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Climate Change: Nigeria And The Crisis Ahead

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Climate change effects

Climate change effects

IF things continue along their present course, then someday the Climate Change Summit in Paris could mark the beginning of the end of the Nigerian state as we know it. Just as the Berlin Conference of 1884 was a milestone in the “scramble for and partition of Africa.” I will explain. The Paris summit, many agree, was very successful in building momentum among nations about the urgency to move away from fossil fuels (the main sources of greenhouse gasses) toward cleaner, renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

Now, everyone knows that Nigeria is among a small number of oil-rich nations, which have remained stubbornly addicted to oil revenues without significant diversification. Even in the face of recent tumbling of oil prices to below $50 per barrel (predicted years before it happened), Nigeria’s national budget is still built almost entirely around “benchmark crude prices.” So, if oil goes as the world’s favorite source of energy, Nigeria and other oil-dependent nations may go with it.

Record high global temperatures in 2015 finally brought home the reality of “global warming” to everyone including the few who earlier doubted that the earth was in danger of gradually overheating. So did rising sea levels and growing incidents of flooding. In Paris, delegates were falling over each other to display new, promising technologies for cleaner energy. The governments of US, China and other industrialized nations swore accelerated commitments to lowering carbon emissions and higher spending on R&D.

For many developing oil-producing states, Paris should have been a Transfiguration experience – watching and discussing one’s own impending passion and death! But how many of our delegates fully understood what was at stake? If they did, how come they were not visibly overcome by grief and sorrow? Was the trip to Paris just another jamboree at state expense?

President Buhari’s words and body language since taking office does not suggest a man in a hurry to shift the economic base of his country before the subsisting base caves in. He took five months to appoint a cabinet and kept the portfolio of Minister for Petroleum Resources to himself – as a sign, some say, of the “importance” of that ministry to the nation’s economy. I think someone should quickly whisper to the president that oil is fast becoming a liability in the global scheme of things; that one day very soon we will wake up to find that it’s cost of production has outstripped its market price! In other words, that the oil era has ended.

That was what happened to coal in the 1960s. The solid black mass, which once powered the factories, ships and locomotives of the first half of the 20th century rapidly went out of fashion. It was replaced by liquid “Black Gold” – the very oil whose nunc dimitis the world currently sings. The fortunes of cities like Newcastle and Enugu, once-celebrated metropolises built around coal, subsequently took a dive.

Before coal there was slave labor. After centuries of using African slaves to work their vast plantations in The Americas, Europe stumbled on the Industrial Revolution. Slowly, machines were built which could do the work of hundreds of slaves faster and without the danger of rebellion. Soon, Europe and America began to preach the gospel of abolition. By the time slavery and slave trading were ruthlessly abolished in the demand centers across the Atlantic, many African chiefs, slave traders and kingdoms were still pleading with their former “trading partners” to buy more of the human commodities – even at give-away prices! They were still dancing after the music had stopped playing.

When oil fails, as sure it will, Nigeria will be one of the hardest hit of the oil giants who once held sway in the hay days of OPEC. Already, most governments across the country are unable to pay salaries. A vast majority of capital projects have long been abandoned. With a teeming population of over 170 million most of whom have long forsaken the real sector in preference for the “easy life” of contracts, rents and kick-backs, it is difficult to see anything but gloom ahead.

What is Nigeria’s plan for the morning after the Oil Orchestra would have stopped playing? Where do we all, citizens and states, fit into that plan? What is our individual and collective contribution to the current global search for cleaner alternative energy sources? Why is the National Assembly still fiddling over the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) over 10 years after it was first drafted?

Given the obvious lack of smart answers to these vital questions, it seems expedient to suggest that President Buhari should be manning the Ministry of Innovation and Alternative Energy. Not spending much executive time on a Petroleum Resources Ministry whose importance belongs more to the past than the future of Nigeria and humanity. Except, of course, his intention is to supervise the winding down process and avoid a run on the assets of the once imperial NNPC.
• Victor Anazonwu, a company executive, writes from Magodo GRA, Lagos. He sent in this piece from vanazon@yahoo.com


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