IPE24: A first step to put climate value at the heart of decision making

IPE24: A first step to put climate value at the heart of decision making

By Steve Valk

Chinwe Obuaku-Igwe grew up a “rural girl” in Nigeria. The third of six girls in her family, she found comfort in the forest and loved connecting with nature. But her life suffered a dramatic setback when her mother passed away from cancer just as Chinwe received her first degree from Lagos State University.

“My life changed when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Home was no longer home again, and I became an emotional nomad, finding succor in nature once again, and finding a renewed sense of meaning.”

“That search for meaning pushed me toward development studies,” says Chinwe, who eventually earned her doctorate and is now a consultant helping governments to implement Nigeria’s National Climate Change Act, much of her work focusing on renewable energy projects. 

Dr. Chinwe Obuaku-Igwe, a government consultant in Nigeria, participates in a climate advocate training session during Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s conference and lobby day in Washington, D.C.

Chinwe’s continuing search for meaning in life brought her to Washington earlier this month for the 2024 Interparliamentary Exchange hosted by Citizens’ Climate International. The exchange provided a forum for lawmakers and others to share their experiences and learn from each other about how to infuse climate value into the policies and programs they’re working to enact in their countries.

The idea for the Interparliamentary Exchange on Climate Value grew from last year’s CCL conference, when CCI welcomed a Parliamentary Delegation from Ghana, with two lawmakers representing the entire Parliament . The visiting MPs were inspired by the approach Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers take to engage members of Congress.

“Many public officials around the world really live with a state of constant menace,” said CCI Executive Director Joe Robertson. “Most of the people who come to lobby them are either coming with powerful moneyed interests in mind, or they’re just making demands and expressing anger.”

The Ghana legislators witnessed in action a type of advocacy where citizens appreciated the role elected officials play in solving problems. They saw volunteers inviting members of Congress to be their partners in enacting policies that benefit people and the environment, promising to have their backs if they were willing to work with them.

When the lawmakers went back to Ghana,”they actually helped our volunteers organize a lobby day in Accra,” said Joe. “And based on that, we set about trying to expand this engagement to have not just one parliamentary delegation, but at least two, so that we could have an interparliamentary exchange.”

Bringing lawmakers together for a meeting made sense. The executive branches of national governments around the world negotiate with each other to bring down heat-trapping emissions that threaten our climate. It’s then up to the legislatures to devise the policies to meet those commitments, the nuts and bolts, so to speak.

Impact of climate change

An important aspect of the Exchange in Washington last week was hearing from lawmakers about how climate change leads to destabilization in their part of world. The Hon. Terseer Ugbor, a member of the Nigerian House of Representatives who is Deputy Chairman of the Environment Committee, noted that Lake Chad, the source of water for four nations, has shrunk by 80 percent. The resulting water scarcity creates destabilizing pressures across the region. And despite building the Great Green Wall, which has seen tens of millions of trees planted to abate desertification, the Sahara desert continues to encroach on the northern part of the Nigeria and neighboring countries.

“It’s still coming, and it’s led to a lot of problems where herdsmen can’t find water and can’t find vegetation for their animals anymore,” said Terseer. “This has led to migration of herdsmen toward the southern part of the country, and this migration means that the herdsmen encroach on farmland, and this leads to violent clashes that have led to killings and displacement of thousands of local indigenous farmers in the country.”

Sharing these kinds of stories, says Joe Robertson, provides important context for the conversations lawmakers need to have. “Those kinds of conversations put everybody in an interesting, open-minded place, more conducive to thinking about what kind of institutions are needed. How can nations work together to make that type of new institution feasible? What will we all lose if agriculture in a particular region suffers?”

The Hon. Joseph Cudjoe, a member of Parliament in Ghana and Minister for Public Enterprises.

Climate change is also having an impact on agriculture in Ghana, but in a different way. The Hon. Joseph Cudjoe, a member of Parliament and Minister for Public Enterprises, said the predictable patterns of rainfall he saw when he was young have changed, making it difficult for farmers to plan the planting and harvesting of crops.

“The rains would start in May and gradually become heavier, June being the heaviest, and tapering off in July. Today, this pattern isn’t there. In May, sometimes there can be heavy rain that causes floods, and sometimes in June. Farmers have an expectation. In the dry season, they go along the river and plant along the river banks and fetch water. That was the practice over the years. Today, if you are engaged in the same practice, you go and farm and unexpectedly a heavy rain can come, and it will flood and destroy the farm. You cannot plan. Rainfall patterns have changed.”

Just transition

Another important topic raised at the forum in Washington was the issue of a just transition toward renewable energy. “We in Africa see the hypocrisy of the West, in a way, where the West was built on coal. Coal power. Gas Power. But now we’re being forced to rely strictly on renewables,” said Terseer.

Scientists and climate advocates point to the need to phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible, but for a country like Nigeria where oil is a major part of the economy, a quick transition is easier said than done.

