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EXPLAINER: What is Paris climate agreement and is Nigeria on track to meet its targets?

EXPLAINER: What is Paris climate agreement and is Nigeria on track to meet its targets?
May 10
08:35 2021

On April 23 and 24, President Muhammadu Buhari joined US President Joe Biden and other world leaders for a virtual summit where they deliberated on the urgency and economic benefits of stronger climate action.

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At the summit convened by Biden, Buhari re-affirmed Nigeria’s commitment to the Paris climate agreement, which was adopted by almost all the countries in the world in 2015 to address climate change and its negative impacts.

But what exactly is the pact about and is Nigeria truly committed to meeting the set targets?

What is the Paris agreement?

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The Paris agreement is an international agreement adopted in Paris, the capital of France, by 196 countries, including Nigeria, to combat the climate change crisis. 

Under this agreement adopted at the 21st United Nations (UN) conference of the parties, also known as COP21, countries committed to reducing global warming (increasing global temperature) to well below 2°C, or better still to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels — a time before the industrial revolution when fossil fuel burning was yet to change the climate. 

With an aim to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — gases that trap heat radiation in the atmosphere and make the earth warmer — member countries are required to make action plans in the form of commitments referred to as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). The idea is to communicate plans of how countries intend to reduce their carbon emissions and adapt to climate change. 

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What is the main goal of the treaty?

The Paris agreement binds countries to voluntarily make their own specific commitments that would enable them to reduce their climate pollution while updating and strengthening their commitments towards a greener future every five years

It also made provisions for developed countries like the US, UK, and Germany to support developing countries like Nigeria and small island states such as Cape Verde and Cuba in their efforts towards managing and surviving the effects of climate change. 

Countries under the agreement are also expected to be transparent, keep inventories of greenhouse gas emissions, monitor and report their efforts, and progress towards the Paris agreement goals. 

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What’s the extent of Nigeria’s involvement?

As a party to the Paris agreement, Nigeria signed the agreement in 2017, and as part of its NDCs, it committed to cutting its carbon emissions unconditionally by 20 percent or conditionally by 45 percent with international support by 2030. 

What are the targets?

Other targets it set as part of its NDCs include: ending gas flaring by 2030, make for efficient gas generators, ensure 30 percent energy efficiency by 2030 (2 percent per year), make for a transport shift from car to bus, improve electricity grid and engage in climate-smart agriculture and reforestation.

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In March 2021, Nigeria revised its NDCs to include clean cooking as a way of ensuring a conversion from cooking fuels such as kerosene and charcoal to eco-friendly cooking gas and efficient wood stoves.

For how long has Nigeria indicated interest to address climate change?

Before the signing of the Paris agreement in 2017, Nigeria had been a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) since 1994. It is an international environmental agreement that aims to keep greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that would not be dangerous to the environment. 

Having recognised the severity of climate change impacts on the country, Nigeria constantly sets up policies and programmes geared towards fighting climate change.

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Also, in 2011, the national adaptation strategy and plan of action on climate change for Nigeria was adopted as a strategy of the government to prioritise climate adaptation plans. 

What policies are in place to prove Nigeria’s commitment to the Paris pact?

Nigeria has developed a number of policies as part of its climate action, including the Vision 20:2020 which identifies climate change as a threat to sustainable development and a potential catalyst for irrecoverable damage on Nigeria’s natural resources, food production and infrastructure. 

Some other policies and action plans adopted since then include the national climate change policy and response strategy, which took effect in 2012 to respond to the negative impacts of climate change and foster economic development to help achieve a climate-resilient country; the national climate change policy adopted by the federal executive council (FEC) in 2013 to form the basis for a climate change law; and the short-lived national climate pollutant action plan approved in 2019 to improve air quality and fight climate change. 

All these policies were geared towards a single purpose — to mitigate and fight the challenges of climate change. 

Is Nigeria struggling to meet its climate commitments? 

At the inception of the current administration, the president had committed to tackling climate change to help Nigeria grow a sustainable economy while cutting down on its carbon emission. And despite these policies and strategies, it has not been such a smooth ride for the federal government. 

Climate change still poses grievous threats to the country. This significantly affects its economic development in areas such as agriculture and food security, drought in arid regions in northern Nigeria, flooding and sea-level rise in coastal communities, soil erosion and landslides in mainly southern Nigeria. The farmer/herder conflict is also largely caused by the impact of climate change.

Any way out? 

The department of climate change under the federal ministry of environment is currently seeking the passing of the climate change bill into law to establish “a legal instrument that would address the myriads of climate change actions and challenges in the country”.

The climate change bill had earlier been presented to the presidency but was refused assent in 2019. The president’s reason was that the scope and guiding principle of the bill “replicate the function of the federal ministry of the environment which is charged with mainstreaming climate responses and actions into government policies but does not suggest the scrapping of the ministry”.

However, the government continues to reaffirm its commitment towards managing the climate challenges. Agencies like the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP), Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET), National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) have at various times responded to situations that occurred in the aftermath of climate crises, usually through intervention programmes and early warning signals.

What must Nigeria do?

Having set up its NDCs as stipulated under the Paris agreement, certain factors still show that Nigeria needs to step up in its climate action if it means business.

First, it needs to pass into law the climate change bill. By so doing, it would be aligning with the part of the Paris agreement that makes provision for national legislation that addresses climate change. 

The country needs to clamp down on the rate of deforestation. Forests serve as carbon sinks and have the ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Under the Paris agreement, countries are supposed to conserve and enhance sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases.

Nigeria should assiduously work towards cutting down its carbon emissions. It currently ranks one of the top seven countries in gas flaring, according to a World Bank global gas flaring tracker report.

The country also needs to monitor the use of biomass such as wood and the production of charcoal from wood. Nigeria is rated as one of the highest producers and exporters of charcoal and this comes at a heavy environmental cost. 

The country should also look towards diversifying its economy — through agriculture and technological innovations — to limit its dependence on fossil fuels. By so doing, it would not be needing many investments in the fossil fuel sector as it currently does. Only then can it gradually move towards renewables and a greener future. 

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