By Ewah Otu Eleri, Executive Director, International Centre for Energy, Environment & Development
The Durban Climate Change Conference started this week. Nigeria will be represented with over a hundred official delegates. This comes in addition to scores of NGO representatives and the media. In past meetings, the Nigerian contingent had been one of the largest of all countries. Ordinarily, this should signal the level of importance we attach to the issue of climate change. But this has not been so.
Ahead of this climate change conference, the Nigerian media had increasingly demanded to know what key issues the country will take to the negotiation table. Over the past three years, calls for clear national positions on international climate change negotiations have become relentless. Our government has relentlessly responded with a deafening silence.
Under pressure from civil society, the government has developed a “position paper”. This has neither an actionable political commitment by the Federal Government or clear priorities for our country. This sense of drift and lack of political leadership on this issue cannot continue.
Climate change will be one of the main forces shaping our country in the next twenty years. For instance, the links between worsening climatic conditions and national security, especially in parts of the North may only get stronger. If no action is taken to address climate-induced desertification, the agricultural economy in the North will crumble. More young people will be out of work and religious extremism will be there as a last resort. Our policy makers are yet to wake up to this reality.
Nigeria’s stakes in international cooperation on climate change are many and compelling. But if these issues are too complex for the attention span of our political leaders, perhaps we should simplify them. How about a one-point agenda? Could Nigeria offer to end gas flaring in exchange for investments in gas power plants, gas gathering and transportation systems? Our country requires about 7.5 trillion Naira new investments in clean gas energy projects. Here will be a chance to end the electricity supply crisis, reduce the environmental pressure on the people of the Niger Delta and make Africa’s most important contribution to reducing emission of these harmful gases. How about that?
But why is the current government not taking appropriate actions on climate change? The reason is simple. Measures to address this problem are fundamental to our economy and political life – be it petroleum or agriculture. But the officials currently running Nigeria’s response to climate change neither control the economy nor have political power. That’s why we are stuck.
Until we reform climate change governance and ensure that it is integrated into economic decisions, the current drift will continue. Like Copenhagen and Cancun climate change conferences with huge Nigerian entourage, we are heading to Durban empty-handed and may return empty-handed. The year 2012 must therefore be a year of climate change governance reform. If we don’t get it right at home, our hopes of success in international negotiations will be blighted.