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Climate Change and Energy Transition

By Emmanuel Chijindu

Episode 1: Introduction to Climate change
Good day readers and welcome to my Wednesday column on the Nature Newspaper ~ Africa’s foremost environmental newspaper.

For my recent readers coming across this section for the first time, this is a relatively new feature on NatureNews and on this column, I would be talking about Climate resilient technologies and energy transition for energy sustainability in developing regions.

In addition to the focal point, I may occasionally present articles on environment, health, safety, climate resilient agriculture and all other branches of climate awareness and education. The good news to our esteemed readers is that you need no prior knowledge on climate change, or even what it entails to be able to follow through as. The goal is to begin from the basics in educating us on what climate change is and how the need to transition to cleaner energy source alternatives might be crucial in saving our planet. It is completely fine to be a rookie to the climate change space and you’d be just fine following these episodes. I would encourage us as much as possible to try not to miss any of our weekly episodes particularly for those of you interested in knowing about how climate change affects our energy security and those interested in studying or pursuing a career in energy in relation.

Now, to the topic for today! I would be covering a very essential and fundamental topic for both newbies and professionals (for refreshers) in the climate space which is “Introduction to Climate Change”. In this article, I would be writing on various definitions of Climate change, fossil fuels as a major contributor to climate change and the basics for energy transition.

In subsequent episodes, I’d cover what causes climate change and the science around it in details, effects of climate change with present day examples and mitigation strategies from technology to behavioral and lifestyle changes, policies to financing etc. Since the purpose of this article is to educate the public on climate, I will try to be as casual and simple as possible ensuring that the content of the article is well digested by my readers.

At some point in our lives, we must have come across the phrase “climate change” either at school, workplace, market etc. Even among locals, the concept of climate change, though maybe not fully understood is still a prevalent topic of discussion particularly among farmers who rely heavily on a healthy climate for improved yield. While there are many controversies around the approaches or mitigation strategies of combating climate change with some people even attributing it as a conspiracy, we cannot conceal the reality of a climate crises as the evidence are glaringly staring at our faces.

Several definitions exist for Climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines climate change as “a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g. using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer”. Man-made greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide are responsible for global warming. The IPCC reported that “The primary source of the increased atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide since pre-industrial period results from fossil fuel use.” Global warming is now “evident” and “unequivocal”. Of the twelve warmest years on record from 1850 to 2006, eleven occurred between 1995 and 2006.

The United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) defined “Climate change” as a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.

The National Geographic defines Climate change as a long-term shift in global or regional climate patterns. Usually specifically referring to the rise in global temperatures from the mid-20th century to present.

Despite thousands of definitions existing about Climate change, one fact is central which is, “the negative distortion in Climate patterns”. Climate itself is the average weather condition of a place over a period of time, hence climate change simply refers to a long-term shifts in temperature, precipitation patterns, and other atmospheric conditions on Earth.

It is important to note that these changes are mostly attributed to human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and industrial processes, which release greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. These gases trap heat back to the earth that should have otherwise returned to space, leading to the warming of the planet—a phenomenon known as global warming. When these earth temperature rises as a result of global warming, the resulting change in patterns is referred to as Climate change.

Climate change encompasses not only rising temperatures but also various related effects such as sea-level rise due to water expansion by heating, melting ice caps and glaciers, wildfires, more frequent and severe weather events, changes in ecosystems and habitats, and impacts on agriculture, human health, and economies. It’s a complex and multifaceted issue with far-reaching consequences for the environment and society. A lot of environmentalists and activists believe that in order to mitigate climate change, fossils have to go!, The question now is; Is that correct?

The betwixt
Although proven that burning of fossils releases harmful greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and methane) that could potentially result in warming of the planet, fossils have been the major source of global energy for decades and humans have continued to rely on fossils since the industrial era.

Throughout much of human history, our ancestors depended on rudimentary energy sources like human and animal labor, as well as the combustion of organic matter like wood or agricultural produce.

However, the Industrial Revolution ushered in a transformative era with the discovery of fossil fuels as a vast new energy reservoir. These fossil energy sources have served as pivotal catalysts for the advancement of technology, society, economy, and overall human development. Fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) have, and continue to, play a dominant role in global energy systems.

