Oil and gas players...
ing it, all of a sudden, it vanished, so the young people in those communities are susceptible, now it is a coincidence that the so called Boko Haram crisis is also affecting the four Lake Chad countries.
Like I said, Nigeria has what I call three dimensional extreme exposure and high vulnerability, in the north, where there is desertification, drought, there are a lot of climate refugees already, people who are leaving those areas because of the insecurity triggered and fueled by the loss of livelihood, so for the herdsmen, where Lake Chad used to be some of kind of buffer, they find water and grass for their animals, so they don’t have to bother coming down south, but now that option is gone, and the only way they can get this is movement towards the south.
Over the years, these people have always been moving and these clashes have been within manageable limits, but within the last decade, the movement feels like an invasion. For example, as a farmer, if you are used to seeing five herdsmen in a year, at least you can identify them and even build some kind of relationship with them, but in the last 10 years, you are seeing 200. For people who don’t understand what is happening, they see it as an invasion, and as long as you allow these cattle to move, they would destroy crops because they can’t differentiate. The Middle Belt has been an ugly theater of violence, increasingly ugly violence, people are being displaced in the south, there is sea level rising in the south and communities are being displaced. Nobody is really tracking these events, the government is not tracking them so there is displacement in the south and north and everyone is moving towards the middle where there is a violent struggle for food, fuel and fibre.
Despite the fact the country is already facing severe consequences of climate change, why has the conversation failed to garner the necessary attention and how is your organisation fighting to bring the conversation to limelight?
It is by engaging petroleum industry stakeholders and the government. We also need to invest a lot of money in what I call strategic climate change communications, and take it to the street level. For instance, if everyone knows about the herdsmen issue, politicians always move in to use some of these issues to create problems and chaos, to win votes and so on.
The media has the responsibility to actually dissect these issues and put the proper information out there for the people. If you ask me, I would say the media has failed in this regard because what the media has done or are doing is to continue to allow the government set the agenda or the politicians to set the narrative, the tone and depth of the conversation, it should be the media setting the agenda, and that is why we are having this problem.
I also told the organisers of the NAPE conference that for maximum impact next time, because what was discussed was the citizens and what affects them, so the people need to follow the conversation, so the least they can do is to make it a live event that can be streamed or broadcast, so that millions of people can follow the conversation.
These conversations are going on, but in hotel halls, conference centres, where you have 100 people, everyday there are 100 people here and there across the country talking about this but hundreds of millions of people are unaware.
I’m calling for more investment in strategic climate change communications and that means anywhere we are going to be having these conversation, it has to be live, there has to be a deliberate allocation of resources where people can follow.
You are also into climate change data generation and validation, and data generation and validation is a key problem in most industries in Nigeria; inadequate data is a leading problem of most failed decisions, so how does your company achieve this?
Climate change data generation and validation is actually a complex exercise, but because of technology and expertise we have now with our partners, it is easier to get that. But it is now for the off takers, the government, to open themselves to engagement to get this data. There are hundreds out there generating data but these data also have to validate from the grassroots, what is really happening on the ground, maybe from Nigerian meteorological agency, the indigenous knowledge from the local people. We are trying to mobilize the local people to also tell their experience with climate change and see if the universal data from the satellite fits into their experiences, so with climate change, we have indigenous knowledge and technology.
Recently, we have improved on data gathering, the Nigerian government has tried, there is an improvement in the department of climate change under the ministry of environment because I reviewed two of their latest document that they were supposed to submit to the United Nations framework convention on climate change and for the first time, both documents had raw, organic data, biennial update reports.
The National Bureau of Statistics is getting involved and other relevant agencies are getting involved, and taking data generation very seriously. For that, I’m aware that we have improved but we need to do more, and I think they are also working on getting a national climate change database, which can inform decision making for companies and organisations.
Data gathering and validation requires large amounts of investments, to get the right and relevant information, how does your company go about this, do you fund your projects alone or do you have partners that provide financial support?