“We are trying to introduce renewable energy, but renewable energy also requires a high level of mining that requires recycling and proper disposal of these materials,” said Terseer. “We’re trying to promote a green economy, but we’re also at the same time manufacturing products that end up having a very negative effect on the environment. So how do we ensure that in promoting renewable energy we don’t end up causing other problems for our environment?”

Replacing gas-powered cars in Nigeria with electric vehicles will also be a challenge, said Terseer, as there is not enough power in the national grid for buildings, infrastructure and industries. “We don’t have enough power for our homes and industries, now you want an automotive sector with 30 million cars to also rely on the same power for charging cars. That’s really tricky for us.”

Ultimately, a just transition will require far greater resources and investments in developing countries than we’re currently seeing, said Joe Robertson. “Countries like Nigeria and Ghana want to move as quickly as possible toward a clean economy, but to get there, they need to bypass the dirty 19th and 20th century model of development, which also means passing up revenues from polluting practices. They will need help from wealthy nations and financial institutions to meet this enormous challenge. To avoid the costs of unchecked climate-change, and to make sustainable prosperity possible at home and abroad, wealthy nations should make these investments without further delay.”

“We need a lot more support. A lot more engagement and a fairer transition from fossil fuels to renewables,” said Terseer.  

The Hon. Terseer Ugbor and Dr. Chinwe Obuaku-Igwe (left) meet with Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands (right) on lobby day.

‘Learn to do this advocacy and to do it right’

As with the lawmakers from Ghana last year, perhaps the biggest takeaway for participants in the Interparliamentary Exchange was learning about the way Citizens’ Climate Lobby works with Congress to move climate solutions forward. 

“The most important thing is we need to learn to do this advocacy and to do it right. We also need to learn the ropes on impact and on relationships. Every context is different. We can learn the lessons from here and adapt it to our own context,” said Chinwe.

“One of the key things I’m taking away from here is that climate action and advocacy depends a lot on relationships and the quality of those relationships. Whether you’re talking to the lawmakers, you’re talking to the citizens, you’re talking to the thought leaders, it’s all about advocacy. It’s all about getting everyone to find common ground, to find that shared humanity that gives us that impetus that empowers us to save the planet, to save the Earth for our children.”

Min. Joseph Cudjoe had the opportunity to witness CCL volunteers in action when he attended several meetings with congressional offices. Parliamentarians who saw CCL volunteers engaging with lawmakers described the meetings as productive, trust-building, and rooted in the shared value of working for a better future. When civic engagement works this way, citizens and lawmakers can be allies in getting good things to happen more quickly for more people. This is what we need to see around the world. 

Summary statement from the Interparliamentary Exchange

Following the Interparliamentary Exchange, CCI has issued a summary statement about the issues raised and insights attained during the exchange. The full statement is available here

Summary highlights:

  • The impacts of climate change are intensifying and having cascading effects in many areas like food shortages, population displacement and destabilization.
  • Policy processes cannot be optimally effective if they only play out in the language of experts, institutions, or interest groups. Climate-related civic engagement is a critical lever for driving effective climate policy and cooperation.
  • Poverty is an obstacle to transformation of everyday practices; rapid rollout of new technologies, new business models, and new kinds of institutions will require financial assistance.
  • Climate Value is a critical missing ingredient in local, national, and global analysis of finance, investment, public policy, and trade priorities. 
  • Multilateral climate cooperation as described in paragraph 8 of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement can and should be a critical driver of improved livelihoods and local economies. Such cooperation should support human development that is consistent with global heating of no more than 1.5ºC. 
  • Ineffectively structured offsetting programs can make room for and extend the life of polluting practices, while violating the rights of stakeholders and communities. These programs should foster clean development, eliminate future emissions, and operate with verifiable high integrity.

What’s next

In July of 2025, CCI will build on the 2024 Interparliamentary Exchange by organizing a Climate Value Exchange Conference, where we expect to welcome lawmakers, other officials, and stakeholders from at least 10 countries.

CCI’s Joe Robertson said next year’s event will take place July 19-23, again alongside the Citizens’ Climate Summer Conference, and will link to our Earth Diplomacy Leadership workshops, the Good Food Finance Facility and related preparatory work. 

“Ideally, this becomes an annual Climate Value Exchange conference. The thing is that in the next two years, according to the commitments they’ve already made, nations are supposed to make new announcements about their national climate plans, about international financial flows, about vulnerability-sensitive debt relief and about climate-smart agriculture investments. All of those things are supposed to start to become more concrete by the end of 2025, when the climate negotiations happen in Brazil. These conversations, the annual meeting but then also ongoing discussions throughout the year, can be a way to help make sure that those plans are better designed, more contextually relevant, more viable, more conducive to good economic outcomes for local communities.”

The aim of these meetings, Joe says, is to simply bring common sense back into the climate conversation.

Do you want the world that you’re living in, that your constituents are living in, to be increasingly dangerous, violent, and expensive? Or do you want it to be increasingly prosperous, sustainable, and cooperative, where people and institutions are trustworthy and trusted, where human creativity and ingenuity can play out in the best possible way?”

The 2024 Interparliamentary Exchange was the first step in the much needed conversation that puts Climate Value at the heart of everything we do.