As part of its series on how key emitters are responding to climate change, Carbon Brief looks at whether Nigeria is likely to move past its economic reliance on oil and how it intends to supply power to its rapidly booming population.
It was the world’s 17th biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2015, the second highest in Africa after South Africa.
Carbon Brief’s country profile series
The country’s economy is closely tied to oil and gas exports. Profits from petroleum exports currently account for 86% of Nigeria’s total export revenue. The production of oil and gas in Nigeria has also been linked to steep societal inequalities and environmental disasters.
Nigeria has one of the highest rates of energy poverty in the world and suffers from chronic power cuts. In its recent Covid-19 economic recovery plan, the government pledged to fix its worsening energy crisis through the rapid expansion of solar power. In a shock move, it also scrapped fossil fuel subsidies.
Climate change is having a large impact on Nigeria. Sharp increases in extreme heat are affecting the many millions of people without access to air conditioning or electricity and changes to precipitation threaten Nigeria’s largely rain-fed agricultural sector. Some suggest that climate change could fuel the risk of conflict in the north of the country.
The government has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2030, when compared to “business-as-usual” levels. This pledge rises to 45% on the condition of international support.
More than 200 million people live in Nigeria, making it Africa’s most populous nation. It is made up of 36 states and has a multi-ethnic and culturally diverse society, with more than 250 ethnic groups.
Nigeria’s population is growing fast. It is expected to become the world’s third most populous country by 2050 – and the second largest by the end of the century. At present, more than half its population are under 18.
Lagos, the former capital, is the largest city in Africa. Between 2010 and 2030, it is estimated that 77 people will move to Lagos every hour – making it one of the fastest growing cities in the world.
Nigeria is a country of steep inequalities. It is home to some of Africa’s richest people, including the continent’s richest man Aliko Dangote, CEO of Dangote Cement – Africa’s largest cement producer, and billionaire Mike Adenuga, a telecommunications and oil tycoon. However, two-thirds of the total population live below the poverty line.
Nigeria’s current president is Muhammadu Buhari, who was reelected in the country’s 2019 elections after first gaining power in 2015. His 2015 win marked the first time that a sitting president had been defeated in Nigeria. At the time, the BBC’s Nigeria correspondent Will Ross said the result was “a sign that democracy is deepening” in the country. (Prior elections had been marred by allegations of fraud.)
Buhari’s campaign was centred around promises to crack down on terrorism and corruption. Corruption has been described as “ubiquitous” in Nigerian society and “rife” in its oil, power and environmental sectors. Buhari has taken steps to address corruption since 2015, but progress has been slow. The country is faced with ongoing terrorism threats from Boko Haram, a jihadist group based in the northeast of the country.
Buhari also pledged to boost Nigeria’s economy. Though it is the largest economy in Africa, it is heavily dependent on oil exports and so vulnerable to changing oil prices. In 2016, the country fell into recession following an oil price collapse. There are fears that this year’s oil price collapse, driven largely by the global response to Covid-19, could plunge Nigeria into its worst recession for 40 years.
Despite being Africa’s largest oil producer, Nigeria is in the midst of a long-term energy crisis. More than one in three people in Nigeria do not have access to electricity – and in 2018, the typical Nigerian firm experienced more than 32 power cuts. Constant power cuts have led to a heavy reliance on back-up generators across the country.
According to a survey conducted in 2015, more than half (61%) of Nigeria’s population consider climate change to be a “very serious problem”. (This compares to a global average of 54%.) Nigerians consider “extreme heat” to be the largest of climate change’s threats, the survey says.
Africa, especially Nigeria is the most hit by climate change effects ranging from floods to droughts down to heatwave leading to lost of lives and livelihoods. Time to #LeadClimate through a #GreenRecovery & #GreenDemocracy is now! pic.twitter.com/YcvPTcBlkL
— Oladosu Adenike (@the_ecofeminist) July 25, 2020
Nigeria is part of three negotiating blocs at international climate talks. These include the G77 and China; the African group and the Coalition for Rainforest Nations. It is also a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) – an organisation formed in the 1960s by various oil-rich states with the mission to “coordinate and unify the petroleum policies” of its members.
(More information on each group is available in an in-depth explainer of negotiating blocs by Carbon Brief.)
The country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions were 506m tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e) in 2015, according to data compiled by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). The figure includes emissions from land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF). This is roughly the same as the UK’s total 2015 emissions.
