Public Lecture On “Africa And Climate Justice” At Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada

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First, let me thank our friends and colleagues here at Queen’s University for being such generous and gracious hosts.

We have just had some conversations on some of the incredible work that Queen’s University through the Faculty of Education, the Centre for Social Impact and the One Million Teachers Programme is doing in Nigeria with various Nigerian entities for which we are deeply grateful. And we are excited about the prospects of deepening existing ties and future collaboration. You have heard a lot already about what has been done and frankly, it is just the tip of the iceberg if you look at all the achievements that have been made.

Today, I am going to speak as briefly as possible on the subject – Africa and Climate Justice.

Perhaps one should begin with the obvious – climate change is perhaps the most significant global existential threat today and will be so for a while to come. And the frightening signals are everywhere: wildfires, unprecedented heat waves, massive floods, droughts, biodiversity loss, melting polar ice caps, desertification, rising water levels and all their disastrous socio-economic impacts.

So, the obvious, if the difficult solution to the crisis is to stop carbon emissions and use green energy. The staple wisdom is that fossil fuels in particular are some of the worst pollutants. That being the case, it is proposed that countries and corporations should quickly reduce the use of these high pollutants and instead use renewable energy such as solar, wind, hydro, biofuels, and completely stop the use of these carbon emitters by the agreed target date of 2050, and for Nigeria 2060.

The second point and this introduces what some describe as the energy conundrum, is that for developing countries and especially sub-Saharan Africa, there are two, not one existential threats.

Aside from the climate crisis, we have the challenge of extreme poverty and its implications for disease, malnutrition and premature mortality. Now, Energy poverty or lack of access to energy is at the heart of poverty in Africa.

So, just as the world has made commitments to reduce global warming, the world has also agreed to 17 sustainable development goals that are built on the critical principle of leaving no one behind. In addition, sustainable development and poverty eradication are enshrined in relevant global treaties including the Paris Agreements.

These considerations are at the heart of what is loosely described as a just and equitable transition or Climate Justice. To elaborate on its contours, the notion of climate justice insists that in addition to discussions on greenhouse gas emissions and the need to reduce them, we also recognize that climate change is an inherently social issue with important social justice implications.

So then, we need to reframe our climate action paradigm from merely a technical effort to cut emissions, to an approach that places people and addresses social inequality at the centre of our efforts. This is based on the reality that while climate change is already affecting every inhabited region across the globe and no place on earth will be immune to its effects, the impact will be different across key regions and groups.

In particular the poor and vulnerable, largely in developing economies, will be first to suffer and worst hit by the effects of climate change even though they are the least culpable for the climate crisis.

The World Bank estimates that high-income countries, which are home to just 14% of the global population today, are responsible for 44% of cumulative CO2 emissions. While Africa, at barely 3 – 4% of global emissions, contributes the least of any global region to emissions, Africa is, by current estimates, despite the lower contributions, warming faster than the global average and experiencing greater increases in sea-level rise.

The Sahel region has recorded vegetation loss leading to a sharp rise in conflicts between farmers and herders. Southern Madagascar is experiencing what the United Nations is calling the world’s first climate change-induced famine.

In Nigeria, we are currently grappling with the catastrophic effects of floods that have affected about 34 states of our 36 States, displacing over 1.4 million people, destroying over 100,000 hectares of farmland and causing about 600 deaths.

The African Development Bank estimates that African economies are already between 5 – 15% smaller because of climate change.

Besides, climate change as a threat multiplier is more evident in Africa than in any other region. Under a 3°C warming scenario, Africa is expected to lose up to 30 percent of current growing areas for maize and banana and 60 percent for beans by 2050 which would lead to many more Africans suffering from hunger.

With the largest number of jobs being in the agricultural sector, reduced crop productivity will worsen unemployment gaps on the continent and result in grave socio-economic consequences. Parallels of these multiplier effects can be drawn in other sectors from health to shelter and security.

A prime example of the confluence of many of the themes I have already highlighted is the global energy transition. Energy consumed for electricity, heat and transport is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions. This is over 70% of global emissions. So, reducing emissions from the energy sector is crucial for limiting warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels.

But the energy sector is one of the starkest examples of global inequality. In 2020, Sub-Saharan Africa had about 52% of its population, 568 million people, without access to electricity. On the other hand, most developed countries have 100% energy access. Over 1.3 billion people in Africa are serviced by an installed capacity of 244 Gigawatts which is less than the 248 Gigawatts system for Germany’s population of 83 million.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains the only region in which the number of people without access to clean cooking fuels and technologies is rising. Nineteen of the 20 countries with the lowest clean cooking access rates are in Africa.

In practical terms, these energy deficits produce staggering effects. For instance, according to the International Energy Agency, the clean cooking deficits lead to 500,000 premature deaths from household air pollution in Africa annually. Furthermore, gender inequities are exacerbated, and millions of women and children suffer from critical health conditions.

Due to the electricity deficits, half of secondary schools and a quarter of health facilities in Sub-Saharan Africa have no power.

In addition, though Africa’s current unmet energy needs are huge, future demand will be even greater as populations expand, people move into the middle class and rapid urbanization continues. Mitigation efforts such as the electrification of heating, cooking and transportation as well as adaptation efforts like keeping people cool and safe in a warming climate will also require more energy.

