Nigeria: case study of a developing nation’s sustainable transition

Deep Dive: The Climate Policy of Nigeria, Everything you Need to Know

from: We Dont Have Time by Professor Aniebet Inyang Ntui July 9 2023

Nigeria, with the largest economy and population in Africa, is projected to become the world’s second most populous country after India by the end of the century, surpassing China. In 2019, Nigeria was the world’s 25th largest emitter of greenhouse gases, ranking second in Africa after South Africa.

The Nigerian economy is heavily reliant on oil and gas exports, which currently contribute 93% of the country’s total export revenue.

However, this dependence has led to significant societal inequalities and environmental disasters. Energy poverty is a pressing issue in Nigeria, with high rates of power cuts and a lack of access to electricity. A recent analysis suggests that Nigeria could meet 59% of its energy consumption needs through renewable sources by 2050, primarily solar power. However, some national experts advocate for the use of additional fossil fuels, including Nigeria’s largely untapped coal reserves, to address the electricity gap.
Nigeria is already experiencing the impacts of climate change, including increased extreme heat, which disproportionately affects the millions of people without access to air conditioning or electricity. Changes in precipitation patterns also pose a threat to Nigeria’s predominantly rain-fed agricultural sector. In 2022, Nigeria faced deadly floods that were exacerbated by human-caused climate change.
During the COP26 climate summit in 2021, Nigeria announced its aim to achieve net-zero emissions by 2060. The government has also pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2030 compared to “business-as-usual” levels, with an increase to 47% conditional on international support.

extreme heat … millions of people without access to air conditioning or electricity

In 2022, Nigeria faced deadly floods exacerbated by human-caused climate change


Nigeria’s population, currently over 220 million, is rapidly growing. It is projected to become the third most populous country by 2050 and the second largest by the end of the century. Over half of Nigeria’s population is currently under the age of 18. Lagos, the former capital, is Africa’s largest city and one of the fastest-growing cities globally, with an estimated influx of 77 people per hour between 2010 and 2030.

Nigeria’s population … rapidly growing … is projected to become … world’s second largest by end of century

Nigeria faces significant income inequality, with some of Africa’s wealthiest individuals, including Aliko Dangote and Mike Adenuga, coexisting with two-thirds of the population living below the poverty line. Nigeria’s cultural influence is substantial, particularly through its second-largest film industry, known as “Nollywood,” and successful Nigerian musicians. Muhammadu Buhari was reelected as Nigeria’s president in 2019, marking the first time a sitting president had been defeated in the country. Buhari’s campaign focused on combating terrorism and corruption, which remains pervasive in Nigerian society, especially in the oil, power, and environmental sectors. terrorism threats from groups like Boko Haram persist in northeastern Nigeria. Buhari also aimed to boost Nigeria’s economy, which heavily relies on oil exports and is susceptible to fluctuations in oil prices. The country fell into recession in 2020 due to the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent oil price plunge.

two-thirds of the population living below the poverty line

The 2023 general election in Nigeria featured three main presidential candidates: Bola Tinubu from the All Progressives Congress, Atiku Abubakar from the People’s Democratic Party, and Peter Obi from the Labour Party. Both Obi and Abubakar acknowledged the reality of climate change following deadly floods in Nigeria in 2022. However, environmental campaigners criticized all presidential candidates for their failure to prioritize meaningful climate change measures during their campaigns. Tinubu was eventually declared the winner of the presidential election.

environmental campaigners criticized all presidential candidates for their failure to prioritize meaningful climate change measures

Despite being Africa’s largest oil producer, Nigeria continues to grapple with a long-term energy crisis, with nearly one in three people lacking access to electricity. Constant power cuts have led to widespread reliance on backup generators throughout the country. Nigeria’s per capita electricity demand is significantly lower than that of other countries, with the average Nigerian using much less power than an American refrigerator, for example.
A survey conducted in 2015 revealed that over 61% of Nigeria’s population considered climate change a “very serious problem.” Extreme heat was identified as the most significant climate change threat by Nigerians. Nigeria has a growing youth climate movement, with the country at the forefront of experiencing loss and damage from climate change, according to climate activist Adenike Oladosu.