Its per capita emissions in 2015 were around 2.8 tonnes of CO2e, far below the global average of 7 tonnes but around equal to the 2015 per-capita emissions of India (2.7 tonnes).
Nigeria is signed up to the Paris Agreement, the international deal aimed at tackling climate change. It ratified the agreement in 2017. Through this, it has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2030, when compared to “business-as-usual” levels. This pledge rises to 45% on the condition of international support.
On climate change Nigeria stands resolutely with the international community in observing agreed carbon emission targets which I signed in 2015.
— Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) September 24, 2019
In other words, if Nigeria were to follow a “business as usual” pathway, it would expect its emissions to reach around 900m tonnes of CO2e a year by 2030. However, it has pledged to reduce this to around 720m through actions to tackle climate change. And, if it receives international support, it will try to keep its 2030 emissions to around 495m tonnes.
(For more information on international support, see: Climate finance.)
In its climate pledge – also known as “nationally determined contribution” – submitted in 2017, the Nigerian government said it would reduce its emissions by ramping up the rollout of solar energy production, improving energy efficiency and ending “gas flaring” (see: Oil and gas).
The government has not yet made much progress on developing solar power. However, it repeated its intentions to do so in its recently released plan for economic recovery from Covid-19 (see: Renewables and green growth).
Oil and gas
Oil was first discovered in Nigeria in Oloibiri, part of the Bayelsa State, in 1956.
The country produced an average of 1.88m barrels of crude oil a day between 1973 and 2020 – reaching an all-time high of 2.5m barrels per day in November, 2005. In 2019, it produced around 1.65m barrels of crude oil a day, nearly 2% of the global total.
Nigeria sources the majority of its domestic electricity supply from fossil gas. The chart below shows Nigeria’s electricity generation from 1985-2018.
(The country’s total electricity generation is relatively low for its population – more than one in three people lack access to electricity in Nigeria. The chart does not include the contribution from oil-powered back-up generators, which are relied on across the country during power cuts.)
However, its heavy economic reliance on oil leaves Nigeria vulnerable to changing prices. In 2016, the country fell into recession following an oil price collapse and there are fears that this year’s oil price collapse, driven largely by the global response to Covid-19, could plunge Nigeria into its worst recession for 40 years.
Nigeria significantly slashed its oil output this year in accordance with a deal made by OPEC and “allied” nations in response to the 2020 oil price collapse. This marks a u-turn for Nigeria. In 2019, it had pledged to double its oil production by 2025.
It also made the surprise move of scrapping fuel subsidies in its recent Covid-19 economic recovery plan. According to Bloomberg, the decision will save the government “at least $2bn” a year. In a summary of the plan, the government says:
“Nigeria’s status as an oil dependent developing economy also puts us in a particularly difficult place.”
However, the government also pledged to ramp up production of natural gas – a fossil fuel that already provides a large portion of Nigeria’s electricity (see highchart above).
Oil and gas production in Nigeria faces ongoing threats from corruption, terrorism and theft from criminal organisations that steal crude directly from pipelines, before exporting it on black markets. A recent report found Nigeria lost $41.9bn from oil theft from 2009-18.
The production of oil and gas in Nigeria by multinational companies has had severe social and environmental impacts.
The Niger Delta, the end point of the river Niger in southern Nigeria, is a hot spot for oil spills. The region saw more than 12,000 oil spill incidents from 1974-2014. It is estimated that, during that time, 40m litres of crude oil spilt into the Niger Delta each year.
An investigation by Amnesty International found the Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell and the Italian oil company Eni are responsible for most of the spills in the Niger Delta.
In 2011, a United Nations report focusing on Ogoniland – the most affected region in the Niger Delta, found that it would take 30 years and $1bn to clean up the spills. It found public health in the region was “severely threatened” due to the contamination of water supplies.
A study published in 2019 found oil spills in the Niger Delta were associated with a doubling of the death rate for newborn children in the region. The findings are “consistent with medical and epidemiological evidence showing that exposure to hydrocarbons can pose risks to fetal development”, according to the study authors.
The production of gas has also caused environmental disasters. In March, DeSmog UK reported on how the oil company Total South Africa broke its promise to build a hospital in the Niger Delta after a gas pipeline explosion in 2012.
Oil and gas production is also a major driver of CO2 and methane emissions in Nigeria (see infographic).
