On 9 March, the Climate Parliament hosted a virtual parliamentary roundtable with legislators from all over Africa to discuss the Climate Change Laws passed in Nigeria and Uganda last year. This session was organised in collaboration with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and with support from the European Commission (DG INTPA). Rep. Sam Onuigbo, Chairperson of the Climate Change Committee of the House of Representatives and Chair of the Climate Parliament group in Nigeria and Sponsor of Climate Change Bill, Dr. Nkiruka Maduekwe, National Coordinator of the Climate Parliament in Nigeria, and Hon. Lawrence Biyika Songa, Chair of the Committee on Climate Change and Chairperson of the Climate Parliament group in Uganda, all shared their valuable experience with a group of 24 parliamentarians from Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe participated in this conversation.
In the first part of the discussion, Rep. Sam Onuigbo and Hon. Lawrence Biyika Songa gave an overview of the process and preliminary steps that led to the laws, and detailed how the Climate Parliament played an important part in this enterprise. A cross-party group of Ugandan MPs travelled to COP22 in Morocco in 2016, where they were able to meet representatives from international organisations, partners and stakeholders working around climate change, and attended a Climate Parliament roundtable meeting which helped them realise the strong external support they could get to work at the national level. The necessary next step was to form a Climate Change Committee within their parliament, to provide a framework for Ugandan MPs to work on these issues. This formal committee added support to the work of the Parliamentary Forum on Climate Change, which is in effect the Climate Parliament group of the Ugandan parliament, and now convenes more than 200 members. The Climate Change Committee was the main driving force for the law passed in April last year.
Rep. Sam Onuigbo also emphasised that, besides internal coordination and structuring, a crucial step to ensure the success of any law is to engage in active parliamentary diplomacy. In order to overcome bureaucratic blockages, MPs from both countries invited to the same table all the stakeholders and actors involved on climate change, organised meetings and consultations with government officials, ministries and agencies, the business community, civil society, academia and the media. Allowing all the stakeholders to give their input and participate in the decision-making process was key to finding common ground for everybody to get onboard. As with any international negotiation, this preliminary lobbying work was critical to ensure broad support, and to make sure successful bills came out of this endeavour.
Indeed, both laws provide transformative and groundbreaking changes in the national frameworks for climate action. In Nigeria, the Climate Change Bill sets up a National Council on Climate Change, designed to make policies and decisions on all matters related to climate change and to provide independent technical advice to ministries and agencies on climate change science, on the establishment and the achievement of net zero targets. The bill also makes provisions for legal action against private and public entities who renege of their climate change responsibilities. Another important role of MPs in combatting climate change is their budgetary power, and in Uganda, the Climate change law establishes a National Climate Change Advisory Committee which must approve every ministry and agency’s budget before it is presented to parliament. No budget can pass parliament without a certificate confirming that it includes substantial investment on climate change. Both these institutions are made up of experts from all parts of civil society, academia and the private sector.
The Climate Change Laws in Nigeria and Uganda are excellent examples of what a multi-partisan network of legislators can achieve at the national level. This experience-sharing provided the other MPs with plenty of action ideas to promote in their own country, or to brainstorm about in the context of drafting a climate change bill. Nkiruka Maduekwe, who was involved in the drafting of the Nigerian bill, emphasised that looking at other legislation is indeed key, and we can see a lot of similarities between the two bills as the MPs drew inspiration from the 2016 Climate Change Act of Kenya, the first climate change law enacted in an African country. Several parliamentarians asked questions about the right time to push for such a law. If sometimes a specific event on the political agenda can help create a strong momentum, such as COPs, according to Rep. Sam and Hon. Lawrence, drafting such an important law with so many different stakeholders is necessarily a long process. And for them, given the urgency to act for the climate, there is no question that the right time to start is now. Several other parliamentarians questioned them on awareness, and how to provide a framework or a plan to increase their constituent’s knowledge and support for climate action. According to Rep. Sam and Hon. Lawrence, one of the answers is to promote climate change education, as it has been done in both countries. The laws task the Ministries of Education to integrate climate change and research into the national curriculum, so as to create climate change awareness in general and especially among the youth. They also emphasised the key role for MPs, once a bill has passed, to make sure their government delivers every part of the law, and the critical importance of having clear indicators to evaluate its effectiveness in the long term and to allow for benchmarking and peer review.