Lagos risks sinking if coastal infrastructure is not built – Dr Oluwatola

Dr. Tobi Oluwatola is the Executive Director of the Center for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID). In this exclusive interview with Daily Trust on the sidelines of a media training on climate change in Lagos, he said that Lagos was at risk of flooding due to climate change and that Nigeria had to travel to the Conference of the United Nations Parties on climate change (COP 27) with a clear plan to be able to obtain a grant of 300 billion dollars to build climate resilience around agriculture, coastal infrastructure and to compensate for loss and damage. Excerpts:

COP 27 2022 will be held in Africa; What do you think Nigeria should bring to the negotiating table?

Nigeria must come to the negotiating table with clarity on what we need to adapt to climate change; to mitigate future emissions and reduce our current emissions, and also to pay for losses and damages caused by climate change.

On the points of adaptation, I think that three sectors are very critical: one sector would be agriculture and the guarantee of food security. Climate change-induced drought and climate change-induced floods and changing weather patterns in general are affecting our normal cycles of food production, and this comes at a cost in terms of ensuring that we have the irrigation facilities needed to make farmers productive, by ensuring that we have the right seedlings and the right pesticides and other inputs to ensure that our agricultural production returns to its optimal level. So this is going to be critical and this has a cost attached to it.

The second sector where adaptation is essential is that of our infrastructures. We depend on our watersheds for much of our electricity. Much of Lake Chad is drying up, Niger is drying up in parts.

The last one is kind of related to the infrastructure and the loss and damage to the infrastructure of our ports. We need to repair our coastal infrastructure, we need to prepare our coast for the worst effects of climate change. The sea level rises. Our coasts must be prepared for these eventualities. For example, Lagos is in danger of being overwhelmed. We have to build these flood barriers, we have to build infrastructure that will prepare us for this.

At the point of mitigation, I think there are a few things. First, the energy transition currently accounts for around 70-80% of Nigeria’s greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector. Most of it comes from gas flaring. So the first thing is we have to reduce gas flaring. This also has cost implications in terms of reduced gas flaring. The reason people burn gas is because they’re trying to get access to oil and gas, and if the gas in the wind is commercial, they’ll extract the gas before they get to the point. But because the gas is not commercial infrastructure, to sell the gas in the markets, they just let the gas cool. So you need funding to take that gas and build the infrastructure to basically export or get that gas to the local market. Substantial funding is therefore needed.

There is also the electricity sector. Nigeria currently generates most of its electricity from some hydroelectricity, but also from gas. Gas is our main source of production. We have about 14 solar projects that are grid-type projects, but these projects cannot get funding. We need about $1 billion to build these particular projects that will put 1.2 gigawatts of electricity and solar power onto our grid. So, funding for these types of projects can come from a process, and not all of them can be loans or equity, some of them will have to be grants. Some of it has to be blended finance, because ultimately, in order for these projects to also be able to sell power or clean power to the end consumer, the power grid itself has to be strengthened, and that’s going to cost us about $100 billion to enforce.

Then there are losses and damages. There are very clear effects and that goes back to the points I made earlier about adaptation. There are going to be very clear effects and there have been obvious losses and damages that have been caused. Often we see the big effects, but most of the time we don’t see the micro effects of loss and damage. This village woman who depends on her crops to produce in a certain way, but these yields no longer come, can no longer feed the family. We must give compensation for the loss and damage to this village woman.

What exactly needs to be done on coastal infrastructure?

We must prevent flooding; for excessive water masses encroaching on the built environment as sea levels rise. So that would include things like coastal barriers that you can build along your coast. We need funding to build adequate drainage to prevent and reduce the effects of flooding. And third, we also need to prepare the economies around our coasts.

So there is the port infrastructure that we have. There is the fishing infrastructure that we have. We need to protect these things or at the very least move them to places where there is less risk of extreme weather conditions causing tragedies and disasters.

So does this mean that conserving biodiversity around the coast will build resilience?

Yes, this will also be essential to build resilience.

Nigeria needs funds to achieve this; so what should be the climate finance plan that will answer all these questions?

The world must reduce 50 billion metric tons of emissions each year; we are on an upward path. We must be on a steep downward trajectory. So we need to be very firm and partner with other countries that haven’t contributed as much to climate change to make sure these guys deliver on their commitments and accelerate the pace of reducing their emissions.

Nigeria needs about $300 billion to meet its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Part of that money, the energy transition plan that’s coming in a few weeks, will tell us a bit more about some of the clear plans we’ve made on energy transition.

I think 300 billion dollars, part of which will be used to repair the electricity grid. A portion will go towards each of the things I have said: power grid, building the power generation solution, clean stoves to replace the use of fossil fuels for cooking, and a portion will go towards loss and damage, reforestation and and so on.

The fact is that more than two-thirds of this money will have to come from grants, because they will not have clear returns on investment. They will have no economic benefits or return on investment. But there is another, nearly $100 billion, that can be repaid because we also need to remember that climate change is not just a problem. It is also an opportunity. The energy transition is not only a problem, it is also an opportunity. This is an opportunity for us to create new industries that you know will surpass the traditional industries that we had before.