Gas is less valuable than oil and so is often discarded through venting or flaring. However, gas venting produces high amounts of methane – a greenhouse gas that is around 28-34 times (pdf) more powerful than CO2 over a 100-year period. Burning off gas through flaring decreases the amount of methane released, but inefficient flaring still causes substantial methane emissions.
(Gas flares also threaten human health, contaminate water supplies and affect crop production in Nigeria.)
An estimated 7.4bn cubic feet of gas was flared in Nigeria in 2018 – making it the world’s seventh largest gas flarer.
In its national climate pledge, the Nigerian government has promised to “work towards” ending gas flaring by 2030. To aid this goal, the government has established a Gas Flare Commercialisation Programme to encourage investment in practices that reduce gas flaring.
There were plans for a 1,200 megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant in Kogi, a coal-rich state in central Nigeria. However, the project has been repeatedly shelved due to financing issues. In 2011, the government announced that it intends to build two more coal plants, but plans for these have not yet emerged.
By 2019, the government had handed out 36 coal mining licences supposedly tied to electricity generation capacity of 10,000MW, according to an investigation by Nigerian newspaper the Daily Trust. However, the paper found that none of these power projects have come to fruition.
Despite a lack of action, the IEA expects Nigeria to source a substantial amount of its electricity from coal by 2030. (This is based on Nigeria’s stated policies, which so far have sparked little implementation).
Coal is currently mined for the purpose of powering industries, particularly the cement industry (pdf). Coal mining by cement companies such as Dangote Cement have been linked to severe environmental and social impacts, including air and water pollution.
An investigation by Nigeria’s International Centre for Investigative Reporting found that, in addition to its state-approved mining activities, Dangote Cement has been illegally mining coal in Kogi for six years.
Deforestation, wood burning and agriculture
More than one in three people in Nigeria lack access to electricity. Instead, many rely on the burning of wood, “biogas” – a gas produced from animal and plant waste, and other types of waste in order to generate energy in the home.
This is particularly true for food preparation. In Nigeria, just 15% of people have access to “clean cooking” and the rest – mostly women – rely on polluting and inefficient cookstoves, says the IEA.
As a result, biomass and waste makes up the majority of Nigeria’s primary energy supply (see infographic).
The burning of biomass at home drives harmful indoor air pollution. In 2018, Nigeria was responsible for a third of Africa’s total fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions – largely as a result of household biomass burning.
Across sub-Saharan Africa, the household pollution resulting from a reliance on biomass was directly linked to 500,000 premature deaths in 2018, according to the IEA.
A reliance on wood for fuel is also a major driver of deforestation in Nigeria – and improving access to clean cooking has been flagged as a key option for reducing emissions in the country. (Other drivers include the conversion of forest to agricultural land and logging for timber production.)
Nigeria has a tropical climate and is home to dense rainforest that supports more than 1,000 species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Species only found in Nigeria include the Ibadan malimbe, the Sclater’s monkey and the Niger Delta red colobus.
However, much of Nigeria’s tropical forest has already been destroyed. Between 2000 and 2005, the country lost 55.7% of its primary forest – giving it the highest deforestation rate in the world over that period.
Since 2005, rates of deforestation have remained high in natural forests, according to data from the Global Forest Watch. From 2010 to 2019, Nigeria lost 86,700 hectares of tropical forest, releasing the equivalent of 19.6 MtCO2.
In 2006, Nigeria’s federal government introduced a National Forest Policy in an attempt to curb deforestation, which was ratified by all states. However, enforcement of the policy was weak (pdf) and it had little impact on deforestation figures.
This year, the federal government approved a new National Forest Policy aimed at “protecting ecosystems” while enhancing social development.
In 2019, president Munhammudu Buhari committed to “mobilise Nigerian youths towards planting 25 million trees to enhance Nigeria’s carbon sink” at a UN climate summit in New York.
In order to improve our forest cover & in fulfilment of my commitment at the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2019,we have commenced the planting of 25 million trees.This initiative will also contribute to our effort to mitigate the effect of climate change.
— Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) June 12, 2020
Nigeria has also committed to restoring 4m hectares of forest under the Bonn Challenge, a global tropical forest restoration project spearheaded by the government of Germany and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The sector was responsible for 13% of the country’s total emissions in 2014, largely as a result of the rearing of animals including cattle, sheep and goats. (The belching and manure from ruminant animals causes the release of methane.)
In its climate pledge, Nigeria says it will reduce its overall emissions through “climate smart agriculture” – which it says would simultaneously slash emissions while meeting the challenges posed to farming by climate change (see: Impacts and adaptation).