Paris pledge

Nigeria is actively involved in international climate negotiations and participates in three negotiating blocs: the G77 and China, the African group, and the Coalition for Rainforest Nations. Additionally, Nigeria is a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which coordinates and unifies petroleum policies among oil-rich states.
As of 2018, Nigeria’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, including emissions from land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF), were 345.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e). The country’s per capita emissions in 2018 were approximately 1.8 tonnes of CO2e, lower than the global average of 7 tonnes and lower than countries like India, Mexico, and Indonesia.
Nigeria ratified the Paris Agreement in 2017 and submitted its first climate plan, known as a “nationally determined contribution” (NDC), in the same year. In its NDC, Nigeria pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2030 compared to business-as-usual levels, with a potential increase to 45% conditional on international support.
In 2021, Nigeria updated its NDC and reaffirmed its commitment to reduce emissions by 20% below business-as-usual by 2030, rising to 47% with international support. The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) rates Nigeria’s unconditional 2030 target as “1.5C compatible” when considering the country’s fair share in addressing climate change.

The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) rates Nigeria’s unconditional 2030 target as “1.5C compatible” when considering the country’s fair share in addressing climate change.

During the COP26 climate summit in 2021, former President Buhari announced Nigeria’s goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2060. To support these efforts, Nigeria passed the Climate Change Act in the same year, which aligns the country with the Paris Agreement’s temperature goals and establishes the Ministry of Environment’s responsibilities in setting carbon budgets and releasing national climate action plans every five years.
Nigeria also submitted its long-term vision for 2050 under the Paris Agreement in 2021, committing to reducing emissions by half compared to current levels by 2050.

energy transition plan … aims to lift 100 million people out of poverty and expects to create a net of 340,000 jobs by 2030 and 840,000 jobs by 2060.

In August 2022, President Buhari released an energy transition plan outlining Nigeria’s path to achieving net-zero emissions. The plan estimates the cost of the transition to be $1.9 trillion, with an annual investment of around $10 billion over the coming decades. Nigeria sought to raise $10 billion from financiers and donors to kick-start its journey to net zero.
The energy transition plan focuses on reducing emissions in the power sector by transitioning away from diesel and petrol generators, expanding the use of gas initially, integrating renewables, and eliminating emissions from other sectors like cooking and transport through renewables-backed electrification. The plan aims to lift 100 million people out of poverty and expects to create a net of 340,000 jobs by 2030 and 840,000 jobs by 2060.

prioritizing renewable expansion over gas could create 2.5 times more jobs in Nigeria over the next decade and align better with the 1.5C temperature goal.

While the plan emphasizes the initial expansion of gas, some independent research groups have criticized its reliance on gas in the short term. Analysis by CAT suggests that prioritizing renewable expansion over gas could create 2.5 times more jobs in Nigeria over the next decade and align better with the 1.5C temperature goal.

Oil and gas

Oil was first discovered in Nigeria in Oloibiri, part of the Bayelsa State, in 1956. Since then, Nigeria has become Africa’s largest oil producer, although it was surpassed by Angola in 2022. Nigeria is a member of OPEC, an organization representing oil-rich nations. Between 1973 and 2022, Nigeria produced an average of 1.98 million barrels of crude oil per day, with a peak of 2.48 million barrels per day in 2010. In 2021, daily production averaged around 1.63 million barrels, ranking Nigeria as the 15th largest global producer.
The majority of Nigeria’s oil is exported, with India, Spain, and South Africa being the largest recipients in 2020. Currently, oil and gas account for 93% of Nigeria’s total export revenue, and fossil fuel exports contribute approximately 70% of the government’s revenue. Nigeria possesses an estimated 37 billion barrels of untapped crude oil reserves, representing 15% of Africa’s oil reserves and 16% of its gas, according to the IEA.
However, Nigeria’s heavy reliance on oil exposes it to vulnerability to fluctuating prices. In 2020, the country experienced a recession due to a sharp decline in oil prices resulting from the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nigeria’s heavy reliance on oil exposes it to vulnerability to fluctuating prices.

