Nigeria to press First World on climate change

ABUJA, Nigeria — Eziuche Chinwe Ubani, a top Nigerian climate change official, has joined a growing chorus of African delegates who believe that developed countries must pledge cash to the continent to help it deal with the effects of global warming.

“Of course I think we should ask for money from developed countries. They have used resources and energy — often our resources — to grow and become developed,” said Ubani, chairman of Nigeria’s House of Representatives committee on climate change, to GlobalPost. “But now we do not have the technology to deal with the bad effects.”

Ubani hopes such a pledge will be discussed at the Copenhagen conference in December, when environment ministers and other leaders from some 180 countries will meet to forge a global climate change pact.

“Climate change is a truly global problem — if someone in Asia screws up [by producing high emissions], we suffer everywhere,” said Ubani.

African states have issued growing calls in recent months for a climate change fund for developing countries. Salifou Sawadogo, Burkina Faso’s environment minister, was quoted in October as saying Africa would need $65 billion to cope with the effects of global warming. Raila Odinga, Kenya’s prime minister, has similarly called for a “climate justice fund” for the developing world.

Moves to keep global warming down to an increase of 2 degrees Celsius could cost developing countries $140 billion to $675 billion a year, according to the World Bank. Adapting to global warming — as opposed to trying to stem it — could cost $75 billion a year. Possible projects include providing micro-loans to farmers as annual rains become less reliable, and investing in renewable energy to cut emissions.

“I have seen various estimates, but I don’t know how much it will cost each year,” Ubani said, referring to the amount required across all developing countries. “But I know it will be a lot.”

Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous nation, and a patchwork of ethnic groups and ecosystems, is already suffering. In the north, the Sahara desert was spreading downwards by more than two miles a year in 2001, according to the U.N. That figure is now closer to 10 miles, said Ubani.

Meanwhile, along the Gulf of Guinea coastline in the south, sea levels are rising. Nigeria’s frenetic commercial center, Lagos, has been erecting coastal barriers. The country’s oil-rich Delta region is also at risk.

“Nigeria is caught in this double-bind on climate change,” said Ewah Eleri, co-founder and director of the country’s International Centre for Energy, Environment and Development. “We have arid deserts in the north, while sea levels rise in the south.”

Nigerian ministers are currently holding discussions to formulate the country’s climate change policy. Environmentalists hope the so-called “National Adaptation Plan” will be released in time for Copenhagen.

Ubani also argued that — on top of the environmental problems faced by many West African countries — Nigeria was further hit by the conduct of Western oil companies in the Delta region, where his constituency is located. Nigeria is sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest oil producer and the fifth biggest supplier to the U.S.

“The biggest problem we have in Nigeria is the oil groups, whether you’re talking about the rights of people or their environment,” Ubani said. “The biggest emissions come from the oil companies, and Nigeria is one of the few countries where gas flaring takes place.”

Shell, which part-owns Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), the largest private oil and gas company in Nigeria, says it is building facilities to “harness” gas rather than flare it.

Some argue that a shortage of money to combat climate change is not the main obstacle for Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa’s second largest economy. Nigeria’s GDP per capita is $1,089, according to the IMF, as compared to Ghana’s $638 and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s $171.

Ubani acknowledged that some top Nigerian policymakers were simply blase about climate change initiatives, which they did not see as urgent. “People think it's an abstract issue, or something in the future. People like to live in denial — they did that with AIDS until the body count started to rise.”

Others say the problem is the opaque nature of what happens to Nigerian states’ funds. For example, while oil-producing states receive an additional 13 percent of the government’s oil revenues, making their budgets two or three times the size of those in other areas, it is often said that corrupt officials do not spend the cash where it is most needed.

As one official in the capital Abuja said: “Money is not really the problem in Nigeria. It’s how it is spent.”