opinion | Muhammadu Buhari: How not to talk to Africa about climate change

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Muhammadu Buhari is the President of Nigeria.

Part of my nation is underwater. Seasonal flooding is normal in Nigeria, but not like this. 34 of the country’s 36 states are affected. There were more than 1.4 million people shifted. Along with drought-related famine in the Horn of Africa, wildfires cascading across the north and wave after wave intensifying hurricanes in the southclimate catastrophes in Africa form the background to this year’s UN climate conference (known as COP27) in Egypt.

Many of my colleagues are frustrated with Western hypocrisy and their inability to take responsibility. Governments have repeatedly failed to meet their obligations to the $100 billion fund for climate adaptation and climate protection in the developing world – for the chaos that their own industries have caused. According to that United Nations, Africa is the continent most affected by climate change despite being the least contributor. Although the COP27 agenda mentions the need for compensation for loss and damage (as distinct from adaptation and mitigation finance), this demand has been largely met with silence in the West.

Amidst this smoldering acrimony, I would like to offer some advice to Western negotiators at this year’s COP27. They are intended to help the West to avoid a worsening of the situation U.N.. General Secretary has called “a climate of distrust” that envelops our world. Some of the demands of the Global South seem obvious. But recent experience suggests they need to be repeated.

First, rich countries should devote more of their resources to helping developing countries adapt to the effects of climate change. Most of the funding currently goes to mitigation projects such as renewable energy projects that reduce emissions. While such projects have their merits, much more money needs to be spent on helping Africa adapt to the effects of climate change – which seems only fair for a continent produced less than 3 percent of global emissions.

Africa urgently needs investment in adaptation infrastructure – like flood defense systems – to ward off the disasters that are destroying communities and crippling economies.

Second, don’t tell Africans they can’t use their own resources. If Africa used all of its known reserves of natural gas – the cleanest transitional fossil fuel – it would be Split of global emissions would rise from just 3 percent to 3.5 percent.

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

Don’t tell Africa the world can’t afford the climate costs of its hydrocarbons – and then fuel coal-fired power plants when Europe feels an energy shortage. Don’t tell the world’s poorest that their marginal energy use will blow their carbon budget—just to sign new domestic oil and gas exploration permits. It gives the impression that your citizens have a greater right to energy than Africans.

Third, if you realize you need Africa’s reserves, don’t deprive its citizens of the benefits. After the war in Ukraine, interest in Africa’s gas has increased again. But that impetus comes from Western companies – backed by their governments – who are only interested in extracting these resources and then exporting them to Europe.

Funding for gas, which benefits both Africa and the West, is conspicuously lacking. At last year’s COP, Western governments and multilateral lenders promised to stop all funding for overseas fossil fuel projects. Without these capital pools, Africa will struggle to tap the gas needed to boost its own domestic electricity needs. Consequently, its development and industrialization will suffer. Donor countries do not believe in developing countries exploiting their own hydrocarbons, even as they pursue new oil and gas projects within their own borders.

Western development has triggered a climate catastrophe on my continent. Now the green policies of rich countries dictate that Africans should remain poor for the greater good. To add to the injustice, Africa’s hydrocarbons are being exploited – just not for Africans.

Fourth, follow your own logic. Africa is being told that falling renewable energy costs mean it must leapfrog carbon-emitting industries. At the same time, western governments are effectively paying their citizens to burn more hydrocarbons: lavish subsidy packages raised to offset rising energy bills. Africa is now the continent that comes closest to carbon neutrality. It reserves the right to plug holes in its energy mix with the resources of its soil – especially when they make almost no difference to global emissions.

Western countries are unable to make politically difficult decisions that hurt domestically. Instead, they shift the problem offshore, essentially dictating that developing countries must swallow the pill too bitter for their own constituents’ palates. Africa didn’t cause the chaos, but we’re paying the price. At this year’s COP, that should be the starting point for all negotiations.

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