During the price plunge, Nigeria significantly reduced its oil output in compliance with an agreement made by OPEC and allied nations. In 2021, the Petroleum Industry Act was enacted, introducing new incentives for oil exploration in Nigeria. In 2022, Nigeria’s oil production dropped by 40% compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019. This decline was attributed to technical issues, security concerns, rising production costs, theft, and payment issues in joint ventures, as reported by Market Watch.
Nigeria’s oil and gas production faces continuous challenges from corruption, terrorism, and theft by criminal organizations. These groups steal crude directly from pipelines and sell it on black markets. A report revealed that Nigeria lost $41.9 billion to oil theft between 2009 and 2018, with an additional $2 billion lost in 2022, according to Reuters.
In Nigeria’s post-pandemic recovery plan released in 2020, the government pledged to eliminate fuel subsidies, which primarily contribute to keeping petrol and diesel prices low. Bloomberg estimated that this decision could have saved the government at least $2 billion annually.
However, in January 2022, the government reversed its decision over concerns that it could trigger protests ahead of the 2023 presidential election, as reported by Reuters. By the first eight months of 2022, the government had already spent $5.6 billion on fuel subsidies.
Nigeria relies heavily on gas for its domestic electricity supply, and the country aims to become a “gas-powered economy” by 2030 as part of its energy transition plan toward achieving net-zero emissions by 2060.
Critics argue that Nigeria’s emphasis on expanding gas power contradicts the global goal of limiting temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Independent assessments highlight the risk of locking the country into emissions-intensive infrastructure and misallocating investment resources.

According to an analysis by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Nigeria could provide universal electricity access five years faster by prioritizing the rapid expansion of renewable power sources compared to its current plans.

The activities of multinational oil companies in Nigeria have had severe social and environmental consequences. The Niger Delta, located in southern Nigeria, has experienced numerous oil spills, with over 12,000 incidents recorded from 1974 to 2014. It is estimated that during this period, 40 million litres of crude oil spilt into the Niger Delta each year.
Since January 2021, more than 1,000 oil spill incidents have been reported nationwide, according to Nigeria’s National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA). An investigation by Amnesty International revealed that Shell and Eni, respectively, were responsible for a significant portion of the spills in the Niger Delta from 2011 to 2017. Theft and sabotage contributed to 75% of oil spills in Nigeria since 2016, as reported by Africa’s Institute for Security Studies. Oil leakage from illegal refineries in Delta State has left large areas of land barren.
A United Nations report in 2011 focused on Ogoniland, the most affected region in the Niger Delta, and estimated that it would take 30 years and $1 billion to clean up the spills. The report also highlighted the severe threat to public health due to water contamination.
A 2019 study linked oil spills in the Niger Delta to a doubling of the death rate for newborn children in the region. The study authors concluded that exposure to hydrocarbons poses risks to fetal development.

In 2023, 14,000 people from the Niger Delta filed a lawsuit against Shell, seeking compensation for the impacts of oil spills on their lives and livelihoods.

Numerous reports from Nigeria’s International Centre for Investigative Reporting have highlighted the ongoing impact of oil spills on the lives of Niger Delta residents.
In 2023, 14,000 people from the Niger Delta filed a lawsuit against Shell, seeking compensation for the impacts of oil spills on their lives and livelihoods.
The production of gas has also caused environmental disasters. In 2012, the oil company Total South Africa failed to build a promised hospital in the Niger Delta following a gas pipeline explosion, as reported by DeSmog UK.
Oil and gas production in Nigeria contributes significantly to CO2 and methane emissions, primarily through gas venting and flaring. Gas venting involves releasing the gas that surfaces during oil production, while gas flaring refers to burning off surfaced gas.
Gas venting produces high levels of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, while inefficient gas flaring results in substantial methane emissions.
Nigeria flared an estimated 6.6 billion cubic meters of gas in 2021, making it the world’s seventh-largest gas flarer. This wasted gas accounted for 14% of the country’s total output.
In its first national climate pledge, Nigeria committed to working towards ending gas flaring by 2030. The government established a Gas Flare Commercialization Program to encourage investments in practices that reduce gas flaring.
Satellite data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed that gas flaring in Nigeria decreased by 70% from 2000 to 2019.
However, Nigeria fell short of its previous commitment to end gas flaring by 2020 under the National Gas Policy.