We have partners who have expertise in that, so what we do is to harness that and if we get off taker partners, and off taker partners for these data could be national governments, departments or agencies and most especially the sub-national governments, the state governments, because on this climate change conversation, the state either out of ignorance have not really been part of this, and I can tell you that out of the 36 state governors, we don’t have up to three that have an adviser to the governor on climate change, or a well resourced department on climate change, and with what happened in the U.S., Donald Trump said the country was pulling out, but the people say they were in it. So that is the good thing about the United Nations framework convention on climate change, because they understood that environmental issues are issues that affect the people no matter what the political authority thinks. So they created a window for subnational governments, to participate.
There is a whole new industry that has come out of all these conversations, it is the clean tech industry and it is the country that has a handle on this, who is leading on this that would be the global leader in the coming years, and you can see what China is doing in that space, electric vehicles, while we are here saying how do we move forward out of crude oil, countries are announcing that we want to end internal combustion engines.
We run a mono product economy, we are hoping on people to buy our crude, and those people are building electric vehicles. Is that not enough to get us thinking, on how to diversify our energy mix and our economy, on how to invest in the clean energy technology? The tragedy we are seeing is that we would end up importing these technologies, instead of investing in research and development so that we can generate and develop our own technologies, because that is the future. This is the time for clean energy, there is no stopping an idea whose time has come. And my message is that first, oil and gas players need to understand how these changes will affect their industry, then based on that, you would begin to know how you are going to adapt because the industry must adapt, if you wave it away and say it doesn’t matter, then you are sitting on quick sand.
Concerning the council you represent in Nigeria, it works on renewable energy in various parts of the world; what kind of support do they offer, financial, technical or managerial, and how do they offer it?
The first thing we do is to bring the stakeholders together to have the conversations, to build stakeholder consensus, political leaders, bureaucrats, technocrats, industry players, bringing everyone together. For states or governments that are willing, we provide advisory and technical services. The other one is through consultants, where we are able to do project delivery. What the council does is awareness and consensus building and advisory services to government and sub-governments. We don’t offer financial help on the council, because we don’t have the resources to give, but like my consultancy, we can lead you to get financial support, called international climate finance.
Talking about human and technology capacity in Nigeria, how much of a deficiency are we looking at because human capacity building and technology development are the country’s strong suit, because we don’t have much investment going into this?
There is what is called research and development and we as a people and our government over the years are not bothered about it. To know how serious we are is to look at what government is spending on education. ASUU is currently on strike and it means that the Nigerian government over the years has not realized the value of education, and that progressive societies achieve and attain that status because of their investment in education, innovation and creativity. So it is an entirely new conversation, on how do we empower our citizens, our researchers? Looking at what senators are earning, in comparison with what a professor is earning.
We have talented citizens, it is for us to harness this. Every day you see kids, Nigerians displaying what they have designed, but they end up there. The best people do nowadays is to do a twitter thread, write on social media and that is it.
There is no serious effort to harness these talents. It is for our government to invest in research and development and that is not happening. Nigeria used to be lobbied, people used to come to lobby in Nigeria to get our crude, four, five decades ago but now, we go to market crude oil.
The National Bureau of Statistics is getting involved and other relevant agencies are getting involved, and taking data generation very seriously
Renewable is making economic sense; it is no longer about supporting the environment. I did a research nine years ago, and the problem has always been an initial cost, but these technologies, once you acquire them, after 5 years, you have recovered the cost and they have a lifespan of 20-25 years, so imagine you make an investment and in 4-5 years, you have recovered your cost, so for the next 20 years, you are on free electricity, so if it is aggregated, you would see that it is far cheaper.
We have not also internalized the external cost of fossil fuels. How many people in Rivers State, for instance, with the soot epidemic, have died, how many lungs have been destroyed? And like I tell everyone, environment is our common denominator, the elites of this world and the commoner, it is the same environment, the difference is that they have the power to change what is happening.
We need holistic approach and we also need to change the mindset in government that we can’t do without crude oil, it is frustrating to see government after government having that mindset.
Since the government is making the necessary efforts needed, how is the private sector keying into research and development (R&D) to build clean energy technologies in Nigeria?
Everything rises and falls on leadership, in this energy transition, or in this global change management, the role of the government is key. If you are talking about R&D, the government has to create this. What the private sector is doing is to import. I know private sector players who have developed this locally, government has not gone to promote them and even when those programmes are available, there is a disconnect between those who need and those who are offering. There are a couple of them but not on the scale we would like to see. Go to our research institute and see the gap in funding, see their talents, but they don’t even have access to good roads. These are the people that are supposed to be the backbone of our economy. We don’t have accessible road to the Federal Research Institute at Enugu. It is not in the campaign manifesto of the popular political parties too. You can’t grow beyond the thinking of your leader, whether it is your boss. This energy transition would not be successful if we don’t get the buy in of the government and getting the government to do the right thing takes us to political economy and what the people should be doing.
We have a population that is largely ignorant and we have political gladiators who know about these issues and can do something about them, but have tied themselves to this business as usual pathway, and the few voices we hear here and there are drowned off. That is why I said the best government we have had on climate change has been since Buhari came in; the facts are there, at least we know that President Buhari has been showing up anywhere global political leaders are gathering to discuss climate change and he has gone there with the problem of Lake Chad, and other climate change problems we have.
The Lake Chad problem has been here, since the last 19 years, what did Obasanjo, Yaradua, Jonathan do? In 2015, the best thing President Buhari did was to appoint Amina Mohammed, because the truth is, if you go to the states, many of the commissioners for environment don’t even understand. I’m not saying this in a derogatory way. I’ve interfaced with them, I’ve been in this space for the last decade, actively interfacing these people, the corporate stakeholders, in most of the states don’t understand it, the only time that we have had a minister of environment that understood that the environment is much more important than the economy, that the economy is only a sub-set of the environment, the economy draws from the environment, and Amina Mohammed understood that. Even though her stay wasn’t up to two years, the foundations were laid. It gladdens my heart that some of the things we have been pushing for, she came and Nigeria is one of the few countries, I think the first in Africa to issue a green bond, I think the second tranche would be issued this December. But how about the states, who are the commissioners for environment in each states, are they following up on these issues, do they know that it is the environment that drives the economy?
I met the governor of one of the North-east states at an event last year and I commended him on what he was doing in his state, but asked that since his state has high exposure to the impacts of climate change, what was he doing about climate change and how to adapt and build resilience? He said what is climate change? I’m not making this up.
Can you tell us some of the projects your company is looking at for 2019?
For 2019, we are looking at harnessing indigenous knowledge. We are going to map the experiences and expertise and bring it into the mainstream. We are also setting up a platform to say how do we bring the academia to solve some of these problems? We also have a programme that seeks to mobilize the local climate change developers, bring them on a platform and get some kind of international support for them. These are some of the plans we have for next year.
Also, operating a business in Nigeria is very hard, but for a sector like yours with limited exposure, it is harder, what are the major challenges you are facing and how do you go around them?
The biggest challenge is meeting political leaders who don’t understand this issue. There are ministries in Nigeria today who don’t believe in renewable energy and state governors who don’t know what the conversation is about, so how are we going to make progress?
So it is either you are talking to a deaf and dumb man, or you are talking to a man who is not even interested and this is someone who has the power to empower millions of his citizens using renewable energy. This is why it is very important for us to continue to provide the platform and continue to engage and build consensus, and get the decision makers to move forward. And this goes for corporate organisations. Our appetite for innovation is very low, both in public and private sector. So, again we are open to working to create a platform for this engagement and to also strategically change communications, and get as many Nigerians to follow the conversation.
Do you have any other thoughts on Nigeria, renewable energy and climate change?
Yes, this energy transition has become an idea whose time has come and it is either you jump on the train and get to your destination or you get crushed, if you are standing in the way. So it is in the best interest of Nigeria to embrace these conversations.