Proposed “climate smart” policies include encouraging the planting of more native vegetation and putting a stop to “slash and burn” agriculture.
Such agricultural practices could offset 74m tonnes of greenhouse gases every year by 2030, according to Nigeria’s climate pledge.
I should also inform the summit that our Government has introduced Climate Smart Agricultural Practices to unlock Seventy-Four (74) Million tons of carbon dioxide per annum, through relevant technologies, advocacy and best practices.
— Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) September 23, 2019
The government’s Agriculture Promotion Policy for 2016-2020 repeats the commitment to promote “climate smart agriculture”.
Renewables and ‘green growth’
Nigeria currently sources very little of its energy from wind and solar.
In 2018, around 18% of its electricity came from hydropower – the largest source of low-carbon energy in Nigeria’s power mix (see highchart above).
Notable hydropower projects in Nigeria include the 3,000MW Mambilla Dam, which is currently under construction on the Dongo river in Taraba State.
In 2006, Nigeria produced a “Renewable Energy Master Plan” (REMP). Updated in 2011, the plan seeks to increase the supply of renewable electricity to 23% of the total electricity generation in 2025 and 36% by 2030.
And in its national climate plan outlined in 2017, Nigeria pledged that it would “work towards” installing 13,000MW of solar power. It marked this as one of the “key measures” needed to tackle the country’s carbon footprint.
Despite these commitments, there has been little progress on the development of solar power in Nigeria. Analysts say that Nigeria “has abundant sources of renewable energy but lacks the adequate government banking to harness these resources for electricity power”.
And, historically, fossil fuels have benefited more from subsidies and incentives than the renewable energy industry in Nigeria.
However, in its recently released economic plan for recovering from Covid-19, Nigeria made the shock move of scrapping fuel subsidies. According to Bloomberg, the decision will save the government “at least $2bn” a year.
The Covid-19 recovery plan also laid out a new framework for boosting solar power in Nigeria. It aims to bring solar power to 5m households by 2023. The project is aimed at “rural communities that have little or no access to the national grid” and will create 250,000 jobs, says the government.
If completed, the project would mark a shift towards “decentralised energy” in Nigeria. (Decentralised energy is generated off the main grid and produced close to where it will be used rather than at a large central plant.)
Several reports have found that such community-based renewable energy schemes could be the cheapest and most efficient way for Nigeria to address its large electricity gap, particularly in rural areas.
Nigeria has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2030, when compared to “business-as-usual” levels. This pledge rises to 45% on the condition of international support in terms of climate finance.
Nigeria’s climate pledge did not specify how much aid it needs to reach the upper end of its target.
On a visit to the country in 2018, former UK prime minister Theresa May announced that Nigeria would be the first country to take part in the “Climate Finance Accelerator” programme, an international initiative backed by the UK government aimed at helping countries to transform their climate pledges (NDCs) into “Climate Investment Plans”.
The initiative identified 14 projects that could help Nigeria reach its climate pledge at the cost of $500m. Most of the projects involve Nigeria developing more solar power.
Analysis by Carbon Brief shows that Nigeria received $136m in climate finance from other countries in 2016. (That year, the world’s wealthiest nations gave a total of £75bn in climate finance – and the largest recipients were India, Bangladesh and Vietnam.)
More than half of the climate funds given to Nigeria in 2016 came from the European Union. The EU donated a $58m grant to aid Nigeria in the development of its energy policy and a $40m grant to help improve its preparedness for extreme weather events that year.
Other projects financed in Nigeria include $25m for the development of a credit system for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, $5m for a sustainable fuelwood management system and $3m for scaling up hydropower.
Impacts and adaptation
Nigeria describes itself as a country that is “considerably impacted” by climate change.
Temperatures in Nigeria have risen by around 1.6C since the start of the industrial era – higher than the global average. Depending on the rate of future climate change, temperatures could rise by a further 1.5-5C by the end of the century.
Despite a recorded rise in average temperatures, there is currently very little research into how climate change has affected heatwaves in Nigeria. However, research does suggest that heatwaves are expected to increase in frequency in Nigeria under any amount of future warming.
The number of “hot nights” in Nigeria is also expected to rapidly increase in coming decades. “Hot nights” are those where nightime temperatures are in the top 10% experienced by a region. Hot nights are known to exacerbate respiratory and other existing health problems and have previously been linked to increased death rates.
