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Avoiding the c-word in Nigeria

Ok so I admit that’s a provocative title.

But in many countries taking action on the two c-words “climate change” just isn’t a key priority.

There are, perhaps, good reasons for this. A lot of countries feel there are more pressing needs to deal with rather than a distant, future problem.

Take Nigeria for example. Nigeria has a huge population of 158 million people, set to increase to at least 210 million by 2020.  About 50% of Nigerians live on less than $1 a day, and as this recent Economist article explains, its infrastructure is patchy and in disrepair. Added to this, most African countries have low emissions compared to the rest of the world, which makes them feel climate change is really a “developed world’s problem”.

Using diesel generators like this one in Nigeria takes time. Credit: P Jotter, 2006

This sums up some sceptical reactions I’ve faced – albeit expressed more politely – at the African Development Bank annual meetings this week. I have been invited here to make a presentation on and discuss green growth and the opportunities it might present for African countries like Nigeria.

Whilst there are a good number of participants here that work on renewable and energy efficiency projects, most are here to make new deals on infrastructure and other private sector projects all over Africa, which will help meet Africa’s estimated $31bn annual funding gap and provide new jobs.

But the key thing I’ve realised is that mentioning the c-words “climate change” to many of these participants isn’t a useful way to start the conversation.

Instead the tack I’ve been taking is based on a pioneering approach that the DFID office in Nigeria is hoping to test, which shows how tackling climate change can address immediate concerns. They start with growth and jobs – specifically, infrastructure development in Nigeria’s power and transport sector.

Nigeria has very poor power infrastructure, with frequent blackouts. Nigerian businesses and households therefore either don’t have access to electricity, or rely on self-owned diesel generators. Although diesel prices are (unsurprisingly in an oil exporting country) relatively low compared to other countries around the globe, it’s still costly compared to powering homes with grid-based electricity. Overall, Nigeria’s power use relative to GDP is among the lowest in the world: as shown in this creative infographic it equates to each person being able to run a fridge for just one month a year.

This is a real problem for growth and jobs. But, as the African Development Bank’s Vice President Bobby Pittman said at the green growth event I presented at, it is also a huge opportunity.

Investors that can provide power at lower cost have businesses and households that are clearly ready to pay over the odds for power and can still make a profit. However, many investors are waiting for the government to reform the main electricity grid market to capture these opportunities.

But this lack of reform itself presents an extra opportunity for renewable development.  If renewable options – such as solar – are any more reliable and cost-effective than diesel, they could have a huge market in Nigeria, directly replacing existing generators and giving new homes and businesses access to energy. And if the grid reform did take place, opportunities could be created – as takes place in the UK – for businesses to sell extra renewable power onto the grid, and reap profits.  We may well see the same kind of rise in solar penetration as we have seen with mobile phones - whose rise in Africa was stimulated more by a lack of traditional, land-based communications infrastructure than anything else.

Nigeria’s transport sector is slightly different.  Here, the opportunities lie more in considering the likely costs of congestion now.  Nigeria’s cities will need to accommodate 65 million more people by 2030, almost doubling the urban population. If personal car usage rises, congestion and the productivity losses that arise from it will be awful.

This means that investing now in light urban rail, bus-rapid transit, or even high-speed rail to capture customers and allow them to commute in and out of cities, may make good sense. Recent improvements in bus services in Lagos have already cut journey times by up to a third, but more will be needed. GTZ call this the "Avoid-Shift-Improve approach" and cite several examples of developing country cities that are using it successfully.

DFID Nigeria is now looking at adapting the design of a new Infrastructure Advisory Facility to allow these kinds of opportunities to be explored over the next few years.  If approved, the Facility could have transformational impacts, without distracting the Government from the crucial need to achieve growth and poverty reduction.

Who knows, Nigeria might prove that even countries that don’t want to mention the climate change word, can be at the forefront of green growth.

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  1. Comment by Gertrude Chinegwundoh posted on

    Is DfID able to help Nigerians in the UK diaspora who have expertise in renewable energy to set up solar power businesses or provide consultancy services? Many of us in the diaspora want to get involved with the power sector, education, health and other areas but don't know who to talk to or how to get involved. For example, if a solar energy expert in London wants to provide renewable energy services in Nigeria, who can assist with the importation of solar panels, setting up an office, getting customers etc. Can DfID Nigeria and UKTI facilitate this? I am a teacher in London and would love to get more involved with the education sector in Nigeria. Likewise, I know renewable energy/climate change experts who want to contribute to the further development of Nigeria.

  2. Comment by Don Copperman posted on

    The c-word means different things to different people across the world as your story points out. For most Nigerians, the c word to would jump to mind first may be corruption and not climate change. Don't get me wrong, Nigerians know and care about "climate change" it is just that they don't call it that. For us, it rapidly spreading Sahara, the lack of firewood and gas flaring.
    As your article points out if your translate climate change into regular and consistent energy supply via solar or other renewable sources, we will instantly speak the same language.

  3. Comment by Chike Chukudebelu posted on

    Climate change is abstract, electricity supply is not.

    I need my generator (like many other Nigerians), but I doubt that DFID's "academic approach" to solving the problem - more papers, more reports, more panel discussions will be of any good.

    The Chinese and Indians have already moved into that space by providing low-cost inverters and (in the future) low-cost solar panels.

  4. Comment by Onwu Isaac Edo posted on

    Nigeria is rich in natural resources to avoid the effects of this climate changes. To do this, i wish to suggest that DFID should take other fuel sources apart from petroleum products as priority in her development plan of Nigeria. Here, coal and nuclear energy should be used in power generation to save the environment from the disaster petroeum products cause to the environment

  5. Comment by Daniel posted on

    It strikes me as the bloggers personal observation than the reality, the idea that the "C" word does not matter in a country like Nigeria where there are more institutions dealing with climate change issues when compared to other African countries (only with the exception of South Africa). The challenge is that climate change in the context of a"donor" driven agenda does not go down well with Nigeria who does not see itself as an aid recipient. Climate change will become priority when it is framed as an intrinsic part of the development process rather than an ODA related one. This is especially where the shift to the green growth paradigm comes to play, and green growth will definitely appeal to policy makers in Nigeria who will be interested in growth rather than just the "c" word per se.