Two weeks after curtain fell on United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26 in Glasgow, Nigeria’s staunch commitment to net-zero emissions plans — described as a false solution pushed by polluting entities to evade responsibility on the climate crisis has been unsettling. On top of that, the country’s inconsistent net-zero targets have set tongues wagging and left climate activists bewildered.
The Nigerian government had in its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in July 2021 set its net-zero emissions target for 2050, checks by The New Diplomat revealed. But that target changed when President Muhammadu Buhari addressed participants at COP26 as he announced a 2060 net-zero target. “Desertification in the North, drought in the centre, pollution in the coast are enough evidence for all to see, Nigeria is committed to net-zero by 2060.” Buhari had told the world at the 12-day event.
However, on Thursday 18th November, 2021, just a week after the climate talks ended in Glasgow, President Buhari signed a Climate Change Act which has 2070 as the set target for reducing emissions to the said net-zero level, raising questions about the inaccuracy of Nigeria’s commitment and aspirations, which had changed from 2050 to 2060 and lately 2070 all in about 4 months.
“We’re worried because we don’t know where we’re heading to. The NDC said Nigeria will achieve net-zero by 2050, the President said it’s by 2060 and the hurriedly assented climate change act said it will be by 2070. So how do we actually manage what we can’t even measure?” Mr Olamide Martins of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) told The New Diplomat at a roundatable meeting in Lagos, where the outcomes of the just concluded COP26 were interrogated by African climate activists who were at the Glasgow summit alongside some selected journalists.
But beyond the obvious disparity observed in the net-zero commitments made by Africa’s largest economy and population, climate activists have always loathed the idea itself, something said to be more of an abstract construction and bogus plan than in practical terms. Moreso, like in several African countries, the Nigerian public were yet to grasp the net-zero ‘abracadabra’, let alone come to terms with it.
Still wondering what net-zero emissions means? Checks by The New Diplomat show it’s a term coined by the fossil industry to promote certain changes and projections to purportedly reduce CO2 and other Green House Gases (GHGs) to the lowest amount using some geo-engineering techniques, including a so-called carbon capture and storage mechanism.
Proponents of net-zero emissions often claim it will be achieved when all GHG emissions released by humans are counter-balanced by removing GHGs from the atmosphere in a process refered to as carbon removal. However, the plan considers a complete halt of carbon emissions as a last resort, if not an impossibility. This flies against the popular target that the world should outrightly end carbon emissions (real zero) by 2050 to keep global average temperature rise below 1.5°C in line with the Paris Agreement and as further highlighted by the recently published UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. So in real sense, net-zero does not mean real zero, according to climate scientists and activists who had written extensively on the subject.
An October 2021 UNEP Emissions Gap Report had indicated that despite the new national climate pledges combined with other mitigation measures in countries, global temperature is likely to rise to 2.7°C by the end of the century. To keep global warming below 1.5°C this century, in tune with the Paris Agreement, “the world needs to halve annual greenhouse gas emissions in the next eight years,” the report added.
Dr. Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), an ecological think-tank told The New Diplomat that the net-zero plan remains “unproven,” noting it’s a diverson from what the real solution to the climate crisis should be — which is to totally cut emissions. “The entire idea of geo-engineering and carbon capture was funny. But all these are theoretical, unproven ideas that could drive investments which is what speculators want. They want that money for experimentation. They don’t care whether it works or not.”
Continuing, he said the net-zero emissions allows the big polluters to pollute some more and “push the problems to future generations and that also key into the issue of climate justice because the countries that would be able to invest in climate engineering are not the poor countries.”
Net-zero: ‘A Devilish Mathematics’
Mr Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director of CAPPA described the net-zero emission plan as a “devilish mathematics” that would further make polluting entities and developed countries who account for most of emissions to evade justice and make Africa, already at the receiving end of others’ pollution more vulnerable, despite accounting for only 2–3 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions from energy and industrial sources.
Rich countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan and much of western Europe, account for just 12 percent of the global population today but are responsible for 50 percent of all the planet-warming greenhouse gases released from fossil fuels and industry over the past 170 years, according to statistics by Global Carbon Project. However, today, China is the world’s largest emitter by far, accounting for roughly 31 percent of humanity’s carbon dioxide from energy and industry in 2021.
