I’m pleased at the opportunity to attend “Towards a Just Transition in Nigeria: Opportunities and Risks”, a public policy forum organised by the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation.
As His Magesty Ogiame Atuwatse III (The Olu of Warri) remarked during the event, the world has had previous energy transitions. We transited from biomass to coal, to oil, to nuclear, to gas and now we are discussing renewable energy.
As I look through the spectrum, each of the global energy transitions came with a lot of material progress. But they also came with devastations and unmet expectations.
The large scale adoption of clean energy will rapidly raise demand for a set of key minerals. One example is lithium which is needed to make batteries necessary for storage of renewable energy.
Another set of examples are rare minerals such as; gallium, indium, selenium, and others needed to manufacture solar panels. You could say the same thing about the minerals needed to produce wind turbines and indeed all the critical raw materials needed to power the green revolution.
My slight unease with the conversation about renewable energy is that those minerals are more often than not concentrated in countries with weak environmental protection and labour laws.
As we speak, the scramble for lithium has already begun in Nigeria. As you would expect, mining and processing of minerals needed for “clean” energy have started polluting water, deforming landscapes, polluting the environment, causing resource control strifes and impoverishing host communities.
Given our experience with environmental devastation occasioned by oil extraction in the Niger Delta, I’m worried that Nigeria is not thinking about systems and processes to ensure that the energy transition we are talking about is not another repeat of a sad history.
I thank the Yar’Adua Foundation and its network of partners for putting together the public policy forum.
Nigeria’s morning will come.