appointing a Director General of the National Council on Climate Change (NCCC). Salisu Dahiru, the inaugural DG of the NCCC, was only appointed in July 2022.

Notwithstanding the delayed implementation, the Climate Change Act establishes a decarbonisation pathway, which will create new opportunities for sustainable and inclusive growth potentials in the Nigerian economy. The Act will also help in transforming the country's energy and industrial systems.

While Nigeria's climate commitments are not yet consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C target, according to CAT, the country is rated higher than China, the United States, and European Union – the world's biggest polluters. China's carbon neutrality target of 2060 and the country’s climate policies and action are rated as "highly insufficient". The U.S. and E.U.'s aim to reach net zero by 2050 is laudable but their policies and commitment are deemed to be "insufficient" and in need of substantial improvements to be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s target.

But it is one thing to have a competitive legislative plan. Implementing the plan to achieve the desired goals and create a competitive advantage could present a different set of hoops to jump through. And with Nigeria's immense macroeconomic and fiscal challenges, there are a lot more hoops. To be sure, financing the country's net-zero transition will require trillions of dollars – much more than previous economic plans, like the National Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan (2020-2043), whose implementation requires a total investment of $2.3 trillion over the 23-year period.

Unlocking the required net-zero financing would be a huge, but not unsurmountable, challenge. An equally colossal challenge is in the task of demonstrating commitment to the green transition pathway. Nigeria needs to ensure that public, private, and social sector institutions align their policies and internal operations with the green transition goals, in addition to possibly acting as net-zero champions.

Each country’s green transition pathway is different. For Nigeria, there are five key questions that would require some pondering to appreciate the profound significance of what lies ahead. One, what is our winning strategy for achieving net zero? Such a strategy is vital for outlining short, medium, and long-term targets and milestones, and mapping out the mechanisms for delivering positive impact for all citizens. The NCCC or a different body like a Ministry of Sustainability can be in charge of developing such a strategy, sharing best practices with other ministries and agencies, as well as communicating Nigeria's climate action, policies, and targets.

Two, what economic, social, and environmental impact must the transition deliver? An inclusive green transition should impact society positively by creating new markets and far-reaching economic opportunities, reducing social inequalities, and improving the resilience of the ecosystem. Three, how can we compete and create sustainable advantage relative to other economies? Suffice to say that a key area of economic competitiveness in the race to zero is in the development and utilisation of low-carbon technologies.    

Four, what capabilities do we need to acquire? Building capacities and developing proficiencies to optimise our human, natural, and economic assets, while ensuring best practices for achieving positive green transition outcomes is critical. Five, what policies and programmes must be instituted? A net-zero strategy would be driven by practical and actionable policies and initiatives to help us arrive at our ultimate destination.

Thinking about these questions leads to the realisation that in order to make the most out of the opportunity that decarbonisation presents, Nigeria needs to embrace the concept of sustainability. In this sense, sustainability is not the ability to keep on doing something over a period of time; rather, it refers to a toolkit for doing better, protecting the environment, leveraging technology and innovation, maximising opportunities, and improving how citizens and communities are treated.

Sustainability is a paradigm for thinking about the future and seeing environmental protection and social progress as pivotal to long-term economic development. One of the reasons Nigeria's economic growth targets and development aspirations continue to be elusive is poor risk management. Considering the fact that climate change amplifies vulnerabilities to all risks faced by countries and organisations, a sustainability-based approach to risk management will equip public and private sector institutions to confront vulnerabilities more effectively. It will help the institutions to overcome challenges, leverage their assets, pursue opportunities, increase performance, and achieve their goals.                                                                                                                      

Sustainability can also address the challenge of tepid commitment to national green transition by reshaping the way government officials, businesspeople, and other professionals think about the interrelationship between the climate, policy, and nation-building. While sustainability can enhance the delivery of core institutional mandates, it will also imbue organisations with stronger purpose and more strategic intent. The principles of sustainability could also help in fostering more collaboration among government agencies, and between public and private sector organisations.

Embedding sustainability as a key pillar of Nigeria's growth strategy would provide a pathway for achieving sustainable, inclusive, and high economic growth. This will be in line with the key objectives of the net-zero transition.

Martins Hile is a sustainability strategist and editorial consultant.


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