Climate change and Nigeria’s forests

LET me start by setting the scene. 2009 is a crossroads, this year we, as a global community, must decide how we respond to the largest threat currently facing our, and our children’s livelihoods. At the end of this year world leaders, including Nigeria, will meet to discuss how the world will tackle this challenge: will the world look at the financial events unfolding, the complexity of the issue, the challenge of financing, and say it’s too hard

to act and act quickly? Or will we resolve from here to affirm our aim of a broad and inclusive agreement and keep on the road to a global deal in Copenhagen in December?

This is now the most important question facing our shared planet. What it means in practice is that the emissions of Green House Gases from the UK matter here in Nigeria. Deforestation in states like Cross River matters to people’s lives in the UK. And it matters to everyone, even the poorest who may think they have enough to worry about without bothering about a thing called climate change.

One key way the world must respond to mitigating the most catastrophic dangers of climate change is to protect its forests. Forests are the lungs of our planet, breathing in carbon and breathing out oxygen.

Latest studies by scientists are gloomy as regards human impact on the great forests of the world, including West Africa. The tropics of Latin America, Asia and Africa drive the world’s weather systems and destroying these great forests is likely to change these forever. Not only might we expect more extreme weather but massive tropical forest loss would also amplify global warming significantly, turning carbon sinks into a significant carbon source.

Deforestation currently causes about a quarter of all carbon emissions, and whilst this is a great threat it is also an opportunity for countries like Nigeria. I visited Cross River last week and it is clear the communities there already know the value of forests. They know that if they are involved in or ‘own’ the conservation effort and feel it matters to them personally, then there is a solution that works. And at a national level by committing to the protection and management of its great forests Nigeria can make the most of carbon financing and carbon credits that will be part of a deal at Copenhagen. Moreover by demonstrating its commitment to the mitigation of dangerously high carbon levels, it can bring a knowledgeable and balanced voice to the summit in December which can press the world’s largest emitters into action. This is in Nigeria’s interest as much as it is anyone’s.

An equitable deal in Copenhagen needs five elements. Firstly all countries to reduce their emissions, but developed countries must shoulder this responsibility taking on deep and binding targets. Secondly funding to adapt to the reality of climate change must be a priority. Thirdly the development of a global carbon market and other mechanisms to fund mitigation. Lord Stern’s estimate is that we will need only spend one per cent to two per cent of global GDP on mitigation, but that failure to act could cost us 20 per cent – therefore action is very sound economics as well as a moral imperative. Fourthly we need co-operation in developing low carbon technology transfer so that all countries can benefit. And finally deforestation must be included in the deal and part of the future carbon market.

So if the big emitters, past, present and future must make the greatest efforts, what is the UK doing? Last year the UK became the first country to set legally binding targets to cut its carbon footprint. Last week we announced the first set of carbon budgets to limit our emissions and we have also announced that our future coal fired power stations should use carbon capture and storage technology. Underpinned by these efforts we will be arguing for a bold global deal at Copenhagen, aiming to meet our objective of keeping global temperature rises below 2 degrees, requiring a 50 per cent reduction in global emissions by 2050.

Looking closer to home, Nigeria is a special country. This great nation faces issues both of adaptation – controlling desertification, conserving potable water, preventing sea level rise – as well as issues of mitigation – eliminating gas flaring and preserving your forests. It has the opportunity to lead the African voice at Copenhagen to make sure all these issues are placed firmly on the negotiating table. It can explain adaptation issues, it can point to a future of gas capture rather than flaring, and the value of planning for a future where its energy supplies are diversified, drawn from abundant renewable sources. Opportunities to achieve these aims and propel Nigeria along the low-carbon high-growth path will be up for grabs at Copenhagen, through means such as technology transfer and adaptation financing. By being a proactive participant Nigeria can be at the heart of these negotiations.

The challenge as ever is leadership. Right across Governments, from the Head of Government to the Minister of Finance as well as Minister of Environment, all need to believe that climate change considerations need to be integrated into national policy. And right across the world: collective international leadership. Let’s all agree on trying for a low carbon future. That solution does exist.