Nigeria is believed to possess approximately 2 billion metric tonnes of coal reserves. However, the country has only operated a few small coal-fired power plants.
The Ministry of Mining has consistently expressed the government’s intention to generate 30% of the country’s electricity from coal. Some observers, including Bola Tinubu, a presidential candidate in 2023, view coal as a potential solution to Nigeria’s energy crisis.
A coal-fired power plant with a capacity of 1,200 megawatts (MW) was planned for Kogi, a coal-rich state in central Nigeria. However, the project has been repeatedly postponed due to financing challenges. In 2011, the government announced plans to build two additional coal plants, but no concrete progress has been made in over a decade.
According to an investigation by the Nigerian newspaper The Daily Trust, the government had issued 36 coal mining licenses by 2019, with an alleged electricity generation capacity of 10,000MW. However, none of these proposed power projects have materialized.
Despite the lack of implementation, the International Energy Agency (IEA) stated in its 2019 Africa Energy Outlook that it anticipated Nigeria would derive a significant portion of its electricity from coal by 2030, based on Nigeria’s stated policies. However, these policies have seen limited progress thus far.
In its 2022 Africa Energy Outlook, the IEA highlighted that there are unlikely to be any new coal-fired power stations in sub-Saharan Africa beyond those already under construction. This follows China’s commitment to cease financing coal power projects overseas.
Currently, coal mining primarily serves the purpose of powering industries, particularly the cement sector. According to Global Energy Monitor, three small coal-power plants are operating at cement production sites in Nigeria, contributing 285MW of capacity.
Coal mining activities conducted by cement companies like Dangote Cement have been associated with significant environmental and social impacts, including air and water pollution.
In 2019, an investigation by Nigeria’s International Centre for Investigative Reporting revealed that, in addition to its legally authorized mining operations, Dangote Cement had engaged in illegal coal mining in Kogi for six years.

Deforestation, wood burning and agriculture

Nearly one in three people in Nigeria lack access to electricity, leading to a reliance on wood burning, biogas, and other types of waste for energy generation at home.
This reliance is especially prominent in food preparation, where less than a quarter of people have access to clean cooking methods. The majority, mostly women, rely on polluting and inefficient cookstoves, leading to harmful indoor air pollution. Nigeria was responsible for a third of Africa’s fine particulate matter emissions in 2018, primarily due to household biomass burning. Across sub-Saharan Africa, reliance on biomass for cooking resulted in 500,000 premature deaths in 2018.
Wood fuel dependency is also a major driver of deforestation in Nigeria. The country has a tropical climate with dense rainforests that support diverse wildlife, including unique species. However, between 2000 and 2005, Nigeria lost 55.7% of its primary forest, the highest deforestation rate globally during that period. Deforestation rates have remained high since then, with Nigeria losing 86,700 hectares of tropical forest from 2010 to 2019, releasing significant carbon emissions.
Escalating deforestation has been attributed to factors such as poverty, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on oil prices, which is a major revenue source for the Nigerian government. Although Nigeria introduced a National Forest Policy in 2006, enforcement was weak, resulting in a limited impact on deforestation.
In 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari committed to mobilizing Nigerian youth to plant 25 million trees to enhance Nigeria’s carbon sink. The government approved a new National Forest Policy in 2020 to protect ecosystems while promoting social development. Nigeria has also pledged to restore 4 million hectares of forest under the Bonn Challenge, a global tropical forest restoration initiative.
Agriculture plays a crucial role in Nigeria, with around 78% of the country’s land used for agricultural purposes. It serves as the primary source of income for 70% of Nigeria’s population. However, the sector was responsible for a quarter of the country’s total emissions in 2017, mainly due to the rearing of animals like cattle, sheep, and goats, which release methane through belching and manure.
Nigeria’s climate pledge includes a commitment to reducing emissions through climate-smart agriculture practices. These practices involve planting more native vegetation and discontinuing slash-and-burn agriculture. By 2030, these approaches could potentially offset 74 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually.
The government’s Agriculture Promotion Policy for 2016-2020 reinforces the commitment to promoting climate-smart agriculture. Addressing deforestation, transitioning to cleaner cooking methods, and implementing sustainable agricultural practices are crucial steps in mitigating the environmental and health impacts associated with deforestation, wood burning, and agriculture in Nigeria.

