COP28 has ended, the fun fare is over – what do Niger Delta communities stand to benefit from the resolutions and outcomes reached: A peek into the future

Introduction

The 28th meeting of Conference of the Parties (popularly referred to as COP28) which held in Dubai, UAE in December 2023 was one that met expectations of most climate enthusiasts, as it is the only COP meeting that clearly stated the need to transition away from fossil fuels to attain net-zero, since COP meetings started about 30 years ago. From the UAE Consensus, it is unambiguously asserted in The Global Decarbonization Accelerator (GDA) Agenda that parties need to have plans that would gradually reduce their dependency on fossil fuels (and its antecedents nodes of polluting the environment such as gas flaring and methane emissions), while upscaling their renewable energy capacity.

Considering that Nigeria endorsed the GDA initiative, it is expected that the country should witness reduced investment in fossil fuel exploration and production activities in the coming years, which would drive down emissions in line with its Nationally Determined Contributions that is expected to be updated in the wake of the COP28. This is also particularly important as there is expected to be another round of Global Stocktake by 2028 where progress of different nations will be accessed, as regards steps taken in line with climate action targets. In this vein, it would not be out of place for the country’s oil and gas sector to witness dwindling activities, coupled with the fact that financing for such projects is posited to drop in the near future.

What are the realities that Niger Delta communities could face in the near future?

With this pending reality, Niger Delta communities are faced with the possibility of losing the advantages offered by the presence of these oil and gas companies within their lands, if their operations are stifled. For instance, before the signing of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) 2021, there were MoUs signed between oil and gas producing communities (HOSTCOMs) and oil and gas companies to provide basic amenities such as schools, good roads, hospitals, electricity and providing scholarships, while also creating employment opportunities amongst other social benefits in these HOSTCOMs. Similarly, in the post PIA era, HOSTCOM Trust Fund offers similar benefits as regards community development. In addition, by virtue of the fact oil and gas installations are present in these communities, they have a voice in the country which tends to be respected by authorities–the list goes on. Therefore, transitioning away from fossil fuels and preventing extensive operations of these companies within these Niger Delta communities should result in their loss of these benefits.

Meanwhile, it is not all gloomy for these communities as the transition that is expected to be pursued in this case is a just transition, where attempts should be made to ensure that jobs are not lost, access to basic amenities is sustained and basic quality of life is sustained and improved. This expectation is hinged on the fact in line with the GDA Agenda, there is expected to be an evolving renewable energy industry that gradually replaces oil and gas sector within the region. However, considering antecedents of the Nigerian government’s performance as regards implementing plans and policies over the years, such seamless and effective transition should not be overly expected.

In fact, HOSTCOMs should be wary about this “glorious” transition that is proposed by the GDA Agenda, especially as regards how it would impact their micro economies. For example, some of these Niger Delta communities have built their micro economies around value chains created or linked to oil and gas companies operating in their vicinity. If such system is disrupted and not promptly replaced by a renewable energy sector, there is bound to be huge economic disruptions to these communities. This position is attributed to the fact that the prolonged operations of oil and gas companies in these areas have severely damaged ecosystems that support the traditional occupations of these communities such as fishing and farming. Hence, if the expected renewable energy sector is non-existent after stifling oil and gas operations, there is nothing for these communities to return to as shown in the image below.

Photo credit: Jacob Silberberg, gettyimages

What can be done? Is there a way out?

Well, since a transition away from fossil fuel is inevitable, Niger Delta communities need to prepare for their fate. Therefore, it is important for these communities to be aware of the possibilities that lie ahead and how to address them. Nonetheless, at this point, there are uncertainties about the outcomes so making a solid and impeccable plan is somewhat impossible. However, certain steps can be put in place to ensure adequate preparation.

Firstly, stakeholders within these communities need to inform their wards about the possibility of what lies ahead, by having extensive conversations amongst themselves to explore possible pathways that benefits all. In this case, there could be townhall meetings and roundtable conversations between community leaders, government personnel and private sector drivers about how the transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy would be carried out to sustain micro economies of these Niger Delta communities. This is very important as most Niger Delta communities have economic structures that are easily vulnerable to any form of shocks, as there are limited economic value chains that can be explored to sustain their micro economies.

Secondly, there is the need to adopt a gradual approach to this transition to ensure that it is indeed just. This is proposed because the local systems within these communities are delicate and complicated, and a transition that is not done properly could meet stiff resistance from the locals. This especially important as there are issues such as possibility of neglecting local content in the evolving renewable energy industry, lack of trust for government and private sector due to previous interactions that are deemed exploiting, and the possibility of competing for natural resources such as arable lands for renewable energy infrastructure installations, all of which can facilitate resistance from locals.

Finally, it is common practice within the corporate world that capitalism is prioritized where there is little regard for the welfare and comfort of rural communities. It is therefore necessary for the Nigerian government is take charge in its regulatory capacity, to ensure these communities are not exploited in any form or way. If such regulation not done effectively, there is the possibility of a revolt from the local communities, considering that these communities have experienced prolonged exploitation by sectors within the oil and gas sector.

In essence, there are ways out of the dilemma that can benefit Niger Delta communities. However, these proposed ways need to be carefully and strategically carried out, as the Niger Delta region remains a volatile environment for businesses that tends to take any exploitative posture towards local communities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *