Martins Hile, Editor, Financial Nigeria magazine

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Tinubu’s missed opportunity at the Paris climate summit 14 Aug 2023

Bola Ahmed Tinubu made his debut official trip abroad as Nigeria's president when he attended the international Summit for a New Global Financing Pact in Paris, France on 22-23 June 2023. Hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, the summit aimed to reform the global financial architecture to make it more fit to mobilise financing for climate change action, particularly in the most vulnerable countries. Other stated objectives of the summit entailed encouraging investment in energy transition, fostering private sector development, and supporting developing countries to address their rising debt crisis.

Tinubu joined more than 40 heads of state together with dozens of other government officials from various countries, leaders of multilateral institutions, business organisations, and civil society who convened in Paris to strategise on solutions to development challenges. The two-day summit could not possibly solve all the problems. But it increased momentum on the dialogue about developed nations facilitating more funding for climate action and other global crises that are disproportionately affecting developing nations. Macron and a number of other leaders and activists have been strong advocates of this dialogue.

The Paris meeting was an opportunity for the new Nigerian president to not just make a strong impression on the global stage, but also assert Nigeria's leadership role in terms of promoting a fair and inclusive global financial system for Africa's benefit. It was a chance to articulate how his administration plans to drive Nigeria's climate action or at the very least express his position on the global development agenda. Unfortunately, that opportunity was missed. In fact, Tinubu did not participate in a panel session he was scheduled to join, choosing rather to send Nigerian ambassador Adamu Ahmed to represent him. Special Adviser on Special Duties, Communications and Strategy, to the president, Dele Alake, said Tinubu was in Paris to "network" and urge foreign investors to take advantage of opportunities in Nigeria.

At the time of the summit, Tinubu had spent less than a month in office. But after more than 60 days as Nigeria's president, his administration's position on climate governance is still unclear. As a presidential candidate, Tinubu enunciated no policy agenda on climate change nor did he discuss how his administration would implement the country's existing climate change policy. When asked a question about global warming last October, his position was that his administration would only take measures to limit climate change if Western countries were going to fund the cost.

No country in the world can afford the luxury of completely shifting climate responsibility to others. A rapidly warming planet poses an existential threat to Nigeria, just as it does to all other countries. Several incidents in Nigeria already underscore the need for urgent action on climate resilience. Earlier this year, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) disclosed that flood disasters in 2022 left over 2.4 million people displaced and caused 662 fatalities. In July 2023, the agency released a flood warning, saying 14 states and 31 communities may witness heavy rainfall that would lead to flooding. Flooding events and droughts, caused by increasing climate variability, pose a serious risk to Nigeria's food security.

Under President Muhammadu Buhari's administration, Nigeria put in place certain legislative and institutional frameworks to achieve national Net-Zero emissions target by 2060 in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement. The Climate Change Act was passed in November 2021 and in August 2022, the federal government launched its Energy Transition Plan (ETP) aimed at achieving carbon neutrality in the country's energy, transport, and industry sectors. However, the current administration has yet to express a readiness to support and strengthen the capacity of these frameworks established under its predecessor.

A clear climate governance is important in handling the effects of global warming, while boosting development outcomes for the well-being of the environment and people. It is also crucial in attracting the funding that is needed to invest in low-carbon infrastructure, especially energy infrastructure, and other climate-resilient investments. It is estimated, for instance, that at least $10 billion financing is needed to kickstart the implementation of the ETP.

One of biggest challenges Nigeria and many other developing countries face is how to finance climate resilience and sustainable development. According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), the continent needs about $1.4 trillion between 2020 and 2030 to implement its climate action commitments, including energy transition. This represents an annual financing gap of $99.9–$127.2 billion. Globally, developing and emerging economies are expected to spend between $2.5 trillion and $4.8 trillion on green financing and sustainable development by 2030.

The current high public and private debt levels in developing economies makes it difficult for them to finance sustainable growth. But beyond this, Macron argues the extant global financial system has reached its limits in addressing climate change and other developmental challenges. Hence, the strong call that was made by leaders at the Paris summit for a “transformation” of the system. Countries like Nigeria require significant international support to not only meet their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals, but also accelerate sustainable development that is needed to improve the living conditions of millions of citizens.   

This is why the Paris summit presented an opportunity for the Tinubu administration to show its commitment to Nigeria's climate action by ratcheting up the conversation to facilitate access to much-needed green financing. But while Nigeria failed to live up to its African leadership role in Paris, several other countries like South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zambia, and Niger rose to the occasion. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Kenya President William Ruto, along with their Ethiopian and Nigerien counterparts, gave impassioned speeches about the need for the summit to not just be another meeting. They called for more grants and concessional loans, debt cancellation, among other actions.

Zambia reached a $6.3 billion debt restructuring deal, one that extended the deadline for repayment to over 20 years. Senegal concluded a €2.5 billion Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) with a group comprising Germany, France, Canada, the European Union, and the United Kingdom. The deal was designed to help the West African country to achieve its target of 40 per cent share of electricity mix from renewable energy sources by 2030.
Other key takeaways from the summit included a promise by developed nations to lend additional $200 billion to finance climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries over the next 10 years. Countries of the Global North had been criticised for failing to fulfil their long-overdue $100 billion pledge to support climate action in developing countries annually from 2009 to 2020. As of 2020, only a total of $83 billion of the amount pledged had been raised, with France mobilising €5.08 billion. In Paris, there was a suggestion the $100 billion pledge would be delivered this year.

In addition, France, Japan, and the UK were among some of the developed countries that said they would provide $80 billion through the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), the Fund’s international reserve assets, to enable developing countries to respond to ongoing and future crises. The United States, the largest IMF quota holder, is yet to approve about 20 billion worth of SDR.

While the positive momentum that the Paris summit helped to build on various initiatives must be maintained, the meeting confirmed that development challenges such as climate change and poverty are not unsurmountable as long as leaders muster the political will to pool resources and expertise, and mobilise the moral courage to support the most vulnerable people in society. The foresight and responsiveness demonstrated by Macron by championing international climate action and canvassing an agenda to transform the global financial system need to be commended. The French president does not only talk the talk; France has also been investing significant amounts of funds to reduce GHG emissions both domestically and internationally.  

The coming months will reveal how the Tinubu administration manages to develop and backstop a well-defined climate governance plan. As the administration grapples with various concurring domestic challenges – including high inflation and unemployment, low productivity, rampant insecurity, and rising poverty – climate change cannot be on the back burner. The inextricable link between climate change and poverty is not hypothetical in Nigeria as evidenced by the loss of human lives and economic costs caused by various extreme weather events.

This means that unlocking the resources needed to both mitigate and adapt to climate change will simultaneously help the Nigerian government in fighting poverty. Attracting the funding needed to implement the ETP approved by the last administration, for example, will deliver on the plan's core objective of modernising energy services while also delivering positive social and economic returns to the people.

As much as the administration still intends to invest in fossil fuels, it needs to also ramp up the country's energy diversification and transition by increasing electricity supply from renewable energy sources. Achieving these objectives requires collaboration. But as the Paris summit revealed, the government needs to demonstrate competency and leadership to enable it optimise every opportunity and forge meaningful partnerships with nations and international organisations committed to achieving sustainable development goals.

Martins Hile is a sustainability strategist and editorial consultant.