For many gas-rich but energy-poor countries in Africa such as Nigeria, we recognize the role that natural gas, being a much cleaner fossil fuel, must play as a transition fuel in the short term to facilitate the establishment of base-load energy capacity and address clean cooking deficits in the form of LPG.

But there has been strong resistance to this. Several global North nations have placed restrictions on the use of development funds for natural gas infrastructure in Africa with ripple effects in the private financial sector.

While the U.S. and others have created exceptions in their policies, the intended flexibility is not yet clear or seen in practice. But many of these same countries include gas as a major pillar of their multi-decade decarbonization strategies. Several others fired up decommissioned coal plants in the wake of the Russian-induced energy crisis this year.

So clearly, limiting the development of domestic gas projects, which is a critical energy transition pathway for Africa, violates enshrined principles of equity and justice, and poses dire challenges for African nations, while making an insignificant dent in global emissions.

Even if we triple electricity consumption in African countries, aside from South Africa, solely through the use of natural gas this would add just 0.6% to global emissions.

An International Energy Agency (IEA) study this year 2022 shows that more than 5 trillion cubic metres( BCM) of gas resources have been discovered to date in Africa which has not yet been approved for development. These resources could provide an additional 90 BCM of gas by 2030. These will be vital for fertilizer, steel, cement industries and water desalination. Cumulative Co2 emissions from the use of these gas resources over the next 30 years would be about 10 gigatons.

If these emissions are added to Africa’s cumulative total today, they will bring its share of global emissions to a mere 3.5%. The EU subregion alone does 8%.

So, the point that must be made is that it is unfair that while many global north countries recognize the need for a wide range of options and different pathways to net-zero for themselves, the same courtesy is not necessarily extended to Africa.

In terms of financing, the inequities are also striking. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that emerging and developing economies currently account for two-thirds of the world’s population, but only one-fifth of global investment in clean energy.

Africa, home to 18% of the global population only receives barely 3% of global energy investment. Of the $2.8 trillion invested in renewable energy from 2000 to 2020, only about 2%, $60 billion, came to Africa. The IEA estimates that Africa needs $133 billion annually in clean energy investment to meet our energy and climate goals between 2026 and 2030.

However, annual investment in renewable energy stands at only $9.4 billion on the continent. Additionally, for African countries, the cost of finance and perceived investment risk remain significantly higher than for developed economies, despite the vast improvements in stability and governance. This affects all energy investments; however, it is more critical in the case of renewables like solar, wind and battery storage because these are all heavily weighted toward upfront capital expenditures.

In all of this, I think one should emphasize that developing economies have not shown themselves to seek a free pass when it comes to climate action. There is more than sufficient evidence of commitment to developing climate-sensitive, locally grounded transition pathways as many of us have done with our Nationally Determined Contributions, NDCs.

There are also regional initiatives like the Great Green Wall initiative. The original vision was to create a wall of trees against desertification in the Sahel, the horn and across North Africa, but it has grown into a variety of sustainable land use practices designed to combat climate change and desertification and to address food insecurity and poverty. Nigeria has recently launched a detailed Energy Transition Plan which outlines pathways to universal energy access by 2030 and net-zero by 2060.

One of such programmes identified to kickstart the Nigeria ETP is our flagship large-scale decentralized solar programme, the #SolarPowerNaija project which seeks to electrify 5 million homes and 25 million people using solar home systems and mini-grids and we estimate that it will create about 250,000 jobs in the process.

The project builds on successes from the Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP) which sought to increase access to electricity services in the country and has so far provided over 1.75 million people with electricity access. There is a lot of work going on in solar power, we are not doing very much with wind.

On the data side, the Federal Government of Nigeria in partnership with SEforALL and the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) launched the Integrated Energy Planning Tool earlier this year. The tool is powered by extensive geospatial modelling and optimization as well as the most recent data to provide actionable intelligence for planning the expansion of least-cost access to electricity and clean cooking in the nation.

As a global community, it is important that we have to acknowledge the differences between groups in how they experience climate change; ensure that processes for making decisions about the impacts of, and responses to climate change are fair and transparent, and determine how the costs and benefits of climate action will be equitably shared.

And I think a big win for those of us who followed the proceedings in Egypt at COP27 was the loss and damage fund which is to compensate poor countries for climate change-related loss and damage. The loss and damage fund is one that many of us fought very hard for and we were able to get it at COP27.

So, a just approach to the global energy transition should recognize at least the following:

1.That developing economies must have universal energy access at levels sufficient for dignified livelihoods and economic growth.

2. That energy transition must place energy access for both consumptive and productive uses, as well as the required policy flexibility, financial and technical support at the heart of climate action.

3. That making capital available for the buildout of energy systems is central to reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement.

4. To meet its decarbonization obligations, Africa needs both conventional capital flows and the development of innovative mechanisms like debt-for-climate investments and carbon trading. (There’s a lot of work going on in the Voluntary Carbon Markets (VCM), we are collaborating with several African Countries and Colombia in trying to deepen our climate financing alternatives and the VCM is one of the very major initiatives which was also announced at COP27 and hope will be a pathway for raising climate financing capital but also for accelerating decarbonization efforts).

5. That we must lift inhibitive development finance restrictions and upscale technology transfers to ensure developing regions have access to the latest energy innovations and can build local industries on fair terms.

6. And finally, the race to net-zero must not leave Africa in the dark.

Thank you all very much for your kind attention.