Renewables and ‘green growth’

Wind and solar energy contribute only a small portion to Nigeria’s current energy mix.
In 2018, hydropower accounted for approximately 18% of the country’s electricity generation, making it the largest low-carbon energy source in Nigeria. The Mambilla Dam, a proposed 3,000MW hydropower project, has faced numerous controversies since its inception in 2003, preventing its construction.
In 2006, Nigeria established a “Renewable Energy Master Plan” (REMP). Updated in 2011, the plan aims to increase the share of renewable electricity in the total generation to 23% by 2025 and 36% by 2030.
As part of its national climate plan announced in 2017, Nigeria committed to “working towards” installing 13,000MW of solar power by 2030. The country considers this a crucial measure to address its carbon footprint.
In its 2020 Covid-19 recovery plan, Nigeria introduced a new framework to boost solar power, targeting the installation of solar systems in 5 million households by 2023. The initiative primarily focuses on rural communities with limited or no access to the national grid and is expected to create 250,000 jobs.
If successfully implemented, this project would signify a shift towards “decentralized energy” in Nigeria. Decentralized energy refers to generating electricity close to the point of consumption, rather than relying on large central power plants.
Numerous reports have suggested that community-based renewable energy schemes could be the most cost-effective and efficient way for Nigeria to address its significant electricity deficit, particularly in rural areas.
The passage of the Climate Change Act in 2021 provided further impetus for renewable power development in Nigeria. The act commits both public and private entities in the country to strive for achieving net-zero emissions by 2060.
Despite these commitments, progress in solar power development in Nigeria has been slow. Analysts argue that while Nigeria possesses abundant renewable energy resources, the government’s support and backing are inadequate for harnessing these resources for electricity generation.
In its 2022 energy transition plan, the Nigerian government prioritized expanding gas power until 2030, although it pledges to integrate renewables. However, this gas-centric approach has faced criticism in the short term. According to an analysis by Climate Action Tracker, focusing on renewable expansion instead of gas could create 2.5 times more jobs in Nigeria over the next decade.
A recent analysis by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) indicated that with the implementation of short-term policies to promote clean power, Nigeria could meet 59% of its energy consumption needs with renewables by 2050, primarily through solar energy.

Climate finance

Climate finance is crucial for Nigeria to achieve its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and enhance resilience against the impacts of climate change. Here is the revised version:

Nigeria has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2030 compared to “business-as-usual” levels. However, this pledge increases to 47% with the condition of international support through climate finance.

Climate finance involves the allocation of funds from public and private sources to assist in emission reduction efforts and enhance resilience against climate change impacts.
During a visit to Nigeria in 2018, former UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced Nigeria’s participation in the “Climate Finance Accelerator” program. This international initiative, supported by the UK government, aims to help countries transform their climate pledges, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), into Climate Investment Plans. The program identified 14 projects requiring $500 million to support Nigeria in achieving its climate pledge, with a significant focus on developing solar power.
In an updated version of its climate pledge in 2021, Nigeria stated that meeting its conditional emissions target would necessitate $177 billion in climate finance between 2021 and 2030.
Furthermore, Nigeria launched an energy transition plan in 2022 as its blueprint for achieving net-zero emissions by 2060. The estimated cost of implementing Nigeria’s net-zero transition is $1.9 trillion, equivalent to approximately $10 billion annually over the coming decades. In preparation for COP27 in November 2022, Nigeria aimed to raise $10 billion from financiers and donors to kick-start its journey toward net zero. The plan also presents a $23 billion investment opportunity.

