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Woodsmoke clouds Nigeria’s carbon reduction plans after return to firewood

Nigerians have been lining up to buy Adunni Abdul’s moimoi – black-eyed peas steamed in leaves – for more than a decade in the vast tech accessories market in Lagos. Five years ago, she ditched the smoke that came with it; now it is back.

High prices for smokeless liquid petroleum gas (LPG) have forced Adunni and many like her to add wood and charcoal to their cookstands. She had dropped them in 2016 amid a government campaign to improve public health.

“Gas is costly, that is why I am using firewood,” she told Reuters in the teeming Computer Village, explaining that LPG had helped her breath more easily and cooked her food faster.

Burning LPG emits around 50% less carbon than charcoal, and 20% less than heating oil, and switching to the gas is a central plank of carbon reduction plans of Africa’s most populous nation, where more than 200 million people live.

President Muhammadu Buhari referenced cleaner cooking in his speech last week at the COP 26 climate summit, but LPG prices have risen by 60% over the past year in the biggest city Lagos, where inflation is in double-digits and unemployment is rising.

Many women like 73-year-old Abdul, who spend hours inside kitchens and at roadside cooking stands, feel they have no choice but to burn wood or charcoal, even though experts say it damages their health and also drives deforestation.

Nigeria’s LPG use faltered in 2020 after nearly 10 years of growth, according to World LPG Association data. In 2018, only about 5% of Nigerians used LPG for cooking, while 73% relied on charcoal or biomass like wood, according to the latest figures from the International Energy Agency.

Lagos charcoal seller Jerry Inyang said now sells as many as 90 packs of charcoal a day, triple last year. Household demand began faltering in 2020, according to the World LPG Association, and while data for 2021 is not yet available, the Nigeria LPG Association (NLPGA) said the country is at risk of reversing the LPG use gains it has made.

NLPGA deputy president Felix Ekundayo said a global power crunch that boosted U.S., European and Middle Eastern LPG prices to a near seven-year high was a major factor behind Nigeria’s rising prices.
Despite having extensive gas reserves, Nigeria lacks the infrastructure to exploit much of it, and burns some 400 million cubic feet of gas as waste every year.

Ekundayo said a falling naira and recently added 7.5% LPG import tax was adding to the strain. NLPGA has called on the government to scrap the tax, which was added amid a government push for revenue.

“The time at which gas is displacing other dirty fuel, that is not the time to have inconsistent policy,” Ekundayo said.

A variety of factors are discouraging LPG imports, which account for 65% of the market in Nigeria. This has resulted in excess demand for domestic supplies, the Nigerian Association of Liquefied Petroleum Gas Marketers, said Monday.

Customers are currently paying more than triple what they were charged in January, with a 12.5-kilogram cylinder now costing up to 10,200 naira ($25), the group also known as NALPGAM said.

The “galloping prices” mean Nigerians “are reverting to the use of kerosene, charcoal and firewood” despite the “obvious health and environmental implications,” NALPGAM said in an open letter to the minister of state for petroleum resources, Timipre Sylva.

While Nigeria is Africa’s largest crude producer, with even more abundant gas reserves, most of its gas output is burned off as a waste product or re-injected into wells due to lack of infrastructure to exploit the resource.

Only about 17% of the population cook with gas with the majority of households dependent on firewood-or charcoal-fueled stoves, according to a 2020 report by the country’s statistics agency.

Importers have “virtually stopped” bringing in LPG due to challenges with accessing foreign-exchange, rising international gas prices and anticipation that value-added tax and customs duties will be reimposed, according to NALPGAM. In the meantime, prices continue to climb in Nigeria “without any signs of abatement,” it said.

Spokesmen for Buhari and the Petroleum Ministry did not comment on the tax.

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