• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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COP28: Tinubu’s hypocrisy and wishful thinking on climate change

Not so, Mr. President, Nigeria must first love her citizens

So, Bola Tinubu, Nigeria’s new president, believes that climate change is a Nigerian problem after all. In fact, so much does he believe Nigeria has a climate change problem that he led a delegation of 1,411 people to this year’s United Nations climate summit, COP28, that took place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from November 30 to December 12. Yet, just a few months ago, Tinubu was cynical and dismissive about climate change mitigation in Nigeria.

In October last year, during the presidential election campaign, Tinubu spoke at the interactive session of the Arewa Joint Committee in Kaduna. Asked about climate change, he responded: “It’s a question of how you prevent a church rat from eating poisoned holy communion.” He then added: “We need to tell the West, if they don’t guarantee our finances, we are not going to comply with their climate change.”

Put simply, Tinubu was saying that being “poor”, Nigeria, “a church rat”, cannot stop burning fossil fuels, which he likened to “holy communion”, to fuel its economy, even though fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – are “poisoned”, being the main causes of climate change. He said Nigeria would only stop burning the deadly fuels if the West gave it money. “If the West doesn’t guarantee our finances,” he threatened, “we are not going to comply with their climate change.”

Read also: COP28 summit ends with historic deal to transit from fossil fuel

Of course, it’s a flawed logic. First, if a church rat eats poisoned holy communion it can die. So, it’s strange to think that poor as a church rat as Nigeria might be, it can “eat poisoned holy communion” or feed on noxious fossil fuels without consequences. Second, it’s harebrained to imply that tackling climate change in Nigeria is doing the West a favour because it’s “their climate change” as I wrote in a piece titled “Tinubu says climate change is not Nigeria’s problem. What a smart aleck!” (BusinessDay, October 31, 2022).

Truth is, no serious politician should talk frivolously about climate change, not with its devastating impacts through wildfires, heatwaves, floods, hurricanes, etc. Indeed, the African Union’s Nairobi Declaration describes climate change as “the single biggest threat to all life on Earth”. In his speech at COP 26, the 2021 climate summit in Glasgow, United Kingdom, Tinubu’s predecessor, President Muhammadu Buhari, said: “I do not think anyone in Nigeria needs persuading of the need for urgent action on the environment,” adding: “For Nigeria, climate change is not about the perils of tomorrow, but what’s happening today.” So, Tinubu’s comment on climate change mitigation in Nigeria was thoughtless.

However, now in power, Tinubu seems to have had an epiphany. He seems to have realised the unwisdom of playing politics with climate change. But how genuine is his Damascene conversion and how credible is his government’s commitment to tackling climate change?

However, now in power, Tinubu seems to have had an epiphany. He seems to have realised the unwisdom of playing politics with climate change. But how genuine is his Damascene conversion and how credible is his government’s commitment to tackling climate change? Alas, like many things Tinubu and his government have done, their approach to climate change is more about appearance and less about substance.

Let’s start with the 1,411-strong. Writing in CarbonBrief, Robert McSweeney, the journal’s senior science editor, said Nigeria had the third-largest delegation at COP28, with the same number of delegates as China. Premium Times, the online newspaper, put the cost at N3 Billion. But Tinubu’s senior special assistant on media and publicity, Temitope Ajayi, defended the extravagance, saying: “As the biggest country in Africa, the biggest economy, it’s no-brainer that delegates from Nigeria will be more than any other country in Africa.”

Well, the aide conveniently ignored the countervailing facts, namely: Nigeria may, by GDP, be Africa’s biggest economy, but it’s per capita income, the real measure of prosperity, is, at $2,184, among the lowest in the world. What’s more, Nigeria has the largest concentration of poor people in the world, making it “the poverty capital of the world”. Truth is, there was absolutely no rational justification for Nigeria to send the third-largest delegation to COP28. Absolutely none!

But leaving aside Nigeria’s mushrooming presence, what pledges did Tinubu’s government make at COP28? And how credible are the commitments? Climate change summits are nothing without credible pledges to end greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, one of the four pillars of COP28 was “fast-tracking a just, orderly and equitable energy transition”, and the main commitment is a global pledge is “to triple renewable energy and double energy efficiency by 2030.” Positively, Nigeria is one of the 130 countries that signed up to the pledge. Nigeria also pledged to end gas flaring and reduce methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

These are commendable undertakings. Yet, it’s worth noting that Nigeria has made pledges at every climate change summit but has hardly kept any of them. For instance, at COP21 in Paris in 2015, Nigeria pledged to end gas flaring, but gas flaring continued unabated. Although section 104 the Petroleum Industry Act 2021 prohibits gas flaring, it creates conditions, such as “emergency”, under which it’s permitted. So, gas flaring is not completely outlawed. Thus, the pledge to “end” gas flaring is meaningless. Indeed, Nigeria’s pledge to reduce methane emissions is dubious. Apart from gas flaring, methane emissions come from livestock breeding, particularly cattle, and waste landfills. With cows sometimes more valued than humans in Nigeria, can the government create a stringent regime that ensures methane-free cattle-rearing? And is Nigeria really serious about tackling waste landfills? Yet, without modernising cattle-breeding and addressing waste, it’s hard to reduce methane emissions.

To date, the best thing Nigeria has done on climate change is the enactment of the Climate Change Act 2021, which commits the country to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions between 2050 and 2070. The act mirrors the UK’s pivotal Climate Change Act of 1998 and establishes the National Council on Climate Change, with powers to set carbon budgets and formulate the National Climate Change Action Plan. But the act is a weak instrument.

For instance, while the UK’s act constraints inconsistent government actions and has been successfully invoked legally by NGOs to challenge government policies, Nigeria’s Climate Change Act is not justiciable and thus not legally enforceable against the government. Secondly, while the UK’s Climate Change Committee, CCC, created under the 1998 act, independently polices the government’s policies and actions on climate change, Nigeria’s National Council on Climate Change is part and parcel of government and, thus, subject to the vagaries of the Federal Government’s policy choices.

Read also: COP28: Outrage greets OPEC’s ‘leaked letter’ to Nigeria

Surely, with a government wedded to burning fossil fuels, which pays lip service to energy efficiency and renewable energy, Nigeria will never have ambitious and credible climate goals, despite the act. Indeed, Tinubu genuinely believes it’s difficult to “prevent the church rat from eating the poisoned holy communion.” Which makes Nigeria’s signatory to the global renewable and energy efficiency pledge questionable because the pledge entails ending unabated fossil fuels.

In truth, the Tinubu administration’s main interest in COP28 is the money it thinks it can get from the West. The loss and damage fund, set up at COP27 in Egypt last year, has attracted $700mn pledges from rich countries. However, the fund will be disbursed as loans, not grants. Recently, Wale Edun, the Finance Minister, said Nigeria was “targeting” the global climate change fund, and the government appeared excited that a Nigerian-American, Tariye Gbadegesin, is the new CEO of the Climate Investment Fund, as if she would favour Nigeria.

But Tinubu’s hypocrisy and wishful-thinking on climate change are a folly. For if, as he threatened, Nigeria won’t tackle climate change unless the West “guarantees” its finances, Nigeria would get nothing from the West. Putting appearance and rhetoric above substance and action on climate change won’t work. Only countries with credible climate change mitigation and adaptation commitments can receive international support, not the uncommitted!