Advances in extreme heat particularly threaten the many millions without access to electricity or air conditioning in Nigeria. In urban areas, just 92 in every 1,000 people have access to air con. In rural areas, it is just 14 in every 1,000.
(In August, the New York Times explored how extreme heat is already affecting the health and wellbeing of families living in Nigeria.)
Nigeria has a tropical climate. The southernmost part of the country is affected by monsoon rainfall and is characterised by rainforests and mangroves, the country’s middle belt has a tropical savannah climate and the most northern part of the country is arid and hot.
Most parts of the country have seen a reduction in rainfall. The government estimates that, from 1971 to 2000, average rainfall has decreased by 2-8mm across the country.
In the south, climate change is affecting the timing, predictability and duration of monsoon rainfall. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s northern region has experienced a steep rise in the frequency and duration of drought. This in turn has driven harmful dust storms and desertification.
The country’s northeastern region borders Lake Chad, which provides a water source for 20 to 30 million people across Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Since the 1960s, it has shrunk by 90% as a result of climate change and overextraction.
While the total amount of rainfall has decreased, individual rainstorms are becoming more intense, research shows. This has led to an increase in extreme flooding across much of the country. Nigeria has seen deadly flash floods almost every year for the past decade.
Across the country, changes to temperature and rainfall have greatly impacted agriculture – a sector that provides a primary source of income for 70% of Nigeria’s population.
Agriculture in Nigeria is largely rain-fed. Increases in drought and unpredictable rainfall have been linked to recent crop failures across the country – and future climate change is expected to “severely impact” Nigeria’s ability to irrigate crops. Extreme heat has also caused the death of livestock.
Some reports have suggested that increases in extreme heat, drought and the shrinking of Lake Chad could be one contributing factor to violence in northeastern Nigeria, which has forced thousands to seek safety in neighbouring Chad. (There are many other complex factors behind the violence.)
Globally, some research has found a correlation between climate-related disasters and outbreaks of violence. However, it is still a highly contested field of science – and other researchers have argued that there cannot be “one effect to rule them all” when it comes to what sparks a conflict.
In 2011, Nigeria released its “National Adaptation Strategy and Plan of Action on Climate Change” (pdf). This outlined policy recommendations for improving adaptation for sectors including agriculture, coastal farming, forestry and energy production.
This was followed in 2020 with the release of a framework report for its upcoming National Adaptation Plan. This framework plan aims to “clarify Nigeria’s approach” to climate adaptation after years of what some perceived to be inaction.
In the newly released framework report, the country’s environment minister Dr Muhammad Mahmood Abubakar, writes:
“The phenomenon of climate change is staring everyone in the face, and actions to handle its impacts have become far more critical than before.”
The report outlines the guiding principles for Nigeria’s upcoming adaptation plan, which include involving young people, focusing adaptation around communities and ecosystems and incorporating indiegenous knowledge.
Note on infographic
Graphic by Tom Prater for Carbon Brief.
Data for energy consumption comes from the IEA World Energy Balances 2020. Note that this data includes non-marketed traditional sources of biomass such as woodfuel, whereas the BP data used in other Carbon Brief country profiles does not.
Values for methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and fluorinated gases cover all sectors, including LULUCF, and come from the PIK primap database v2.0. Values for GHG emissions from LULUCF also come from the PIK primap database, however these are only available to 2015, from the earlier v1.2 of the database. Note that LULUCF data for 2015 is an extrapolation made by PIK from previous years.
The remaining values come from the EDGAR CO2 emissions database, downloaded from the website OpenClimateData. The EDGAR categories described in full are as follows: Buildings (non-industrial stationary combustion: includes residential and commercial combustion activities); Transport (mobile combustion: road and rail and ship and aviation); Non-combustion (industrial process emissions a1nd agriculture and waste); Industry (industrial combustion outside power and heat generation, including combustion for industrial manufacturing and fuel production); Power & heat (power and heat generation plants).
Combining GHG emissions in 2015 (bar LULUCF) from PIK primap database 2.0 database and LULUCF emissions in 2015 from PIK database v1.2 also shows Nigeria has the world’s 17th largest greenhouse gas emissions, including LULUCF, in 2015.
Per capita emissions in 2015 come from combining the above 2015 figure for GHG emissions and Nigeria’s population in 2015 from the World Bank.
Nigeria’s pledge to reduce its emissions by 20% or 45% by 2030, relative to business-as-usual, come from its NDC submitted to the UN in 2015.
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