‘Nigeria should transit quickly from fossil fuels to renewable energy’
The Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo, who was at the CoP23 conference in Bonn, Germany, in this interview with EDU ABADE in Benin City, expressed worries that the rich countries have neglected climate change impacts on poor countries before 2020 and only discussing The Paris Agreement in the context of post-2020. He argues that multinational corporations responsible for carbon emissions and their impacts on the environment should be held accountable for their activities.
You were at the CoP23 Bonn Germany talks on climate change recently, what exactly did the Bonn talks achieve?
The Bonn conference was successful in that participating countries agreed to draw a road map for the implementation of The Paris Agreement. The Conference of Parties agreed to consult and that is what I think is the success of the conference. In reality, the success areas you can point out moving forward are very few. The developed countries have the historical responsibility to mitigate climate change and provide the support, the finance, the technology and means of implementation. In particular, the GCF is addressing pre-2020 issues of adaptation and the martial $100 billion by 2020 but essentially, the developed countries are resisting what happens before 2020. Another thing that seems negative is that trade in carbons was reinforced during the talks. Trade in carbons is a false solution because it does not necessarily reduce carbon emissions rather it provides a safe haven where the chief pollutants also become the beneficiaries. Using market based mechanism for combating climate change is a false solution. These are issues that are on the table that people are still grappling with.
African countries are mostly classified as developing nations. Was there a common front by the African countries? What was the frustration of the African block at that conference?
When you go for the Conference of Parties, there are ministerial levels of meetings and negotiations but there are other side events such as the green solution, the African renewable energy where the funds for such projects is being treated as bilateral by the European Union (EU) and other countries that are providing money to see how Africa will transit from dirty energy to renewable energy. The frustration is happening in the sense that from the 19 projects that were approved some of them are still doing dirty energy and some projects such as coal, Japan and some members of the EU are still promoting coal. So, I think the project with Tanzania so there is tension as projects are supposed to go through the pool independent development unit and the they will process it as a technical committee but what you find is that is donors are forcing their way and imposing projects on Africa that is one thing they are trying to implement.
What about the role of the United State of America and President Donald Trump’s views on climate change?
There was an initiative to roll back Donald Trump’s American policies. I think they were playing a spoiler in the works and not forthcoming about the support. In my view, it is not only about Donald Trump because what we see is that they were trying to stop the process of moving forward.
Trump has finally removed climate change from the United State’s national security strategy. Has that any implications for the agitation for a better environment?
Yes. But what is surprising is that if a country has not signed up to an agreement or backed down on any agreement as the United States under Trump has done, why does it still have prominence to influence decisions? America has withdrawn its support for climate change palliatives. The question is, if they have withdrawn, why do they still have a say on the roadmap for the future?
How does Nigeria contribute to the whole process?
I think Nigeria did a good job in one way. It has committed to 20 per cent carbon emission reduction and in doing carbon remission reduction, it agreed to do 20 per cent unconditionally and that was a pledge to Paris. The country has also said it will further do 40 per cent reduction conditionally, if given the finance and technology support by developed countries. I think that position was very strong, accept that there is little or nothing on ground to show that Nigeria will be committed to the process. The Federal Government still budgeted for generator sets and buying fuel in Aso Rock. It budgeted N17 billion for that purpose for ministries, department and agencies (MDAs) alone. That amount is significant and is enough to start a revolution on energy transition from dirt energy to fossil fuel. So, Nigeria continues to be at the forefront of negotiations and contributions but if Nigeria is positive and interested in energy transition, then it should ensure that it has a budget line for renewable energy transition in terms of research, development and equipment. At the moment, there is nothing-no document, no process actually, and that is the challenge.
Is there anything the Nigerian government can do to mitigate climate change?
Yes. Nigeria needs to institutionalise the effort to combat climate change and that simply means that the country needs to have institutions other than the Federal Ministry of Environment. So, the climate change unit will be transformed into an expert agency or commission. Fortunately, a bill is in the works that has gone through second reading and civil society has made inputs to it. We strongly believe that the Senate should approve that bill so that the President can sign it into law. We need to have structures. Without structures, we cannot implement the Paris accord.
What are some of the activities and conditions that contribute to climate change, the chaos, the challenges, among others?
In Nigeria and across the globe, the extractive sector has contributed very significantly to carbon emissions release into the atmosphere. They not only release carbon emissions, but also the social impacts and environmental degradation are catastrophic. In Nigeria, Shell, Chevron and other oil exploration companies continue to wreck havoc on Oboni land. As we speak, a recent research shows that three out of four babies born in Oboni die within 90 days and we hold Shell responsible.
We strongly believe the United Nations human rights resolution that was taken in Geneva to hold corporations accountable for their human rights violations in areas of their operations and that Shell is liable for such trial. Shell is over qualified. It readily puts itself forward for such trial. Based on its antecedents, Shell readily puts itself forward for trial under a global United Nations binding treaty to hold corporations accountable for their human rights violations. The Niger Delta has been destroyed and Shell continues to pay lip service to the cleanup process, especially of Ogoni land.
At the Bonn conference, were there specific recommendations for holding corporations and multinationals accountable for their activities that contribute to climate change?
There has been a long process to decouple the power of corporations at the Bonn negotiations. These transnational corporations are heavily responsible for the environmental issues, yet they seat at tables during negotiations. So, we have said that the conflict of interests in the negotiation process is hindering the right solutions. Loss and damage as a result of climate change needs to be addressed and the companies are responsible. The Paris accord has said that loss and damage should be addressed by nations, making victims to pay for the crimes and the destruction, as a result of climate change. Transnational corporations have captured the recourses and the states and they are using the UN space to influence decisions. We are asking that all transnational corporations should have no role in the negotiations.
What is the way forward, in your own opinion, for the world in the challenges posed by climate change?
The way forward is to be consistent and agree that there is need for energy transition. There is need to move away from extractives to renewable energy. There is need to move from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. Nations all over the world have declared that 2020 and 2025 will be fossil free but in Nigeria we are yet to start because there is no declaration on the part of government. We think electricity should be decentralised in the energy sector to create greater energy access should be democratised. That simply means decentralising energy production and supply in terms of investment. So, from nations to financial institutions, the World Bank, African Development Bank (AfDB) and public finance, the loans and subsidies meant to promote extractive industry should be divested and channeled to renewable sources of energy.
What role(s) will the civil society groups continue to play to ensure that everything falls in place as regards climate change?
The Environmental Rights Action will continue to play a significant role in empowering civil society groups and communities through workshops and demonstrations. As we speak we are trying to partner with several people, state and non-state actors to continue to create the atmosphere and help people to gain greater energy access, providing options, doing demonstrations of the gadgets we are talking about so that communities can have the guidelines and then there is orientation towards the real change. All we are trying to do is to ensure that Nigerians are not left behind. If properly handled, Nigeria can emerge the energy haul of West Africa.
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