How Nigeria can build climate resilient economy, by Eleri

It was a particularly wet day in Abuja. The rain was heavy and I was driving with my cousin, David. David is a Lagos banker. He told me we were lucky in Abuja. It rains non-stop in Lagos, and the floods last month have cost him a good chunk of money.

That day in Lagos, David and his driver were returning from the airport. Near the Falomo Bridge, the water was so high that the engine compartment of the four-wheel drive was soaked. At some point, the engine stopped completely. He and the driver pulled up their trousers, and pushed the beast through the pool to the shoulder of the road. A week later, he got a bill of Six Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira from the mechanic. David told me it was time to talk about climate change.

According to the Red Cross, 102 lives were lost in the recent Ibadan floods. The University of Ibadan alone estimates a loss of 10 billion Naira in infrastructure damage. Estimates of the financial cost of this year’s floods in Lagos vary. According to newspaper reports, perhaps a Hundred Billion Naira may have been lost. Nationwide, this year’s floods may have cost us an equivalent of about 300 billion Naira or nearly two percent of GDP. This does not include the lives that were washed away, or the daily stories of human suffering. But our government doesn’t stop to count the cost – the cost of its inaction.

Actions required to tackle climate change are often in our national economic interest. Take for one, the issue of gas flaring. This is Africa’s most important single source of harmful greenhouse gases that cause global warming. If we had the courage to switch off this evil fire, there will be enough gas for our power plants, and we can expand our economy and create jobs. And we may also have spared the pain we cause the people and environment of the Niger Delta. The benefits of reducing the emission of these harmful gases would only have been a bonus to the fight against global warming.

Another example is the four billion US Dollars we spend on fuel subsidy – an unnecessary donation to the rich who own cars. Had we spent this amount annually on modernisation of railways or innovative urban mass transport systems, the poor will benefit. We will also have cleaner urban air quality and help address global warming. From ending gas flaring, expanding transportation infrastructure such as the BRT in Lagos, scaling up renewable energy supply and encouraging energy efficiency – actions needed to grow our economy are exactly what the doctors ordered for addressing global warming. Since the impacts of climate change are already here, we can also build more climate resilient infrastructure – better roads, bridges, drainages, dams and create insurance schemes for our farmers. But this is not happening.

Making progress against climate change in Nigeria will require a stronger policy and institutional framework. Today, there is no clear political ownership on this issue. The National Climate Change Commission Bill passed by the National Assembly is lost in the Presidency. Nobody knows where the file is. The result is a costly dereliction of responsibility by our government, and a general sense of drift on climate change.

A suite of key issues are important in the government’s future response to climate change. One is finance. Implementation of the Gas Master Plan or what the government now calls the Gas Revolution will cost tens of billions of dollars. So will the expansion of public transport infrastructure and renewable energy supply. Opening up the pipeline of domestic and international sources of finance for these programmes should be left, right and centre of our international climate engagement.

In previous negotiations, we have joined bigger development countries in endless bickering over access to high end climate change technologies. But our women need everyday survival technologies such as clean cookstoves and cheaper solar lanterns. Over 79,000 Nigerians, mostly women die every year of smoke from household cooking with wood. This is Nigeria’s silent killer. But clean cookstoves save lives, money and our forests. These are flesh and blood issues that cry for attention.

Even if our government wakes up to its responsibilities and begin to take the right mitigation and adaptation steps at home, our actions alone will not be enough. Nigeria must step up pressure on richer countries to take more ambitions reductions of emissions. That’s our only hope of reducing the menacing floods of the future, and stopping the Sahara Desert from eating deep into our country. And we must also be courageous enough to encourage our friends among the bigger developing countries like Brazil, China and India to take stronger and perhaps more binding actions. A climate deal without China and the bigger developing countries will be a waste of efforts.

As we prepare for the climate negations in Durban by the end of the year, our domestic needs for finance, technology and capacity building in delivering energy, infrastructure and resilience in agriculture should form the bedrock of our positions. We must also be ready to push rich countries and the bigger developing countries to take on more ambitious emission reduction measures. This will be our only hope of averting the floods of the future, and the costs we all must pay.

Ewah Otu Eleri Executive Director, International Centre for Energy, Environment & Development, Abuja