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Why Nigeria's coal-fired electricity project is a big contradiction

  • Jan 15, 2020 11:53 am GMT
The Nation

Nigeria is like a thirsty man but would rather swallow coals of fire than gulp water.

So, when the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Mr. Abubakar Bawa, announced plans by the Federal Government to boost power generation through coal in 2020, it sounded like good music to the ears of most Nigerians. And for obvious reasons, too.

Image Credit: ICIR

For a nation of nearly 200 million people - where darkness persists and where power generation only reached 5,090MW in April 2018 - Nigerians are not in the best position to negotiate the type of energy they consume.

Like most of their African neighbors, several years of darkness means Nigerians are desperate for any solution, including dirty energy sources like coal.

To confirm that desperation, between 1999 and 2007, Nigerian government, under the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, expended an estimated $16billion on power. Yet, the situation left Nigeria in dire straits. By the time Obasanjo left office in 2007, power generation had dipped further, hovering around 2,700MW.

Anxious to meet the nation's energy needs, Nigeria is turning to coal, with an initial projection that would see coal-fired electricity accounting for 30% of its power generation. According to Bawa, the Federal Government had reviewed its policies on exploration and mining to support this ambition.

One step forward, two backwards

On September 22, 2016, before a mixed crowd of civil society groups and political leaders, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Paris Agreement as Nigeria's commitment to combating the impact of climate in the country.

By May 2017, the agreement was ratified, making Nigeria the 146th nation to sign the global treaty as a major provision of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC).

Since signing the treaty, Nigeria has played a major role in all Conference of Parties events, policy roundtables and negotiations, including the recently concluded 2019 COP25 Negotiations held in Madrid, Spain.

Yet, these efforts have translated to little or nothing. Even though Nigeria clearly articulated eight core areas of interest to reduce green gas emission - including the 2030 target to end gas flaring, 45% conditional and 20% unconditional carbon emission reduction - rhetoric still trumps action, and Nigeria faces grimmer climate prospects in the coming years.

During the COP25 negotiations in Spain, Minister of Environment, Dr. Muhammad Abubakar, acknowledged Nigeria's precarious situation in the ongoing climate crisis.

'Nigeria faces grave social, economic and environmental threats consequent to climate change due to our country's dependence on climate-sensitive resources. Climate change impacts are already threatening the survival and livelihoods of our people,' he said.

'The devastating loss of range and crop lands to desertification each year in the northern part of the country, resource use conflicts, loss of forest cover and threatening sea-level rise on the significant coastline in the southern part of the country are a stark reminder of our vulnerability to Climate Change.'

Yet, everything points further south. As at May 2019, Nigeria saw its gas reserve rise to 200.79 trillion cubic feet from 187 tcf, representing a growth of 7.3%. Yet, an estimated 425.9 billion standard cubic feet of gas was flared during the same year, leaving bleak any hope of solving her 60-year-old environmental problem.

According to the Nigerian Gas Flare Tracker, a satellite gas flare tracking platform by the National Oil Spill Detention and Response Agency (NOSDRA), of the total gas flared in 2019, 22.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide was emitted into the environment in 2019 alone.

For a nation with the most polluted and deadliest air in Africa and fourth globally, gas flaring continues unabated. Despite the 1984 ban that compelled International Oil Companies (IOCs) to end the dangerous practice, Nigeria continues to adopt policies that question its sincerity to reduce its troubling carbon thresholds.

While Nigeria grapples with the damage caused by these activities, especially in its oil-rich Niger Delta region, where pollution has destroyed communities and wrecked livelihoods, toying with an ambitious coal electricity project of this scale defies logic. If anything, the new coal-fired electricity project would only escalate the situation.

Paris Agreement: Another formality for Nigeria?

Signing the dotted lines and taking the front row in global treaties is never a challenge for Nigeria, commitment to the implementation is. For the Africa's most populous nation, policies are never in short supply, except that they become forgotten with the same energy with which they were developed.

Consider the issue of gas flare. Nigeria has pledged to end the deadly practice within the last 36 years without keeping to its word. In 2017, in its National Gas Policy approved by the Federal Executive Council, Nigerian government pledged yet again to end gas flaring by 2020.

After about two years of yet more talk and less action, in August 2019, Justice Derefaka, who heads the Nigerian Gas Flare Commercialization Programme (NGFCP), said the 2020 deadline was no longer realistic.

Even though 2030 is the official deadline set by the United Nations for oil-producing countries to end flare, Nigeria's failure to end the practice for more than three decades raises doubt about its commitment to these agreements.

Africa's population growth is projected to equal more than half of the world's within the next three decades. By implication, energy need in Nigeria, which is currently 10 times below the current power output according to Minister of Power Babatunde Fashola, would more than double.

This shows why fossil-fuel dependency is not likely to reduce any soon, despite the implications on climate and the environment.

Instead, Africa remains the favorite destination for curious energy projects. Between 2014 and 2016, nearly $20 billion was invested in energy projects across the continent by government-backed financial institutions.

Oil Change International, a clean energy advocacy group that conducted the study, said fossil fuels accounted for about 60% of public aid for energy projects in Africa during the period.

Except Nigeria is not committed to the terms of the Paris Agreement, which it willingly assented to in 2016, the new coal-fired electricity project only contradicts its efforts to combat climate change. it is an own goal for the people.

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