The world needs an orderly transition away from fossil fuels

While conceding that the world needs to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo maintained last week that the transition must not come at the expense of affordable and reliable energy for people, cities, and industry. Arguing that it would be unreasonable for Nigeria to abandon its fossil fuel deposits now, Osinbajo opted for an equitable transition—which means preserving the right to sustainable development and poverty eradication, as enshrined in the 2015 Paris climate accord. 

In the last few years, Osinbajo has been consistent that as Nigeria charts a path towards a cleaner and greener future, she must be allowed the opportunity to harness its vast natural gas resources judiciously. A global transition away from carbon-based fuels, according to Osinbajo, must account for the socio-economic disparities between countries and allow for multiple pathways to net-zero emissions. We endorse his position that the decision to stop funding fossil fuel investment abroad is unfair, especially because these wealthy nations have profited from our oil and gas for many decades.

 As much as we would like to move with the global rhetoric on the danger of fossil fuel, the challenge at hand is enormous. Even though Nigeria is rich in natural resources, it is still energy poor. As things stand, the role of gas has become critical to our economic growth. But the concentration of efforts on oil exploration and exploitation makes little sense when Nigeria has more gas than oil, with about 208 trillion standard cubic feet projected to be worth over $803.4 trillion. That the country has not been able to monetise the vast gas resources due to lack of development finance is where the main challenge lies.

 Nigeria and other developing countries with oil and gas resources must redefine the conversation on fossil fuel in the wake of recent developments. The United States and many countries in Europe are reneging on the campaign on burning of fossil fuel and on their carbon emission pledges despite being the chief culprits of the climate crisis. Besides, in the wake of the war between Russia and Ukraine, which triggered global energy crisis and supply disruptions, many countries have shifted emphasis from renewable fuel to fossil fuel. For instance, coal mines shut down in the United Kingdom and some parts of Europe have been reopened for use. Also, the UK has granted new exploration licenses to oil and gas industry players. Some oil and gas companies are also increasing production as others are announcing their first commercial discoveries.

The critical point is that the developed world is under pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This means reducing investment in fossil fuels and speeding up the transition to green energy. But Africa, especially Nigeria, is yet to achieve progress in fossil fuel energy let alone discussing transition to greener energy. The questions therefore are: should there be a transitional provision, or should we simply leapfrog along to greener energy in the hope that we can reap the benefits while being stuck with our dirty fossil fuel dependent economies? Can Nigeria survive without its hydrocarbon dependency? So many questions to ponder, and we commend Osinbajo for raising some of them.

However, we concede that Nigeria must pay attention to climate change issues and invest more in diversification of energy resources like solar, wind and more. The Energy Commission of Nigeria, the organ empowered to carry out overall energy sector planning and policy implementation has its job clearly cut out. But the world needs an orderly transition away from fossil fuels. That must be the starting point of engagement on climate change and associated issues for the oncoming administration in Nigeria.

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