Nigeria’s path to net zero should be fully lined with trees – and fairness

Comment: To meet its pledge of net zero by 2060, Nigeria needs to rein in emissions from deforestation and land use, which equal those from the oil and gas sector

A labourer sits on top of logs on a truck in an unreserved forest in Igbatoro village, southwest Nigeria, August 28, 2014. (Photo: REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye)


It must be said: it is impossible to imagine Nigeria’s path to decarbonization without imagining it being fully lined with trees. There is a critical need to address deforestation, transform agricultural practices, and harness nature-based solutions like afforestation and reforestation if Nigeria were serious about reaching net zero by 2060 – a commitment the Nigerian government made at COP26 in Glasgow.

Nigeria is an oil giant in Africa, and unsurprisingly, most of its plans on decarbonization focus on the transition to renewable energy. Previously, Nigeria’s Energy Transition Plan had not considered the country’s emissions from the agriculture, forests, and land-use (AFOLU) sector.

However, our new report, which looks at different pathways for Nigeria to reach its net-zero-by-2060 goal, found Nigeria’s AFOLU sector has contributed the largest sectoral emissions at 30%, compared to the oil and gas sector at 29%. So while it is good that Nigeria has set its eyes on transforming the energy sector, it is also true that only in a renewable energy scenario that also transforms the AFOLU sector can Nigeria achieve its commitment of net zero by 2060 which will allow Nigeria’s economy to grow alongside reaching its sustainability goals.

“Two steps forward, two steps back” – Governments off course for forest protection target

One of the main drivers of Nigeria’s AFOLU emissions is land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF). The last decade has seen relentless deforestation in Nigeria, with Global Forest Watch data revealing that from 2010 to 2019, Nigeria lost 86,700 hectares of tropical forest. Alarming as this may be, without immediate action, an additional 25% of our remaining forests could vanish by 2060. The cause of deforestation is a confluence of different factors, including the population’s lack of access to electricity and increasing poverty rates.

The stark reality is that nearly one in three people in the country lack access to electricity. This energy disparity leads many to rely on traditional, polluting methods for energy generation, such as burning wood. Additionally, less than a quarter of Nigerians have access to “clean cooking,” forcing the majority—primarily women—to rely on inefficient and polluting cookstoves, using wood for fuel.

This reliance on wood for energy generation and fuel is a significant driver of deforestation in Nigeria, and is also a major contributing factor to residential emissions. Improving access to clean cooking is not only pivotal in reducing emissions but also a crucial step towards mitigating deforestation.

According to the World Bank, four in ten Nigerians – or about 80 million people – were living in poverty in 2019. A report by Mongabay revealed that with lack of available jobs, Nigerian forests are being lost to farming and logging. Here, the message is clear: we can only save our forests and be truly on our way to net zero if we address poverty and social inequalities.

Reversing deforestation is not an impossible feat, but it demands a commitment to reforestation efforts – a 2.3% annual reforestation rate – and addressing other root causes of the problem including access to electricity, job creation, and a reduction in poverty.  With reforestation efforts, Nigeria can not only halt the degradation but also bolster its carbon sink capacity, a crucial element in achieving the net-zero goal by 2060.

The commitment to net zero is not just an environmental pledge but a blueprint for economic growth and prosperity that aligns with our broader sustainability goals. It is time for Nigeria to seize the opportunity and lead the charge towards a greener, more resilient future.

Prof. Chukwumerije Okereke is director of the Centre for Climate Change and Development at Alex-Ekwueme Federal University in Ndufu-Alike, Nigeria, and lead of the Deep Decarbonization Pathways (DDP) in-country team in Nigeria.

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