Despite President Trump’s claims that it is a Chinese plot, climate change is real and is already having major impacts across the world. We know from personal experience that the weather is changing – the rain no longer comes at the expected times – causing devastation for farmers.
Scientists also have clear evidence that significant climate change is already happening. According to the United Nations, 2016 was the hottest year on record, a new high for the third year in a row. It means 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have been during this century.
Most scientists accepted the reality of climate change thirty years ago, but the bosses have done little or nothing about it. As a result, by 2012, carbon dioxide emissions were nearly 60% higher than in 1990. If things do not change, then the results will be catastrophic.
2016 may have been 1.2 degrees higher than pre-industrial levels. A warming of only 1.6 degrees could lead to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the raising of global sea levels by six metres – resulting in major areas of Lagos and the Niger Delta being flooded by the sea. This could happen within the next two decades at the current rates of global warming.
At the same time, the north of Nigeria suffers further desertification and lower rains (a major cause of Boko Haram and troubles with the Fulani cattle herders).
These catastrophic events will continue to happen unless major changes are made with the world economy. We have to move from coal, oil, gas etc being the major fuels for electricity generation and transport – and we have to do this in the next few decades. We have to ensure that 80% of the coal, oil and gas remains in the ground – global emissions of
carbon dioxide must fall by at least 50 percent by 2050 from 2000 levels to avoid warming of more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels (as agreed at the Paris climate conference in December 2015).
But this will take huge political will and the planning to make the change quickly. Donald Trump shows that major sections of the ruling class across the world do not accept the need to make the necessary changes. The oil companies, the vehicle construction companies and others make too much money from the ‘carbon economy’. They are happy to continue and even to pay for research and publicity to undermine the arguments for climate change. It will take mass movements of the global workers to make them change their minds.
But we do not only face problems from the major oil and car companies. Despite the obvious effects of climate change in Nigeria, plans by the Buhari government only include an undertaking to “work towards ending gas flaring by 2030”. This activity makes the largest contribution to global warming in Africa, has been generally illegal in Nigeria since 1984, was to be stopped again from 2008, but the former government actually stopped imposing fines for gas flaring from December 2014.
Another major contributor to global warming is the use of wood and charcoal for cooking. This is also causes a direct health hazard for many worman. But far from encouraging increased use of kerosene, the Buhari government has allowed the price of a litre to increase from N50 to N500!! Many people cannot afford the investment for a gas stove and cylinder so they are reverting to charcoal or wood – at great risk to their health.
To achieve 100% renewable energy use for power stations and transport by 2050, the International Energy Agency estimates that annual investments of at least $1,000 billion will be needed by 2020, with around two thirds of this being spent in the Global South. This could easily be funded as the author Naomi Klein estimates that the current subsidies to fossil fuel companies are at about this level.
If we take the example of China, to fulfill its global climate stabilization obligations, it needs to reduce its fossil fuel consumption by nearly 70 percent from before 2050. This is needed to provide its share of reducing global carbon dioxide emissions.
From 2010 to 2050, China plans to build 2,000 giga-watts of clean electricity (about twice as large as the present size of the entire U.S. electricity generating capacity). But this projected massive growth in clean energy will be insufficient to offset the required decline in fossil fuels. As a result, Chinese energy consumption will have to decline at an average annual rate of 0.8 percent from 2010 to 2050.
Transposing this scenario to the world scale means that the path to economic development of the Global South based on carbon fuels (coal, oil & gas) has been cut off. The dream of economic development bringing social development to the majority – the trickle down effect was just that a dream. In the first fifteen years of this century the economy of Nigeria doubled, but the poor majority saw little if any benefits.
Shifting to a low-carbon economy requires a dramatic transformation of physical facilities and skills, and fundamental changes in energy, transportation, and industrial processes. This process of construction and adaptation to a post-fossil fuel world will demand major technical innovations and very large financial investments.
This is only likely to happen if we have a planned economy which is clearly directed by the government. Massive investments have to be planned and companies have to be prevented from using oil, coal or gas. The current dominant ideas are of the free market and neoliberalism. We need a complete change of direction if the world as we know it is not going to be destroyed.
by Tokunbo Olakunle