What Nigeria Must Do to Get More Out of International Climate Negotiations  


Chukwumerije Okereke

This week, the 25th Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) started in Madrid, Spain, with thousands of delegates from over 196 countries including Nigeria in attendance.

The annual climate change conference is by far the biggest climate event of the year and arguably the most important diplomatic forum for countries with regards to the negotiation of the rules, policies, and guidelines for the international governance of climate change. It is in COP that critical matters such as what global mean temperature target that the world should pursue, how the burden and responsibility of reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions should be divided among countries, how to balance effort between climate mitigation and adaptation, and what amount of money that developed countries should give to help support climate action in poor countries are decided. Making these decisions often involve years of complex and complicated negotiations among states both in groups and bilaterally. This is the reason why many countries take the negotiation very seriously. 

Given that climate change is arguably the greatest threat to Nigeria’s prosperity, economic growth and sustainable development today, and recognizing that COP is such an important platform for international climate politics and diplomacy, it is necessary to ask what has been the nature of Nigeria’s participation in COP, what benefits has the country obtained for its participation in COPs and how can Nigeria position itself to get more from the global climate politics and international climate negotiations.

I think it is probably fair to say that while Nigeria has made significant improvements in the quality of its participation in global climate meetings, especially in the last few years, the country still falls below expectation and punches far below its weight when it comes to making its voice heard, influencing the course of negotiation, and extracting significant gains from global climate meetings.

The country has thankfully graduated from the era of sending a very weak contingent of often between two and four delegates in the late 1990s and early 200s to the current situation where the number of delegates are in tens and twenties. For example, it is reported that currently, a team of Nigerian delegates comprising the Minister of Transportation Mr Rotimi Amaechi, the Hon Minister of State for the Environment, Sharon Ikpeazu, the Chairman Senate Committee on Environment, Ike Ekweremadu and the Director of Climate Change in the Ministry of Environment, Dr Peter Tarfa, among many others are in Madrid ostensibly representing Nigeria in the climate negotiations. However, while Nigeria has increased the number of delegates and improved in many other aspects of its preparation and negotiation, the current approach remains weak, uncoordinated, lacking in unsophisticated and in need of significant overhaul.  Often operating with a hurriedly cobbled group of delegates, a poorly defined negotiation strategy and a voice largely indistinct from the African Group and G77 + China positions, Nigeria frequently finds itself lacking a clear strategy, losing its voice, completely out-manoeuvred and coming back with very little and sometimes empty handed from international climate change negotiations.

In my view here are the top three things that Nigeria must do to mature in the art of international climate diplomacy and get more out of global climate conferences.

First, Nigeria should constitute a team of seasoned and highly experienced people knowledgeable in various aspects of the science of climate change and global climate politics and diplomacy to support the Ministry of Environment its preparation and negotiation. Nigeria is lucky to have a Director of Climate Change that is knowledgeable and experienced but the overall capacity of the department remains extremely weak. It is therefore necessary to look further afield in other ministries, departments, academic institution, private, and civil society organizations for capable people that will serve in the team. Where experts are lacking in Nigeria, we should be prepared to use volunteers from academic institutions and civil society organisations around the world. There are currently many developing countries such as Maldives and Bangladesh that have managed to exert notable influence on global climate negotiation by carefully cultivating and using the expertise of volunteers from the University of Oxford, Greenpeace and among other organisations. As noted, the quality of the team that Nigeria takes to international climate negotiation has improved over the years, but we still frequently lack experts in several critical areas such as science, economics, law, and policy.

Second the team members so chosen should be allocated specific aspects in the climate change negotiation to which they should be responsible over a long period of time. Climate change negotiation is one of the most complex diplomatic activities today. There are tens if not hundreds of complex aspects involved with each requiring specialized knowledge and years of participation for one to grasp the details and intricacies of the negotiation. In addition to understanding the basics, one also needs to understudy the politics, sensibilities, and positions of both friendly and hostile countries with regards to any given negotiating topic bearing in mind that a country that agrees with you on one topic (eg how much carbon to reduce) may vehemently oppose you on another issue (eg how best to design a carbon market).  Only when one has become sufficiently grounded in the science and politics around these topics can one be in a position to know how best to articulate, advance and defend any given position the negotiation.  The current practice where there is little or no clear allocation of responsibility means that Nigeria cannot follow many aspects of the negotiations closely let alone articulate its own positions effectively.

Thirdly, Nigeria should learn to devote plenty of time and resources into planning for these international meetings. The team of delegates should not only have several internal preparatory meetings; they should also meet with key relevant ministries for example energy, agriculture, finance to get data; and they should hold public sessions where they discuss with stakeholders and ordinary Nigerians to gather information and input. The Negotiating team should be encouraged to publish a ‘Position Papers’ outlining Nigeria’s interests and views on key negotiating issues and they should be made to provide account of the meeting when it is over what if anything has been achieved.

It is not enough for politicians and policy makers to turn up in the negotiation without preparation and rehearse a few slogans and worn out clichés around climate injustice or the fact that we need more money from the rich countries. Such an approach hardly brings any significant results. Like most other things in life, it is the quality of preparation that determines the quality of outcome.

Climate change poses grave danger to Nigeria’s economic development and we cannot afford to be absent or only weakly present in the important places where decisions about the rules of international climate co-operation are made.

Professor Chukwumerije Okereke is the Director of the Centre of Climate Change and Development at Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike Ikwo, Ebonyi State.