The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international agreement on climate change formulated to limit global warming to less than two °C, or more preferably, less than 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels. By this agreement, countries aim to reach peak greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as soon as possible to achieve a climate-neutral world by mid-century. The agreement was adopted on the 12th of December 2015 by 196 sovereign nations at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21).
According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Paris Agreement represents a significant milestone in the multilateral climate change process. This is because, for the first time, nations are voluntarily bound by a common purpose to make ambitious efforts to combat climate change. However, implementing the agreement requires significant science-led economic and social change. In keeping with this, the Paris Agreement requires each party to formulate and communicate their climate action plans, known as their Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs.
NDCs are at the core of the Paris Agreement and represent the actions countries plan to undertake to address climate change. The phrase “nationally determined” was adopted to emphasize the voluntary, bottom-up nature of the contributions and recognize each party’s national priorities and circumstances. NDCs to be submitted every five years to the UNFCCC secretariat embody climate change adaptation plans and efforts to reduce national emissions. Each successive submission is expected to be a progression compared to its predecessor and reflect the highest possible aspiration of the country.
According to the 10 New Insights in Climate Science report developed by Future Earth, The Earth League and the World Climate Research Programme, the potential to adapt to climate change is not without limits. Already in different areas of the world, people and ecosystems face these limitations, which will worsen if the planet warms beyond 1.5°C or even 2°C. Therefore, adaptation efforts cannot replace ambitious mitigation.
The report further highlights the vulnerability of specific regions to climate-driven hazards and increasing health threats from climate interactions. These regions include Central America, the Sahel, Central and East Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, and are home to 1.6 billion people – a number projected to double by 2050. Climate change impacts the health of entire ecosystems adversely. Other environmental events such as heat-related mortality, wildfires affecting physical and mental health, and growing risks of outbreaks of infectious diseases are all linked to climate change. Furthermore, there is the issue of climate mobility. The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events linked to climate change continue to lead to displacement and involuntary migration.
According to a 2022 report on CO2 emissions by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, the International Energy Agency, and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, global CO2 emissions increased by 5.3% in 2021 compared to 2020, almost reaching pre-pandemic 2019 levels. In addition, coal – a significant emissions source, has had a resurgence, constituting a substantial drawback to achieving climate goals. Hence, another reason why NDCs must be taken more seriously.
The sections of the Paris Agreement related to NDCs have both legally and non-legally binding elements. Although all Parties are required to formulate, communicate and submit their NDCs, the scope and ambition of those NDCs is a national decision. In drafting their NDCs, countries must be able to identify and distinguish these elements. For example, it is legally binding for a party to regularly supply information on national inventories of emissions and the information necessary to track the progress towards implementing and achieving the NDCs. The information must be clear, transparent and easily understandable. Also, the NDCs must be updated and communicated every five years.
Also, NDCs may contain components related to mitigation and adaption, although not mandatory. While many countries explicitly define time-bound GHG reduction targets in their NDCs, others do not. Instead, they indicate general action plans or targets specified in non-GHG terms. Most countries included adaptation components in their contributions, from a summary of observed impacts of climate change in the country to the identification of vulnerable sectors and descriptions of ongoing and planned adaptation measures.
The means of implementation is also a major consideration. Some parties include an enhanced conditional mitigation component alongside unconditional ones. The conditional component is typically contingent on support from developed nations in finance, technology transfer and capacity building.
The Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), in 2015, submitted an ambitious and transparent NDC. The country was among the few developing countries to set an economy-wide target. The NDC, updated in 2021, pledged an unconditional contribution of 20% below business-as-usual by 2030 and a 47% contribution conditional on international support. Considering that economic growth has been lower than projected, this level of climate ambition represents a significant enhancement, as it will result in substantially lower absolute GHG emissions than stated in the 2015 NDC. The scale of the emissions reductions is consistent with a global 1.5oC pathway. Nigeria could reach peak GHG emissions in this decade if it can mobilize the international support and private sector investment necessary to achieve this target.
Also, several policy commitments have been made by the FGN to implement the unconditional contribution. These include eliminating kerosene lighting by 2030, a 50% reduction in the fraction of crop residues burnt by 2030, and implementing forest programmes to deliver a 20% GHG emission reduction. Nigeria’s vision on climate change is set out in its recently updated National Climate Change Policy. According to the policy, by 2050, Nigeria will be a country of low-carbon, climate-resilient, and high-growth circular economy with an emissions reduction of 50% compared to the current levels and is moving towards having net-zero emissions across all sectors in a gender-responsive manner. In November 2021, at the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, President Muhammadu Buhari announced Nigeria’s commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2060.
Nigeria’s energy sector accounts for about 65% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. On the 24th of August 2022, the country’s Energy Transition Plan (ETP) was launched. Although the ETP aims to achieve a net-zero economy by 2060, several areas need to be addressed to achieve this goal. These include identifying and supporting low-carbon energy solutions for low-income Nigerians, developing natural gas infrastructure, modernizing biomass utilization, improving energy efficiency in small and medium enterprises, and reducing dependency on foreign climate finance.
The ETP highlights the importance of Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) in achieving net-zero emissions. Still, Nigeria must also focus on cost-effective and realistic solutions, such as expanding forest cover, while waiting for CCS technology to catch up. Coordination among relevant government institutions is also crucial to harmonize policies, strategies, and targets to ensure the success of the ETP.
Sustainable, climate-neutral energy is crucial for economic and social development, and the global climate crisis can only be addressed through a worldwide energy transition. Ambitious NDCs are necessary to achieve 65% renewable energy generation by 2030. The largest energy consumers and carbon emitters from the G20 and G7 must lead with frameworks and investments supported by increased climate finance and knowledge transfer. Furthermore, a rapid transition requires political commitment and international cooperation, focusing on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.