opinion | Muhammad Bukhari: How can you not talk to Africa about climate change

opinion | Muhammad Bukhari: How can you not talk to Africa about climate change


Muhammadu Buhari is the President of Nigeria.

Part of my nation is under water. Seasonal flooding is normal in Nigeria, but not like that. 34 of the country’s 36 states have been affected. More than 1.4 million people have been displaced. Combined with drought-induced famine in the Horn of Africa, cascading wildfires across the north and wave after wave of surging cyclones in the south, climate disasters in Africa form the backdrop for this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (known as COP27) in Egypt.

Many of my colleagues are frustrated with Western hypocrisy and its inability to take responsibility. Governments have repeatedly failed to meet their commitments to the $100 billion fund for climate adaptation and mitigation in the developing world – due to the havoc their industries have wreaked. According to the United Nations, Africa is the continent hardest hit by climate change despite making the least contribution to it. Although the COP27 agenda mentions the need to compensate for losses and damages (other than financing adaptation and mitigation), this demand has been met with mostly silence in the West.

Amidst this intense acrimony, I offer some advice to Western negotiators at this year’s COP27. They must help the West avoid aggravating what the UN Secretary-General has called the “climate of mistrust” that surrounds our world. Some of the demands of the Global South are clear. But the experience of the recent past indicates the need to repeat it.

First, rich countries should direct a larger share of financing to adapt developing countries to the effects of climate change. Most of the funding currently flows towards mitigation projects, such as renewable energy projects, that reduce emissions. While such projects have their own uses, more money needs to be allocated to helping Africa adapt to the effects of climate change – which seems fair to a continent that produces less than 3 percent of global emissions.

Africa urgently needs to invest in adaptive infrastructure – such as flood prevention systems – to stave off disasters that crippling societies and economies.

Second, don’t tell Africans that they can’t use their own resources. If Africa were to use all its known reserves of natural gas – the cleanest transitional fossil fuel – its share of global emissions would rise from just 3 per cent to 3.5 per cent.

We are not the problem. However, the continent needs a reliable source of power if it is to lift millions of citizens out of poverty and create jobs for its growing youth. Africa’s future must be carbon neutral. But current energy requirements cannot be met solely by weather-dependent solar and wind energy.

Don’t tell Africa that the world can’t afford the climate of hydrocarbons – then fire up coal plants whenever Europe feels energy tight. Don’t tell the world’s poorest people that their marginal use of energy will break the carbon budget – only to sign new local permits to explore for oil and gas. It gives the impression that your citizens have a right to energy more than the Africans.

Third, when you realize that you need Africa’s reserves, do not exclude its citizens from the benefits. In the aftermath of the Ukraine war, there was a renewed interest in gas in Africa. But this drive comes from Western companies – subsidized by their own governments – only interested in extracting these resources and then exporting them to Europe.

Gas financing that benefits Africa and the West is clearly in short supply. At the COP last year, Western governments and multilateral lenders pledged to cut off all funding for offshore fossil fuel projects. Without these capital pools, Africa will struggle to tap the gas needed to boost its own domestic energy supply. Thus, its development and industrialization will suffer. Donor countries do not believe that the developing world is exploiting their hydrocarbons even while pursuing new oil and gas projects within their borders.

Western development has unleashed a climatic catastrophe on my continent. Now the green policies of rich countries dictate that Africans remain poor for the greater good. To compound the injustice, Africa’s hydrocarbons will be exploited after all – not just for Africans.

Fourth, follow your own logic. Africa has been told that the low cost of renewables means it has to bypass carbon-emitting industries. At the same time, Western governments are effectively paying their citizens to burn more hydrocarbons: massive subsidies have been put in place to offset spiraling energy bills. Meanwhile, Africa is the closest continent to being carbon-neutral. It reserves the right to fill in the gaps in its energy mix with the resources in its own land – especially when it makes almost no difference to global emissions.

Western countries are unable to take difficult political decisions that harm the interior. Instead, they are taking the problem out, essentially dictating that the developing world has to swallow a pill that is too bitter for the tastes of their constituents. Africa has not caused chaos, but we are paying the price. At this year’s COP, this should be the starting point for all negotiations.

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