A question I heard repeatedly over the past few weeks from not only my friends, but even complete strangers is – “What are you doing in Egypt, and what is COP?” As one of the youngest attendees fortunate to join in the COP27 experience, I recognize the immense privilege to interact with youth and leaders from across the world, but also the responsibility and sense of urgency to share the knowledge, insights, and lessons that I gained with every Nigerian.
COP – the Conference of Parties is the United Nations Climate Change Summit. COP27 was historic because Egypt is the first African country to host this annual convening. Held from the 6th to the 18th of November 2022, COP27 gathered over 30,000 government officials, representatives of states, NGOs, private sector organizations, the press, Indigenous people and members of the public to negotiate the future of climate actions. This gathering created a platform for key stakeholders to shape climate policies, including those on adaptation, mitigation, financing, and all related sectors focused on health, energy, food and agriculture, gender, youth etc. In addition, this conference did not only work to amplify the voices of the most vulnerable but created a space where their work could be seen and funded. I loved how people of different nationalities, socio-economic classes, genders, races, and ages, gathered with the same goal in mind. All the sights, smells and feelings pointed back to the fact that despite all our differences, we only have one earth, and this is our only home.
Through my experiences, interactions and knowledge gained at COP27, I believe that there are four critical things that every Nigerian should know coming out of COP27.
1. Nigeria is facing a climate crisis and many of the problems that confront us are directly linked to climate change. Not only does it affect our lives and communities when we grapple with unpredictable weather, are forced into climate migration and experience uncertainty; but our economy and development is also affected – raising the cost of living, depleting our natural resources, and setting us back more years than we break through. It is also important to consider Nigeria’s dependence on agriculture and oil, two sectors which are serious contributors to global warming, severely affects our future. Without any fail-safe plans, our country’s economy can fall even deeper into devastating recession that will make life harder for everyone. To avoid these disastrous outcomes, we must urgently develop a comprehensive national climate strategy and support policies which we can actively track, to ensure implementation. The green policies must include strategies that address construction bans, reforestation, carbon prices, smart trade, deployment of solar panels, climate education and much more.
We can learn from many other African countries that have taken a leadership role in the fight for climate action. Some examples include: Rwanda, which banned polyethylene bags as early as 2008 and in 2019, single use plastics, this in turn fostered the growth of alternative packaging methods and created jobs. Egypt and their recent mass deployment of electrical commercial vehicles, as well as, Morocco and their investment of 5.3 billion US dollars to new climate innovative projects.
2. Beyond policies and pledges we must collectively drive impact. In previous climate conferences and during COP27, the Nigerian government in partnership with the private sector has made a lot of promises from “Nigeria will reach Net Zero by 2060” to “a delivery of solar panels to five million households.” However, the questions that remains are (1) How attainable are these ambitious goals? (2) Are the policies going to be implemented? (3) How is the government going to support local climate initiatives and protect the most vulnerable? At COP27, During the session on “Decarbonizing an Oil Rich Region,” held at the Nigerian Pavilion, the team from ‘Oando Clean Energy’, committed to a range of initiatives involving a smooth transition to solar, wind, and hydro energy, a reduction of waste, and an increase in recycling and the deployment of electrical vehicles. While commendable as a first step, who will monitor that these pledges are fulfilled? We must actively track each of the public and private sector pledges made in Nigeria and measure their impact.
3. Every citizen has a role to play in mitigation and adaptation. Reusing plastic bottles, taking your own bag to the grocery store, planting a tree in your garden, setting solar panels in your home, turning off lights when you are not in the room, donating clothes rather than throwing it out, finishing your food, discarding of waste properly, etc. Some of these actions might seem like added stress, but when money and time are devoted to climate innovation, not only do we learn to live more intentionally and respect the world we inhabit, but climate friendly actions have been proven to result in job creation, income generation and wide scale improvements in quality of life. From the creation of carbon sinks in the city of New York, to Japan’s clean energy railway stations, and from Malta Island’s full shift to renewable energy use to even Portugal’s commitment to green growth infrastructure – change is not outside of our reach.
4. We must revamp our educational system to include climate education and ensure that our children and youth are empowered as climate champions. It is critical that climate conversations and courses are introduced into the private and government school curriculums, as future generations are inheriting this present world. If we want to see our country approach climate change effectively, we need to start by simply raising awareness about the growing threats and educating people about what they can do to help. Countries including: The Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, South Africa, and Morocco have already started introducing this in their curriculum. As stated by UNESCO -” Climate education helps people, especially youth, understand and address the impacts of the climate crisis, empowering them with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes needed to act as agents of change.”
As I reflect on my time at COP27, I am reminded of the popular proverb which states – “we have not inherited the land from our fathers, we have borrowed it from our children.” As a young Nigerian, I recognize that my generation will face the brunt of the climate crisis and we need urgent cooperation, communication, education, and action to drive change. I am hopeful that as a nation we can meet all our climate goals.
Nwuneli is a 15-year-old Nigerian American activist, social innovator, actor, and author. She founded and runs Fight Global Warming Nigeria which works to raise awareness about climate change among youth through interactive workshops, informational videos and local initiatives. Through her work as a climate activist, she has served as a speaker and youth representative in a range of forums and has authored articles. In addition, she constantly works to address inequality, corruption, and discrimination by leading marches, beach clean-ups, raising funding for communities affected by climate change, running shoe and book drives for nonprofit schools, and volunteering for a range of causes. Her first poetry book, For We Are Curious will be released in December 2022.