However, they also come with several negative impacts. When burned, they produce carbon dioxide (CO2) the major greenhouse gas and contributor to global warming. They are also a major contributor to local air pollution, which is estimated to be linked to millions of premature deaths each year.

As low-carbon sources of energy – nuclear and renewables – become readily available, the world needs to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels. The means, pace and alternative transition fuel source and technology as it pertains to developing African countries particularly Nigeria are areas that would be subsequently covered in this digest.

The burning of fossil fuels for energy began around the Industrial Revolution. But fossil fuel consumption has changed significantly over the past few centuries – both in terms of what and how much we burn. The global fossil consumption from 1800’s (pre-industrial era) to 2022 for gas oil and coal have significantly increased from 0 TWh (terawatt-hour) for gas and oil in the 1800’s and 97 Twh for coal to 39413 TWh, 52790 TWh and 44854 TWh for gas, oil and coal respectively in 2022. A constant increase in the use of oil and gas has also been recorded although more recently, the use of coal has experienced rapid decrease globally.

The implication of this is that up to 2022, global energy demand has steadily increased, propagating the need for fossil energy and projections indicate that fossils would still make up about 45% of the total energy mix by 2050. The answer is on the long run, to ensure the safety of our planet, fossils would have to be replaced sometime, however, it is important to note that in order to ensure energy security and prevent an energy crisis, we must find a balance between energy supply and transition. This implies that Governments must acknowledge fossils as a tool required for our transition to renewables.

Also, in terms of how much fossil energy consumed per capita in various regions, the chart below shows the energy per capita (average amount of energy consumed by each individual within a specified population or region) from fossils in various regions;

As seen from the chart above, the energy per capita from fossil for the United States is 63,836KWh which is largely greater than (about 18 times) the energy per capita for a person in Africa with about 3500 KWh of energy. This large inequality in energy use is a major factor that must be addressed before the discussion of energy transition. This is to keep in mind that this substantial energy inequality is occurring with fossils that are more readily available to African countries than emerging green transition technology such as solar, wind, geothermal or nuclear.

Fossils are no doubt a major contributor to Climate change, however, they are going to play a great role as a transition fuel specifically in developing countries which would essentially utilize them as a tool in developing sustainable energy alternatives. With the recently concluded Buhari Administration pledge to Natural Gas as Nigeria’s own transition fuel in a bid to achieve our own net zero targets, the argument around the abrupt dissociation from fossils may linger for a while. This implies that for countries like Nigeria, we would exploit our natural gas resources to drive sustainable development.

In conclusion, No doubt, climate change is evident and the world must take drastic actions to avert a looming climate crises. The use of fossils is at the forefront of climate change causes and the need to transition to renewables is impending now more than ever, however, there’s a need to also address the large energy inequalities and the vast differences in energy consumption around the world in order to ensure global energy security and justice.

To do this, either large funding amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars must be invested in the African energy sector who are at the trough of global energy use for technological advancement of sustainable technologies which are still widely at research stage in many African regions or a more sustainable practice of fossil fuel usage by either encouraging natural gas utilization alongside technologies like carbon capture and sequestration (CCUS) should be adopted with the latter option being more ideal and practicable on a short-run ensuring energy security and using generated revenue to enhance renewables.

Next up:
Major Cause of Climate Change; Global warming and how it affects our climate.

Okpu Emmanuel Chijindu is a recent graduate of Petroleum Engineering and a pioneering researcher with passion for sustainable solutions. His diverse research interest spans across carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS), Geothermal solutions, AI-driven data analytics, Hydrogen and Production Engineering. His quest for knowledge has lead him into researching of various transformative projects including underground CO2 storage modeling with machine learning, marginal field development using emerging technologies and evaluation of smart well completion technologies. He is also a recipient of the 2024 FXB climate advocates scholarship program, USA, a member of YOUNGO (The Official UN Youth and Children Constituency on Climate Change), and YALI (Young African Leadership Initiative) He is a DM Sheffield awardee and has been the recipient of several other awards and recognitions from professional bodies. Emmanuel likes coding, public teaching, listening to music and reading. He is also an environmentalist and an active member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) and Nigeria Gas Association (NGA). He is currently undergoing his National Youth Service.
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