In the preamble to the Paris Agreement the parties emphasize “the intrinsic relationship that climate change actions, responses and impacts have with equitable access to sustainable development and eradication of poverty”. Coupling emission targets to development priorities is now part of mainstream climate policy debates as well as of international negotiations. But African NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) lack alignment with national development plans and wider sustainable development goals. 

Nigeria has the largest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world. It is also set to become the world’s third most populous country in 2050. Its first NDC acknowledged this reality an aligned itself with the country’s economic transformation agenda. But the NDC was prepared before the 2016-7 economic recession, during which the Nigerian economy contracted by 1.6%, after having grown at an average of 5.7% over the previous decade.

One of Nigeria’s most demanding challenges today is to deliver electricity access to millions. It is estimated that up to hundred million Nigerians have no access to electricity, and 80% of the population use diesel- and petrol-fuelled back-up generators as an alternative. The strong reliance on back-up generation has severe health impacts and affects as all aspects of the economy, from rural livelihoods to manufacturing and exports.

Despite the potential for renewable energy to contribute to solving Nigeria’s deficient grid infrastructure, there is no grid-based renewable energy electricity production at the moment (apart from large scale hydro), and the perception that renewables are a high-risk investment still prevails. Fourteen solar PV companies signed power purchase agreements (PPAs) with the bulk electricity trader in 2016, with a combined capacity of 1 GW, but as of 2019 none of them have yet reached financial close.

Decentralised renewables show more momentum. Strides are being made on finance and regulation. Many local and international entrepreneurs and investors, including public, social-impact and commercially-driven ones, are already working to respond to the demand for sustainable off-grid solutions such as standalone solar and mini-grids. These actors are pioneers, struggling for growth within a firmly established fossil-fuel based and grid-based environment, and working in the early stages of the transformation process and of the entrepreneurial lifecycle.

As the political narrative on the choices for electricity generation in Nigeria increasingly embraces renewable and decentralised energy, the evidence of how this impacts emissions pathways is lacking.

Our new paper in Climate Policy draws on the national goals and sector realities and presents co-created pathways along which Nigeria’s electricity sector might transition up to 2030. One of the key strengths of the study is its reliance on the expertise of stakeholders of the Nigerian electricity sector. The results indicate that Nigeria’s emission commitments could be more ambitious and better aligned with its electrification targets.

Under our most ambitious transition scenario, over 235 million people (90% of Nigeria’s population in 2030) get access to electricity in 2030, with over 88 million doing so through sustainable off-grid solutions. This would require an unprecedented speed and scale of transition in the off-grid sector, which the market players nevertheless find is possible. For it to happen, financial flows need to shift considerably from grid-connected investments to off-grid systems, grid expansion plans are to be coordinated with the roll-out of off-grid solutions, and standards and skills in the sector need improving.

Linking development goals with climate goals will not only serve to enhance the ambition of the next Nigerian NDC. It will also make emission targets more attractive politically rather than be seen as a “cap on development”. 

Read the full paper.

María Yetano Roche is a researcher at Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy