Nigeria will be ‘forceful’ climate advocate, says Buhari

Incoming president promises more constructive approach to “matters of collective concern” ahead of Paris climate pact

General Muhammadu Buhari, president-elect, Nigeria (Pic: Chatham House/Flickr)

General Muhammadu Buhari, president-elect, Nigeria (Pic: Chatham House/Flickr)

By Ed King

Nigeria’s president elect has promised to make addressing global warming a priority when he assumes power in June.

In his acceptance speech on Wednesday, General Muhammadu Buhari said his government would play a more active role in diplomatic efforts to craft a global response to climate change.

“I assure all foreign governments that Nigeria will become a more forceful and constructive player in the global fight against terrorism and in other matters of collective concern, such as the fight against drugs, climate change, financial fraud, communicable diseases and other issues requiring global response,” he said.

Buhari replaces president Goodluck Jonathan on May 29, in what is set to be the country’s first peaceful political transition since gaining independence in 1963.

The country’s stance on climate change is deemed critical, given it is Africa’s largest economy, the continent’s top oil producer and among the world’s largest suppliers of natural gas.

Oil is a dominant source of export revenues, but despite a GDP of over US$ 500 billion, an estimated 62% of its 170 million citizens live below the poverty line.

Its fossil fuel industry is dominated by foreign operators: Shell, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron and Total have exploration contracts stretching into the 2020s.

Political lead

Christian Aid’s climate change advisor Mohamed Adow welcomed Buhari’s comments, calling the country Africa’s “most important” when it came to climate diplomacy.

Traditionally he said Nigeria, along with Kenya and South Africa has called the shots within the 54-strong Africa Group at UN climate meetings,

“For a head of state to say that in his first speech points to the direction Africa is taking,” Adow said.

“This is a recognition of responsibility – it’s a huge political signal that indicates commitment at the highest level.”

Coastal erosion, severe flooding and the encroachment of the desert in the north of the country are expected to intensify across West Africa as global temperatures rise, a UN panel of scientists reported in 2014.

Local observers have told RTCC the rise of Islamist terror group Boko Haram is partly a result of growing climate impacts, with the depletion of Lake Chad sowing seeds of conflict.

A 2014 study by risk analyst firm Maplecroft rated Nigeria at “high risk” from climate change.

“Widespread drought and food insecurity helped create the socio-economic conditions that led to the emergence of Boko Haram and the violent insurgency in the North East of the country,” the study said.

The country is expected to deliver its commitment to a proposed UN climate change deal once the new government is in office. In 2010 Nigeria was responsible for 0.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Gabon became the first African state to submit its emissions reduction pledge on Wednesday, with a target of 50% cuts below its 2000 levels by 2025.

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