Abuja | April 22, 2015
Greetings, Humphrey Alumni and honored guests. All protocols considered!
This is an exciting time in Abuja. Nigerian democracy shines like a beacon across the continent. Now more than ever, it is up to you, as Nigerians, to come together with a clear set of priorities for the future.
The United States looks forward to a new chapter in our relationship. We are deeply committed to working with you, the Nigerian people, and with your government for many years to come.
One of the areas in which we can and must work together is protecting the environment—the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that supports and sustains us. Environmental challenges like climate change, overfishing, increasing acidity of our oceans, air pollution—none of these challenges respect international borders. They injure us all. None of us are disconnected from these impacts, and the environment writ large is at great, great risk today.
President Obama places great importance on protecting the environment for future generations as both a key aspect of his domestic agenda and U.S. foreign policy. Reflecting on the observations of the astronauts who first stood on the moon and looked back towards the earth, President Obama said:
That bright blue ball rising over the moon’s surface, containing everything we hold dear – the laughter of children, a quiet sunrise, all the hopes and dreams of posterity – that’s what’s at stake. That’s what we’re fighting for. And if we remember that, I’m absolutely sure we’ll succeed.
This poetic line reminds us that the greatest and most compelling responsibility that a government has, that we also have as individuals, is to protect what we hold dear for future generations. At the U.S. Embassy here in Abuja, and in our bilateral development assistance efforts, this is a responsibility that we take very seriously.
One of the most pressing global environmental issues is climate change. In places like New Orleans and the Niger Delta, the rise in sea levels could push people from their homes. In places like California and the Lake Chad Basin, falling lake levels and groundwater tables threaten to put farmers out of business and reduce global food security.
Today, thanks to President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the United States is well on its way to meeting our international commitments to seriously cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. And that’s because we’re going straight to the largest sources of pollution. We’re targeting emissions from transportation and power sources, which account for about 60 percent of the dangerous greenhouse gases that we release. And we’re also finding smaller opportunities in every sector of the economy to address every greenhouse gas—making our cars and trucks more efficient and proposing regulations to curb carbon pollution from power plants.
But it’s not enough just to address the pollution generated by dirty sources of energy; we also have to invest in cleaner alternatives. Since President Obama took office, the United States has upped its wind energy production more than threefold and increased our solar energy generation more than tenfold. We’ve also become smarter about the way we use energy in our homes and businesses.
This is by far the most ambitious set of climate actions that the United States of America has ever undertaken. And it’s a large part of why today we’re emitting less than we have in two decades.
America’s commitment to the environment extends to our U.S. Mission here in Nigeria. This building in which we are meeting, completed last November, meets the international standard as a LEED certified gold building. The entire Embassy compound takes advantage of the very latest in energy efficient, environmentally friendly technology. For instance, power for this building is supplemented by a solar array on the roof that will provide 412 megawatt-hours per year, enough to light nearly three thousand light bulbs for eight hours a day, every day of the year. We can attest that environmentally friendly technologies are economically friendly as well. This solar power system will ultimately save us more than 20 million Naira per year in electricity charges!
As you walked from the entrance down the sidewalk toward this building, you were walking over a water catchment system. We are capturing the surplus from the 50 or so inches of rain that falls from May through October, and we are funneling it through an underground reservoir system and storing in large tanks, which, together with a waste water treatment system, helps keep our green spaces green year round.
We also reuse and recycle plastic and paper. Our used plastic bottles are filled with sand by a builder in Kaduna and used to construct new walls. The paper and newspaper are molded into paper briquettes, here in Abuja, and used as clean-burning cooking fuel. We are particularly proud that this initiative employs a number of internally displaced people from northeastern Nigeria.
Through our development assistant efforts, we are partnering with Nigerians who are focused on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and adopting agricultural practices in order to adjust to ongoing desertification and climate change.
Our Energy Efficient Wood Stove Project is helping Ebonyi and Niger states transition from gas to clean energy fuels. The stoves are produced and sold locally, creating jobs for artisans and marketers. We are also supporting policy advocacy in order to encourage national adoption of this technology.
We are also assisting the Nigerian government in developing a renewable energy market by providing partial-risk guarantees to promote increased private sector lending to the clean energy sector. This initiative hopes to continue the national dialogue on the importance of regulations and incentives that encourage both energy efficiency and low emissions construction and manufacturing.
We are very proud of our partnership with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, where together we are researching and developing improved technologies that will enable farmers to adapt to climate change. We applaud the Ministry’s introduction of “drought tolerant” maize, and the promotion of crops such as sorghum that are better adapted to Nigeria’s weather fluctuations. In that regard, we are impressed by the Ministry’s efforts to encourage climate-smart agriculture, where they have been a great supporter of new agricultural practices and new forms of fertilizers that are less detrimental to Nigeria’s weakening ecosystem.
One area of ongoing concern is Nigeria’s power utility system. We are all frustrated by the sporadic power outages that negatively affect both our personal and professional lives. These disruptions affect nearly all businesses, but are most detrimental to manufacturing companies. Many Nigerian businesses and households are not lucky enough to have climate-friendly power backup systems, relying instead on inefficient diesel generators. Those generators are now estimated to form the largest block of Nigeria’s CO2 emissions. Establishing a reliable, environmentally friendly electrical grid should remain a top Nigerian government priority.
This is also an issue President Obama is working to address through his Power Africa Initiative. Power Africa aims to bring power to 20 million people on this continent, through partnerships with governments and private industry. Imagine the environmental impact of bringing reliable electricity to 20 million people. The wealthy won’t need to run their generators. The poor won’t need to cut down trees for firewood. It will improve the air, the water, and the land.
Nigeria is the lynch-pin to the success of the Power Africa initiative. The fundamental restructuring of the power sector that has been started here in Nigeria is the most ambitious such effort in Africa. I am proud that the U.S. government has been a major partner in moving it forward. USAID has been helping Nigeria restructure the generation and distribution companies, and helping Nigeria’s regulatory bodies to craft regulations that will enable the power sector to thrive.
Another matter of great concern is oil spills in Ogoniland. As one of the world’s leading crude producers, Nigeria has a special responsibility to insure that throughout the extraction, refining, and delivery processes, the integrity of the product is preserved. We noted with optimism the creation and recent re-commitment of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), and hope that it will come forward with a more effective clean-up effort.
Nigeria’s rapidly depleting wildlife population also needs our attention. Elephants once roamed widely. They are now limited to five reservations, and even there, their numbers are rapidly declining because they have been killed by ivory poachers and farmers who perceive them as a risk to their crops. Wildlife populations are part of the nation’s heritage, and their preservation should be a national as well as an international concern. Moreover, domestic and international tourism to wildlife locations could be a source of entrepreneurial activity for current and future generations.
So, you have a lot to talk about. I look forward to learning about the vibrant discussions that are now going to take place. I am particularly encouraged that the Humphrey alumni are mentoring the youth in the audience. After all, the youth here today have the most at stake in this discussion. I hope that working to protect the environment inspires you to take on a greater leadership role in your community. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry got his start in politics, more than 30 years ago, organizing his state’s Earth Day celebration. Perhaps there is a future Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs in the room!
As always, the United States stands ready to work with you as a friend and partner. Thank you for your commitment to these issues, and to that bright blue ball that President Obama spoke about.