Uniting Against Coal Mining and Gas Flaring: Nigeria’s Path to Renewable Energy

Coal Mining and Gas Flaring
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By Ify Onyekwere

The Lekeh Development Foundation (LEDEF), in collaboration with the Nigeria Coal Network and other Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), hosted their 3rd Annual Conference from the 8th of July to the 10th of July 2024, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The conference, themed “Unite to Resist Coal Mining and Gas Flaring in Nigeria,” convened representatives from various CSOs and community activists from Nigeria’s coal mining and gas flaring regions. The gathering aimed to strategize collective actions against coal mining and gas flaring, explore sustainable alternatives, and support local communities transitioning to renewable energy.

Friday Nbani Barilule, Executive Director of LEDEF and coordinator of the Nigeria Coal Network, emphasized the urgency of addressing the detrimental impacts of fossil fuels on Nigeria’s environment and public health. “The time to act is now,” Barilule declared, highlighting the conference’s primary objective to unify efforts and demand significant changes from the federal government.

Participants at the conference collectively agreed that Nigeria, despite its rich economy, has not seen substantial benefits from fossil fuel extraction. Barilule noted, “Across the African continent, no country has seen better economic development from gas.” The consensus was that to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, the federal government must halt coal extraction and stop diversifying into coal. The statistics are alarming, with 178 gas flaring points in the Niger Delta alone. This practice, participants argued, has significantly reduced the region’s life expectancy to just 41 years.

A story of the mining activities happening in a community in Benue State Nigeria and the impact on the people…

The adverse effects of fossil fuel extraction in the Niger Delta, including water contamination, gas flaring, and oil spills, have caused severe health issues and environmental degradation. The conference highlighted that these activities have led to a drastic decline in agricultural yield, water contamination, and a reduction in fish populations. Despite the federal government’s diversification towards natural gas, there are concerns about its environmental and public health impacts. Methane leaks and associated pollutants from natural gas extraction can cause respiratory problems, cancer, and birth defects, further endangering the local population.

The conference’s resolutions underscored the importance of shifting away from fossil fuels. The Energy Transition Plan (ETP) addresses five sectors: Power, Transport, Cooking, Oil and Gas, and Industry. However, participants agreed that the plan lacks accessibility and sustainability. The call for collaboration and political engagement was strong, with Barilule urging CSOs to set aside personal interests for a collective movement towards cleaner energy.

A significant moment of the conference was the field visit to Igwuruta, where over 70 participants marched in solidarity to the entrance of a Shell gas flaring point. They demanded that Shell leave Nigeria but not without paying adequate reparations to the communities they have harmed. “Shell owes Nigeria a climate debt,” the participants chanted, emphasizing the need for Shell to contribute to the country’s transition to renewable energy. The Niger Delta has suffered from gas flaring since 1958, with Nigeria flaring 6.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually. Research studies have shown that continuous gas flaring has significant health implications.

The solidarity march saw men and women from the Niger Delta rising to say no to gas flaring, fossil fuel extraction, and environmental degradation. They argued that these practices have brought more harm than good, with no tangible benefits like good roads, scholarships, or employment to show for it. Instead, they face environmental destruction and health hazards. The conference participants demanded an end to gas flaring in the Niger Delta, a stop to fossil fuel extraction, and a halt to issuing coal mining licenses in Nigeria.

Renewable energy was highlighted as a viable solution, with success stories from international companies proving its effectiveness. The participants called for investments in renewable energy and the exploration of alternatives to fossil fuels. “Leave the coal in the hole and keep the carbon in the ground,” they urged, emphasizing the need for immediate action.

Click here to read research on Gas flaring 

Barilule reiterated the importance of supporting local communities affected by extractivism and aiding their transition to renewable energy. “Community support and solidarity bring better results in Nigeria,” he said, adding that collective efforts are crucial for achieving the desired positive change. The Owukpa story, which inspired women to demand better governance and a healthier environment, was cited as an example of the power of community action.

The conference also addressed the broader issue of climate change, urging participants to consider what matters most to them as individuals, communities, and as a nation. Barilule concluded the conference with a powerful call to action: “We must start now.”

The 3rd Annual Conference of the Nigeria Coal Network was a resounding success, uniting voices against coal mining and gas flaring, and charting a path towards a sustainable and renewable energy future for Nigeria. The resolutions and actions taken at this conference set a precedent for future efforts in the fight for environmental justice and sustainable development in Nigeria.

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