“So because we are so hungry as Africans, when we hear money, dollar, we jump at it forgetting that we’re going to be the one that’s going to be impacted on the most. It’s a devilish mathematics to keep Africa singing net-zero.” He said, lamenting the net-zero commitments made by African governments in Glasgow.
“Go and check, as we were preparing for COP, it was not the US (that started pushing it ahead of the event, at least in public), net-zero (commitment) first came shockingly from countries of the global south. They were the first that were munching it even before the UK government began to speak about it.”
For instance, Oluwafemi decried Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s support for net-zero emissions in an article published by the Foreign Affairs magazine recently, which had preceded the climate talks in Glasgow.
Osinbajo had in the article said: “Nigeria and other African countries are committed to a net-zero future, not least because of our acute vulnerability to the adverse effects of climate change.”
Whereas, the Nigerian Vice President cannot be begrudged for his advocacy for an inclusive, equitable, and just global energy transition process to cleaner fuels, especially for oil-dependent nations like Nigeria, the CAPPA boss expressed concerns over Osinbajo’s explicit support for net-zero emissions in the article, a plan he also expressly mutted in London during a high-level UN event on the energy transition plan in Africa with special focus on Nigeria, two weeks to the commencement of COP26 summit in October.
“Let them come and explain what net-zero is all about and how to achieve net-zero,” Oluwafemi said, urging African leaders to stop advancing foreign suggestions that don’t project or accommodate the concerns of Africans and people in frontline communities that have been worst-hit by climate crisis in Nigeria and elsewhere on the continent.
Programmes Director, CAPPA, Mr Philip Jakpor, said with more dangerous weather events in Africa, communities and civil groups believe that the real solution is cutting emissions from the source. “When the global north is talking about net-zero, we’re talking about the real zero. We want climate finance for African climate adaptation.”
Jakpor lamented that though Nigeria committed to reaching net-zero in its varied commitments “the same government is exploring oil in the north, the same government is talking about developing nuclear power plant, the same government has not done enough to stop gas flaring.”
Making further comments on COP26 outcomes, Bassey, a frontline environmentalist bemoaned how the oil and gas companies were able to sway many decisions in their favour as they had “504 corporate delegates” at the climate conference. “They influenced the (Glasgow Climate) Pact, India allowed itself to be used for the further washing down of the report that fossil fuel should not be phased out, but rather phased down. The fossil fuel industry was not touched at all.”
Whereas the Glasgow Climate Pact noted that developed countries had missed their 2020 target of providing US$100 billion a year in climate finance to help developing countries, a separate fund to compensate developing countries impacted by the effects of climate change was not agreed.
Bassey stressed that the takeaways from the talks were not far-reaching enough, noting the net-zero commitments “made climate change to look like it’s not an emergency, because if it’s an emergency why wait to achieve net-zero in 2050-2070. It has been accepted by the world because it makes life easier for politicians.
“The whole thing is about imagination, once your imagination is captured and you accept a concept, that concept drives policies, drives action and the key beneficiaries of net-zero will be the geo-engineering companies and laboratories. Geo-engineering is planetary, some people call it climate engineering, but it just means manipulating the weather and climate by mechincal means.
Buttressing his arguments, Bassey added that the technology “is very expensive, it is unproven, and you can’t capture carbon, talking about global emissions, talking about drawing carbon out of the air, it is like going to empty the ocean with a spoon, that is exactly the best way to describe it. It’s not going to work, it’s not practical. Whereas, the justice is that those who created the problem should do more. But now the solution is being pushed to the poor and the victims. In Gabon, (for instance) they’re planning to buy thousands of hectares for carbon sink, it’s not that they know how the carbon is going to be sunk. It’s just a mathematical idea that if I’m polluting and you’re not, then carbon should come to you. For the carbon estimates, what’s still available is less than 20% of the space in the atmosphere that the greenhouse gas can be pumped into and the 80% had been taken by rich countries. The whole negotiation is about the 20% that’s remaining… who should take it and who should cut emissions.”