By Jerome-Mario Utomi

It is no longer news that the debate on climate change is among the most recently discussed topics on the earth’s surface. Making this perceived climate change challenge look alluring was the recent news report that to tackle the problems, the World Bank Group has committed about $70 billion and urged governments of different nations to set up structures to engage and access the fund.

Part of that discussion was this year’s UN Climate Change Conference held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and focused on assessing progress towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. Nigeria and other African countries were reportedly represented in their numbers at this global event.

For a better understanding of this particular intervention, COP going by available information at the public domain, stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’, which is a generic phrase in International Relations – meaning a committee created after an international treaty is signed, tasked with making decisions about how that treaty is implemented. There are all kinds of COPs for various international agreements, from chemical weapons to combating desertification. But the term COP has come to be associated with the meetings of one particular committee: that created after the signing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Also relevant to the present discussion is the awareness that a total of 154 countries signed the UNFCCC in June 1992, agreeing to combat harmful human impacts on the climate. Since then, COP meetings have been held (almost) annually to discuss how exactly that should be achieved, and monitor what progress has been made. Each COP is usually referred to by its number in the series, e.g. COP26 was the 26th COP meeting.

Each year a different country becomes the COP president, in charge of organizing and running that year’s meeting. Usually this means that the host city moves each year, too. Any new agreements which are made at COP tend to be named after the host city, e.g. the 2015 Paris Agreement or the 2021 Glasgow Climate Pact.

As to those that are involved, expert comments insist that the list is endless and includes but not limited to: politicians, diplomats, and representatives of national governments are perhaps the most important people invited to COP, but they’re far from the only ones. Many other people attend to try to influence the outcome. For example, many fossil fuel lobbyists join the talks to attempt to protect their industry from much-needed action to keep coal, oil, and gas in the ground. At COP27, we found that there were twice as many fossil fuel lobbyists as delegates from the official UN constituency for indigenous peoples.

On the opposing side, a report noted that there are land and environmental defenders and indigenous people calling for greater protections for their territories against exploitation by environmentally destructive industries such as logging, mining, and industrial agribusiness.

Despite these explanations and ongoing commentaries, there exists in the opinion of this piece the belief, particularly among the Western world, that Africa’s non-commitment to the call for global action on climate change was responsible for the real and imaginary challenges confronting the continent. Africans on their part still entertain a very high degree of doubt about the climate change narrative and are not fully convinced of the issue as narrated by the western world.

While some Africans believe that the issue is real, others are of the view that the only grammar behind climate change is the economy – thereby describing the conversation as rhetoric. For the rest, it is a dangerous fiction projected by the West to strip the continent of its resources and further impoverish its people.

Take as an illustration: not too long ago, there was a veiled agreement among participants in a focused group discussion, held in Delta State, that climate change conversation is, but the hypocrisy of the western world.

Speaking at the event, the Keynote Speaker, an erudite professor (name withheld) among other things said; “The truth is this, we saw the hypocrisy of these people (Western worlds) recently when, because of the Ukraine-Russian war, they are not talking anymore about clean energy, rather, we see them go back again focusing on coal, getting out coal to drive the heat.”

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“Africa cannot give away its resources because Africa doesn’t need the English of climate change. Our continent is blessed, our continent has resources, and our continent is galvanizing on those resources to ensure there’s a global world order. Taking Africa’s resources from Africa is like committing Africa to another new colonial tendency that will finally incapacitate and make it useful in the global situation of things, and that’s exactly what my argument has been.

“So, quickly, therefore, let’s have our mindset reconstructed about the fact that we are not a danger to Europe and America; we are not a danger to politics of climate change. The only grammar behind climate change is the economy.

“If they take from you the resources that offered you a comparative advantage, it opens them up to their economic value in the context of a global chain, in the context of a global productivity chain, it opens them up to their economic value where they now begin to sell clean energy to people like us in Africa who don’t need it. It’s so important we have these facts properly straightened out before we get into this other issue.

“The world has been talking about clean energy, what we call resistance against greenhouse gas emission. The kind of carbon deducted from the exploration of our crude oil, those are the carbons that we have, and that’s what the world has been talking about. They needed clean energy that would help the Arctic Circle maintain its height and then help the entire ecosystem to be properly balanced along the lines of certain determination that they thought had been there from the beginning and all of that.

“In Europe and America, if you actually desire clean energy, you should not in the 21st century be talking about coal because coal is all about greenhouse gas emission. If you go to the home of the Queen, you will see them using coal, and I keep making this argument that if Norway as a nation has the level of oil we have, nobody will be talking about greenhouse gas, nobody will be talking about climate change, and I have always held the position that every nation should be allowed to grow within the context of his own resources.”

He said that the best the world can do, which is an issue he raised at the Cairo 27th conference recently held, is that we should look at the conditions of African nations, what we call the dependent nations and all of that, dependent on the global world situation and all of that.

“We should look at their conditions, and then we can’t take them; we can’t take from them the issues that directly propel their sustenance; we can’t be talking of climate change when the entire nation of Africa depends on what creates a greenhouse. The best we can do is to scientifically, now begin to look at this resource and then redesign it in such a way as to mitigate the fears that are already being expressed by these other groups fighting for climate change. Those are the issues we raised, and it’s so profound that the world needs to hear us,” he said.

The questions that are important as the piece itself are: should African leaders and policymakers stick to the above argument even in the face of crucial awareness of the dangers of, and warning on the urgent need to address climate changes which  have become even clearer with the release of a major report  by the world-leading scientific body for the assessment of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warning that in order to avoid catastrophe, we must not reach 1.50C and 200C?  Must African leaders ignore clarion calls to taking the climate change seriously even when it has been proven by experts that the current conflict in North-East Nigeria is not unrelated to the changes in climate in that region over time, as well as provides a link as to how; the climate change challenge also sets the stage for the farmer and herder violence witnessed in parts of West Africa and many countries that face violent conflicts in Africa: Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Sudan (Darfur), Mali and the Central African Republic?

While the above questions wait for answers and debates about climate change rages, this piece holds the opinion that more work needs to be done and more reforms need to be made by Africans in order to truly ascertain the truth and fiction surrounding the conversation on the topic tagged ‘climate change’. This time is auspicious for Africans to go beyond the UN COP28 jamboree and do the real work of saving Africa’s environment and its people.

In the interim, I hold the opinion that ending gas flaring in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria should be the best way to start this people-focused and environmental remediation responsibility.

God Bless Nigeria!

Utomi, Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), writes from Lagos.