Nigeria’s trailblazer: Amina Mohammed’s quest on climate change

By Chris Roe and Chintal Barot, Adam Smith International 

Amina Mohammed’s first press conference on climate change soon after assuming office as the Minister for Environment, weaved together the inextricable links between her country’s economic and sustainable development, poverty and climate change. She committed to empowering people, taking climate action and protecting the environment.

American Vogue magazine has hailed her as one of the world’s leading female ‘climate warriors’ in the fight against global warming. Previously a Special Advisor to Ban Ki-moon on Post-2015 Development Planning (which led to the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals ), Mohammed is one of only six women selected by President Buhari to serve in his cabinet. How has she fared in an under-resourced Federal Ministry of Environment, seen by many to have little clout and being dismissed by some as the ‘dustbin lady’?

The past year

Africa’s largest economy is home to over 179 million people, 30% live on less than a dollar a day and 50% have no access to electricity. In the south, flooding and rising sea levels mean 75% of the oil-producing Niger Delta area could be underwater by 2050, whilst the parched North East has seen Lake Chad shrink to one tenth of its size leaving millions in poverty and fuelling the Boko Haram insurgency. A staggering 2 million people are currently displaced in northern Nigeria.

To deliver Nigeria’s climate pledges known as its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) will require a fundamental re-orientation from an oil-based economy to one which is diversified, low-carbon, climate resilient and people centred.

Mohammed has focused on some priority initiatives: issuance of sovereign green bonds, the Great Green Wall[1], Nigeria’s participation in the Lake Chad Basin Commission, improving forest cover through the Afforestation project and participation in the Global Gas Flaring Partnership.

The Great Green Wall aims to green the continent[2] from west to east in order to battle the encroaching Sahara Desert. Initially seen as a tree planting exercise, the Minister has set a new vision of a green, economic corridor to reclaim desert and improve livelihoods through agro-forestry and renewable energy to combat the conflict that has ravaged the region.

Since taking office she has focused relentlessly on forging alliances with key Ministries such as Power, Transport, Finance, Agriculture, Water Resources and Petroleum Resources. Her Ministry has developed an ‘INDC Implementation Roadmap’ to guide these Ministries in delivering the ambitious unconditional cuts of 20% by 2010 rising to 45% conditional on international support.

Her persistence has led to the planned launch of Nigeria’s first sovereign Green Bond — to finance various green programmes and projects — in the first quarter of 2017, as part of Nigeria’s national borrowing plan. This will boost investment in renewable energy, climate-smart agriculture, mass transportation and deforestation.

Coming from a supportive environment in a New York headquartered United Nations office to a Ministry with an acute need for scaling-up climate change and the challenge of convincing her peers to prioritise the climate agenda has not been easy.

Reflecting on it she laughs, “When I’m tearing my hair out and frustrated, my Minister of State reminds me that there are big knowledge and skills gaps. We need a fundamental rewiring of the public service to incentivise people, instil new thinking and plug the skills gap.”

COP-22 underway in Morocco

President Buhari signed the Paris Agreement in September 2016 at the United Nations General Assembly, and has approved its ratification at COP-22 in Marrakech. The Paris Agreement, signed by 163 countries, and ratified by 87 out of 197 Parties came into force, much earlier than expected, on 4 November 2016.

Negotiators at Marrakech are deciding how to implement the agreement with the further complication of the seismic American Presidential election result. They will need to design a rule book by 2018 on a transparent system of communicating NDC progress (once a country ratifies the Paris Agreement it becomes their ‘NDC’) , facilitating implementation and promoting compliance i.e. achieving the targets promised in each country’s NDC.

For Nigeria, COP-22 is about negotiating the best deal for itself as well as on behalf of the African Union and the G77.

What next?

It is important for Nigeria to maintain momentum on its climate pledges and keep focused on delivering tangible changes particularly for its most vulnerable citizens.

Integrating national priorities with the SDGs and NDC is vital to avoid silos, and inefficient use of valuable resources.

Strengthening partnerships with domestic and international partners to unlock the huge amounts of financing that is needed is critical. The domestic financial sector has yet to be incentivized on climate finance. The vast majority of the estimated $142 billion needed to finance Nigeria’s NDC will need to come from domestic financing.

How does she find motivation when the going gets tough? “I spent an incredible couple of hours with the leader of an illegal refinery operations in Ogoniland, who see their livelihoods destroyed with seas polluted with no fish for food, their land and air contaminated. And they ask us for alternatives. The power of this platform of government to make a difference to the lives of people is incredible. It is these challenges that keep me going.”

Adam Smith International is implementing the Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Facility (NIAF) which provides technical assistance to the Government of Nigeria on climate change. NIAF is funded by UK Aid from the Department for International Development (DfID).

[1] A program conceived by African Union (AU) as a Strategy to Combat Desertification, ensure ecosystem restoration and Sustainable Development of Arid and Semi-Arid Zones.

[2] The Great Green Wall is envisaged to create a Greenbelt at the Southern Edge of the Sahara Desert, 15km across and 7,775km long from Senegal to Djibouti as a means to combat desertification and improve the livelihoods of the affected communities.