Access to climate finance is vital for Nigeria to secure the necessary funding for implementing sustainable projects

According to an analysis by Carbon Brief, Nigeria was the world’s ninth-largest recipient of climate finance in 2020, receiving a total of $1.9 billion from other countries. France, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom were the primary contributors of climate finance to Nigeria in that year. Among them, the World Bank was the largest overall contributor to climate finance in Nigeria.
Access to climate finance is vital for Nigeria to secure the necessary funding for implementing sustainable projects, transitioning to cleaner energy sources like solar power, and achieving its emission reduction targets and long-term net-zero goals.

Impacts and adaptation

Nigeria is significantly impacted by climate change, with temperatures having risen by approximately 1.6°C since the industrial era began, surpassing the global average. By the end of the century, depending on the rate of future climate change, temperatures in Nigeria could increase by a further 1.5-5°C.
Although there is limited research on the impact of climate change on heatwaves in Nigeria, it is expected that heatwaves will become more frequent in the country under any level of future warming. The number of “hot nights,” characterized by nighttime temperatures in the top 10% for a region, is also projected to increase rapidly in the coming decades. Hot nights can exacerbate respiratory and health issues and have been associated with higher mortality rates.
The intensification of extreme heat poses a significant threat, particularly to the millions of people in Nigeria who lack access to electricity or air conditioning. In urban areas, only 92 out of every 1,000 individuals have access to air conditioning, while in rural areas, the figure drops to just 14 out of every 1,000.
Nigeria’s climate varies from southern monsoon rainfall regions with rainforests and mangroves to a tropical savannah climate in the middle belt and an arid, hot climate in the northern part of the country. Most regions in Nigeria have experienced a reduction in rainfall, with average rainfall decreasing by 2-8mm across the country from 1971 to 2000.
In the south, climate change affects the timing, predictability, and duration of monsoon rainfall, while the northern region has seen a sharp increase in the frequency and duration of drought, leading to dust storms and desertification. The shrinking of Lake Chad, which serves as a water source for millions of people across Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, has been attributed to climate change and over-extraction, with the lake having lost 90% of its size since the 1960s.
While total rainfall has decreased, research indicates that individual rainstorms have become more intense, resulting in increased extreme flooding throughout Nigeria. Flash floods, often linked to climate change, have caused significant loss of life and damage. In 2022, Nigeria experienced its worst floods in a decade, leading to the deaths of 600 people. Rapid research conducted after the floods determined that climate change made flooding approximately 80 times more likely.
Climate change has had a profound impact on agriculture, which is a primary source of income for 70% of Nigeria’s population. As agriculture in Nigeria is predominantly rain-fed, increases in drought and unpredictable rainfall have resulted in crop failures across the country. Future climate change is expected to severely affect Nigeria’s ability to irrigate crops, while extreme heat has led to livestock deaths.

There have been suggestions that the escalation of violence in northeastern Nigeria, causing thousands to seek refuge in neighbouring Chad, could be partially attributed to increases in extreme heat, drought, and the shrinking of Lake Chad

There have been suggestions that the escalation of violence in northeastern Nigeria, causing thousands to seek refuge in neighbouring Chad, could be partially attributed to increases in extreme heat, drought, and the shrinking of Lake Chad. However, the causes of violence in the region are complex, and the relationship between climate-related disasters and conflict remains a contested field of study.
In 2011, Nigeria released its “National Adaptation Strategy and Plan of Action on Climate Change,” providing policy recommendations for enhancing adaptation in sectors such as agriculture, coastal farming, forestry, and energy production. In 2020, a framework report for Nigeria’s upcoming National Adaptation Plan was published, aiming to clarify the country’s approach to climate adaptation after perceived inaction in previous years.
The framework report outlines guiding principles for Nigeria’s adaptation plan, including youth involvement, community and ecosystem-focused adaptation, and the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge. As of 2023, Nigeria’s National Adaptation Plan had not yet been published.
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