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OPINION: Climate Change: Why We Must Act Differently

By Waziri Adio

It is a special privilege for me to welcome you to this special occasion on behalf of Agora Policy and its partners—the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation, the Cable Newspapers, the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), the Centre for Climate Change and Development (CCCD), Clean Technology Hub, and NatureNews. As we welcome you, we also thank you. We thank you for your esteemed presence, for your valuable time, and for the considered thoughts and inputs that you will bring to bear on today’s proceedings. We do not take any of these for granted. Thank you.

Our special gratitude also goes to the John D. and Cathrine T. MacArthur Foundation, especially to Dr. Kole Shettima and his remarkable colleagues at the foundation’s office in Nigeria, not only for supporting this event and the report we are presenting today but also for taking a major bet on Agora Policy. Within just two years, Agora Policy has established an outsized profile in the think tank space in Nigeria with its series of policy papers, high-level events, and workshops on policy analysis and advocacy. Without the catalytic support from the MacArthur Foundation, this wouldn’t have been possible. We thank you for your faith, guidance and backing.

We are also grateful to the authors of this seminal report on the impact of climate change in Nigeria: Professor Chuks Okereke, Professor Emmanuel Oladipo, Ms. Ifeoma Malo, and Dr. Fola Aina. Our gratitude also goes to Dr. Habiba Daggash, Dr. Akinyemi Akinyugha and Dr. Mohammed Aminu for their critical inputs into the report. We equally thank our eminent resource persons for today: Mr. Abubakar Suleiman, the CEO of Sterling Bank; Dr. Salisu Dahiru, Director-General, the National Council on Climate Change, Mrs. Olufunke Baruwa of the Ford Foundation; Ms. Tengi George-Ikoli of NRGI; Mr. Amara Nwankpa of the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation; and Mr. Ohi Alegbe, a media elder statesman and our Master of Ceremony for today.

We have invited you here for two reasons: one, for a public presentation of the 84-page report by Agora Policy entitled “Climate Change and Socio-Economic Development in Nigeria”; and two, for a deliberation on how Nigeria can minimise the burdens and maximise the opportunities of climate change. Organised as part of the preparation for COP28, this event aims to contribute to raising the status and the depth of climate change discussion and action in Nigeria.

I do not intend to pre-empt the highlights of the report or the candid and robust deliberation that we are here for. But permit me to say a few things as a way of setting the stage. I will start with the obvious: climate change does not enjoy the prominence that it deserves in Nigeria. Yes, there are some individuals, organisations and government agencies that are making a strong case for and designing and implementing consequential climate interventions in the country. Some of them are here in this hall or are with us online. We salute them. We thank them.

But the sad, inconvenient truth is that climate change still does not rank very high on our policy agenda and in our popular imagination. Both in official circles and among the populace, climate issues are not seen as really important and urgent. Our national attitude oscillates between denial and indifference. Most of our people, including highly-placed government officials, see climate change as other people’s problems or an issue that is only for tree-huggers and environmentalists, or something that should bother only those who have the luxury of not wrestling with hunger and other existential matters—as we say in Pidgin, “somtin for pipu wey don belleful.” Or because we are a people of fantastic faith, we simply think and believe that the negative impacts of climate change will never be our portion.

But the burdens of shifts in climatic conditions are already our portion. They are all around us. The rise in temperature, the irregular raining patterns, the near perennial flooding across the country, the increasing threats of desertification and gully erosion and others already have deep, negative impacts on food production, food security and food inflation, and on water, on health and productivity, on energy and infrastructure, and on the conflicts that continue to multiply partly on account of vanishing natural resources.

Whether we want to accept it or not, whether we think it is other people’s or our own headache or not, whether we think it is our portion or not—climate change is already exerting a big toll on the things we consider critical and urgent. It is already here and now, not a matter of hereafter. It is not what we can simply wish away by faith. And because of its multi-dimensional, ramifying nature and multiplier effects, climate change is the most existential threat we face already. And it is projected to get significantly worse within a few years. This silent crisis of today is likely to escalate into a catastrophic one soon—unless we act urgently, intentionally, and boldly.

There are additional reasons for greater urgency. We are a resource-intensive but ironically energy-poor country. The global transition away from fossil fuels poses grave threats to government revenue at all levels and our capacity to provide the much-needed power for homes and industries. Our capacity to fight poverty and achieve the SDGs and to increase national productivity and competitiveness may be further compromised. That transition away from fossil fuels may appear paused for now in the aftermath of Russia-Ukraine. But it won’t be paused for long. In a related but significant vein, the energy transition is creating a new economy, an intense scramble for critical minerals already spurning instability around us, and a strategic positioning by countries to ensure that their interests are well served in the emerging economic order.

Where are we as a country in all of this? That’s a question for all of us to answer. But let me conclude by saying we cannot afford to be a bit player except we are content with holding the short end of the stick or to be further consigned to the margins of existence. We need to see climate change as the central development challenge for our country, not in the future, but today. And we need more than a conversation or the commitment of the converted. We need an all-of-society approach. From political authorisers to policy wonks to the ordinary persons on the streets and in the homes, we all have roles to play, and we all need to act differently.

 

Mr. Adio, Founder/Executive Director of Agora Policy, presented this paper at the Policy Conversation on “Nigeria, Climate Change and the Green Economy,” held on 22 November, 2023 at the Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja.

 

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