President Muhammadu Buhari will fail to keep his vow that, under his watch, Nigeria will become a “forceful and constructive player” in the global fight against climate change if he ignores five actionable suggestions highlighted in this article. Climate change is a global emergency with local consequences.
This article was inspired during a reception hosted by the Presidency of African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN) – Egyptian Ministry of Environment where I had a deep but honest discussion with one of the key administrators of the AMCEN secretariat who was with one of the United Nation’s environmental agencies before his appointment to serve his country. In the third week of August 2015, I had been working from the Dusit Thani Lakeview Hotel, Cairo, Egypt as part of a team of experts from Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Least Developed Countries (LDC) and Africa convened by the UN Secretary-General’s office on Climate Change to brainstorm on Climate Resilience under the proposed Anticipate, Absorb and Reshape (A2R) framework. On the sidelines of this event, the African experts had been brainstorming on how to deliver on an African Heads of State mandate to the African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN) to develop with the African Group of climate change Negotiators (AGN) a proposal for enhanced support to Africa on Adaptation, Loss and Damage, in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as the momentum peaks for the upcoming 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP 21) in Paris, France this December where a legally binding global agreement on climate change is expected to be agreed.
You see, when push comes to shove, the African continent stands on a tripod of Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria as the arrow head but that is where the problem starts. Egypt and South Africa have been doing their best in responding to the climate challenge, harnessing opportunities thrown up by a changing climate and leveraging on climate diplomacy to advance the best interests of their countries. Where is Nigeria? Gone missing in action as usual but while we are so used to carefree attitude of successive governments in Nigeria on a critical issue that has local, national, regional and global ramifications like climate change, this has become a source of pain and heavy burden for other countries in Africa – with far reaching consequences for our citizens, communities, country and continent. If Nigeria walks, Africa runs and if Nigeria runs, Africa flies! This opinion paper triples as an encouragement and guide as well as a direct challenge to President Buhari and the 36 state governors to go ahead and do the needful to protect Nigeria’s economy from the ravaging impacts of climate change!
It is unpardonable for the “Giant of Africa” to stay aloof while countries such as Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya access far more climate finance than Nigeria. This is shameful, unacceptable and does not fit our status as the biggest economy in Africa!
In his acceptance and inauguration speeches, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari assured all foreign governments and our long suffering citizens that Nigeria will become a major influential country in the global fight against climate change. For those of us in the climate change community championing the mainstreaming of climate change into Nigeria’s infrastructural development master plans and economic growth blueprints, this statement of intent from a man who would steer the destiny, dreams and aspirations of over 170 million people in the next four years, is as reassuring, relieving and refreshing as it gets. But he needs our support and here is mine! These are the five actions President Buhari must take before the end of 2015 in order to put Nigeria in the driver’s seat and provide climate leadership for Africa and other developing countries.
Firstly, President Buhari should tap into Nigeria’s avalanche of best brains in the field of climate change by inviting Nigerians who are members of the United Nations Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to a breakfast meeting in Abuja. The IPCC is a global group of scientists and experts who provide the scientific body of evidence encapsulated in their series of periodic Assessment Reports upon which the UNFCCC has been trying to surmount the challenge of climate change. President Buhari will come out of this meeting with deeper insight and broader perspective on the best way forward after initiating an honest discussion with these Nigerians who are part of the team advising the United Nations on climate change.
Secondly, President Buhari should appoint and empower a Presidential Special Envoy on Climate Change whose main duty is to champion Nigeria’s climate diplomacy as well as lead both regional and international action to mobilise multilateral resources in pursuit of mainstreaming climate change into Nigeria’s development blueprints like MDGs and Vision 2020. Few weeks ago, I was involved in an expanded version of Climate Finance workshop with Ministry of Environment, Nigeria Infrastructural Advisory Facility (NIAF), UNDP and the Intended Nationally Determined (NAPA/NAMA) Contributions (INDCs) forum – a Paris COP21 preparatory platform for Nigeria where I made it clear that Nigeria was not accessing enough of green funds and punching far below her belt – as usual, in harnessing benefits and opportunities presented by UNFCCC backed Climate Finance.
Many countries are already realising and tapping into the manifold benefits of having a Presidential Special Envoy on Climate Change (PSECC). Indonesia is a good reference point with Dr. Rachmat Witoelar driving their international climate change diplomacy in the capacity of a Presidential Special Envoy on Climate Change. As someone who has been proactively working to encourage the local, national and global transition to low carbon economy while also encouraging public and private sector institutions and businesses to embrace environmental responsibility and climate change governance as veritable foundation to build national and corporate sustainability frameworks in Africa, I can authoritatively affirm that Nigeria has a lot to gain by empowering a “Climate Change Czar” in the person and office of the Presidential Special Envoy on Climate Change!
Thirdly, President Buhari should enable Nigeria’s institutional framework to address climate change by quickly signing into law the Nigeria Climate Change Commission (NCCC) Bill presently oscillating between the National Assembly and Presidential Villa. President Buhari should also re-tool and redirect part of the resources in the Ecological Fund Office towards meeting Nigeria’s climate change capacity building and knowledge management needs. The Ecological Fund has become another slush fund source for idle minds loafing around the corridors of power. This is unacceptable and must change! Entrenched bureaucratic interests feeding fat on the status quo are contented with the business as usual approach to responding to matters of national security like climate change ganged up against the coming into being of the NCCC. President Goodluck Jonathan had a rare opportunity to give life and meaning to the NCCC Bill but his choice of absenting his signature and allowing such an innovative enterprise to wallow in coma, sadly ever after, speaks volumes of a dearth of leadership vision. Never again!
Fourthly, President Buhari should practically demonstrate Nigeria’s new status as a “forceful and constructive player” in the global fight against climate change by personally leading Nigeria’s delegation to the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) after ordering an urgent review, update and public communication of Nigeria’s Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), National Programme of Adaptation Actions (NAPAs) and Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to ensure they are aligned with Nigeria’s extant economic development realities while adding value to existing initiatives like NEEDS, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Vision 20:20:20. This symbolic gesture of personally attending the COP 21 in Paris this December would elevate Nigeria’s status as leading African voice and force, especially providing another platform to work together to tackle climate change with the Presidents of the G-7 countries who few weeks ago hosted President Buhari in Germany.
Finally, President Buhari should launch the “Nigeria beyond Oil” marshall plan in line with the reality and necessity of weaning Nigeria’s dangerous dependence on hydrocarbon resources which has in itself proved a national security risk. Renewable energy has come to stay and will increasingly take up huge chunks of the energy mix in the years and decades ahead. Nigeria must adjust to this reality and start thinking and working out actionable plan for life without overflowing petro-dollars. Africa’s biggest economy cannot afford to miss out on the fast emerging global low carbon economy. The choice facing Nigeria is simple: adjust and align to ride the crest of this raging storm of climate change or get drowned in its fury!
By Stanley Igwebuike Ijeoma (World Council for Renewable Energy (WCRE) Country Representative for Nigeria and CEO, Schrodinger Limited, Abuja. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)