Nigeria Shouldn't Have Joined the Race to Net Zero

21 November 2021

Abuja — A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed that limiting global warming 1.5°C, which scientific consensus suggests is the tipping point beyond which catastrophic climate change will occur, required global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to reach zero by 2050 and become net-negative thereafter. With these findings and increased pressure on governments from citizens to accelerate climate action, over 130 countries pledged to deliver Net Zero by 2050. At the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP26, President Buhari committed Nigeria to a 2060 target. The announcement, met with celebration and surprise, is indicative of increasing consensus that climate change mitigation efforts need to be accelerated, but more so that the mix of pressure and persuasion--often in the form of investment contingent on progressive climate action--from advanced economies has worked. I had expected Nigeria to resist this pressure, given our negligible contribution to historical GHG emissions and the limited understanding of what Net Zero would mean for our underdeveloped economy and energy systems. So, I was curious about the factors, be they economic or political, that influenced the government's announcement.

After the announcement, the government presented its first-ever energy transition plan, which detailed how it planned to deliver climate change mitigation within its borders and seemed to be the evidence backing the Net Zero pledge. The plan was prepared for the Federal Ministry of Environment by a leading management consulting firm in collaboration with Sustainable Energy for All. It assessed how key sectors of the economy need to transit to deliver Net Zero by 2050, compared to a business-as-usual scenario where no decarbonisation action is taken. Decarbonisation strategies are often informed by energy system models, which are mathematical models that can guide decision-making on the design and operation of an energy system by illustrating different strategies to meet future demands and environmental targets. They are designed to meet such targets, while optimising economic, operational, or environmental factors (such as energy price, investment cost, or greenhouse gas emissions) given real-world constraints such as energy demand, technology costs and resource availability. These models are data-intensive and computationally complex because a wide range of design features and model inputs (thus results) are possible.

The firm that led the work used one of its proprietary analytical tools to develop pathways for Nigeria's energy and industrial sectors. The acceptance of a model that is not widely accessible or peer-reviewed to inform policy that has potentially far-reaching implications for the economy is irresponsible, as it has limited our ability to critique the underlying assumptions in the plan and assess whether they are suitable to our nation's context. It may be the case that the pathway modelled focused on driving down emissions as quickly as possible, with little consideration of the optimal pathway for job creation or local resource utilisation.

According to the plan, delivering Net Zero would only allow for a limited increase in emissions until 2025, after which they need to fall rapidly to zero by mid-century. Essentially, economic planning decisions must ensure that whatever population and economic growth occurs in this period does so in a manner that will be carbon-neutral or -negative. This is a staggering challenge as industrialised economies have historically experienced significant rise in emissions from the fossil fuel use that drove economic growth, which then peaked post-industrialisation through increased energy efficiency and renewable energy use. Unlike advanced economies, Nigeria isn't so much committing to an energy transition--because we don't have established energy and industrial systems to transition from--but attempting a new, low-carbon model of development that hasn't been trialled elsewhere. Should this model fail to realise the levels of economic growth achieved by fossil fuels, the effects will likely be borne solely by us. Given our negligible contribution to climate change, why should we share the burden of mitigation equally with industrialised countries that are pressuring us to achieve carbon-neutrality at the same time?

Dr. Habiba Ahut Daggash, PhD DIC MEng (Oxon) AMIChemE AMEI, writes from Abuja

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