Why other African governments must not toe Nigeria’s Net Zero path

On day two of the ongoing United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow, UK, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari made a commitment that Nigeria will cut its carbon emission to net-zero by 2060. That declaration was welcomed by not only American billionaire Jeff Bezos, but also a host of Global north countries and their leaders.

With that announcement, Nigeria effectively joins big polluters like China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia who have also pledged a Net zero regime within the 2060-time frame and still actively promote false solutions that will only worsen the climate crisis and drive Africa to extinction. The Nigerian announcement came as a rude shock to the climate justice community in Africa and across the world because it is at variance with Nigeria’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted in July 2021, which indicates that the country is committed to an unconditional reduction of carbon emissions by 20 per cent below business-as-usual by 2030. Despite huge potentials for safe and affordable renewables, Nigeria’s economy is largely tied to oil and gas exports with revenue from petroleum exports currently accounting for 86% of total export revenue. Oil and Gas collectively provide 70% of Nigeria’s revenue.

While Buhari acknowledged that COP26 is happening at a time the world is suffering from the devastating effects of climate change, he rattled the climate justice community and perhaps other African governments intent on making progress on the Paris Agreement with the pledge that Nigeria would continue to use gas until 2040.

These conflicting statements at a time that the African region is expected to bond together and speak with one voice on the need for climate justice for the continent, will only embolden the fossil fuels industry to continue business as usual on the continent. It will mean more oil exploration, oil spills, gas flaring, land grabs, loss of livelihoods, and the rights abuses that is associated with fossil fuels. Other African governments that have before now looked to Nigeria to lead the way in advancing climate friendly alternatives to fossil fuels may start backtracking on their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) that are non-binding.

Nigeria’s back and forth on net zero may altogether not be unconnected with African government’s capitulation to the Global Norths’ plans to steer the negotiations away from real solutions and making markets the center of the Paris Agreement. Rwanda’s Minister of Environment, Jeanne d’ Mujawamariya interviewed by Politico further rubbed in the confusion of African governments when she said she was expecting countries to agree on the rules for the buying and selling of carbon credits across international borders. Afro position has continued on the embarrassing path since the start of the talks in Glasgow, with many African leaders “begging” for their well-deserved finance from the rich countries of the Global North to be able to meet their obligations to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Most have also been enticed by industry advanced net zero which is tantamount to kicking the ball further down the road.

The climate justice community insist that the way forward is for the wealthy nations of the Global north to pay up their historical ecological debt to address climate change—and to ensure the viability of our planet. While this cry has fallen on deaf ears, the same rich countries and polluting corporations have manipulatively skewed their response to sustain business as usual to dilute the Paris Agreement.

It is difficult to understand why Africa that has been tossed up and down by the global north governments even as climate impacts ravage the continent embrace the false market suggestions under Article 6.2 and 6.4 because of the chance to get a share of proceeds from offsetting mechanisms. They must know that these mechanisms will have devastating impacts on the region. What they are doing is selling off the land and forests of the African people, tampering with African food security and livelihood just so that they can hopefully make some money off this trade. While this continues greenhouse gas emission soars and spurs even more crises.

While the term net zero itself may seem harmless, if one looks at the current and projected economic plans of the polluting corporations and governments pledging Net Zero, the initiative is nothing but a coverup for polluters to continue with business as usual, increase their profit, worsen the climate crisis while the world looks at them as part of the solution. What is most disturbing is that an African government like Nigeria has fallen for this bait. Unfortunately, Nigeria may be dragging the whole continents into this corporate scam.

What African governments must do instead, was captured by climate justice civil society in their position paper to the Africa Group of Negotiators. African governments must challenge and reject pledges made by polluting corporations and governments to achieve “net zero” emissions, which are being used to shift additional burdens onto the African region and avoid responsibility for their role in the global share of emissions to-date. They must also urge rich countries to commit to achieving Real Zero emissions reductions, embracing the concept of equity (each country does their fair share) and  reject industry-driven attempts to ram through rules enshrining market mechanisms into the center of Paris Agreement implementation, via the guidelines for Article 6.2 and 6.4 of the Paris Agreement.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     That is the way to go if Africa and the planet must be saved.

Hellen Neima is a policy expert from Uganda and Regional Director at Corporate Accountability

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