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Decolonizing Climate Action: The Cure for the Resource Curse - The YEARS Project

Decolonizing Climate Action: The Cure for the Resource Curse

The green pastures are in ruin. The water is dark. The land is no longer the same.

Our hearts full of pain. Under oil, we can’t breathe. Under greed, we can’t live. 

But we still persist.

What happens when an oil-dependent nation can no longer rely on oil? Climate change is unfolding at an alarming pace and catching the world unprepared. It's crucial to address its causes to provide solutions. Imagining a fossil-free future presents a formidable challenge in many nations, yet it's not hopeless.

Nigeria is home to over 200 million people — making it the most populous country in Africa with the largest economy. The country’s relationship with the commercialization of oil can be traced back to 1956 when Shell was the first company to sink its teeth into the nation. In the beginning, this international company had sole concessionary rights over the whole country due to colonial governance. In the sixties, petroleum and petroleum products rose exponentially to contribute to the nation’s exports. More international oil companies fled to the State to benefit from this rise. By 1971, Nigeria became a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) becoming one of the top producers. It was an oil boom.

Current Predicament 

Climate change is posed as a shared humanitarian act, but Western countries emit the most carbon emissions from fossil fuels whilst exploiting developing nations. The Paris Agreement calls for all nations to keep the global temperature from rising the prevailing climate action solution is to cease the use of fossil fuels due to its substantial contribution. 

When observing these matters we must do so with the nuance of power dynamics and how the economic states of these oil-dependent countries rely on their natural resources. If fossil fuels hold consistent international value, transitioning to renewables becomes challenging for developing nations. The gap in renewable technologies may seem wide, but it is not impossible to close. Dismissing the possibilities fosters a narrative to justify current practices.

However, the processing of crude oil is quite cruel. While the extraction of resources is happening in Nigeria, the processing and refining have been deemed better fit to occur in developed nations like Europe and the U.S., this now requires Nigeria to buy back the oil that came from their land in the first place for a higher price. The country is not alone in this form of exploitation as it is a paradoxical scheme that exists under neo-colonialism. In Neo-colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, Kwame Nkrumah highlights how Africa’s soil is rich in resources but only enriches those who operate for Africa’s impoverishment. Today, many citizens struggle to buy fuel and other necessities due to the economy. This contradiction is often referred to as the resource curse.

But it must be remembered that the scale of power dips unevenly, especially when international Big Oil companies aren’t held accountable for their large spills over land, contaminated water systems, and mismanagement affecting the livelihood of people. Environmental justice is necessary as African countries are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change despite having contributed the least.


This prompts the dilemma of weighing losses against gains, particularly regarding the transition from oil dependence to alternative sources. If a country like Nigeria relies on oil revenue, the transition to renewable energy could be perceived as redundant and lacking urgency. While governmental leaders and international oil companies may benefit from the status quo, citizens have not benefited from the oil sector themselves. 

The cost of living is at an all-time high. Citizens are facing job insecurity, and adding a push for green jobs from the public sector – understandably places doubts. Overcoming this resistance requires them to imagine a future while struggling in current conditions. It is to view sustainable systems as essential and viable replacements for the current paradigm of capitalistic gain and control. 

But if things remain the same, what would become of the land once oil is exhausted? The money of international companies would just be invested elsewhere. The people who live in the land will remain when others leave. The practices of neo-colonialism that led us to where we are today in the climate crisis can not exist simultaneously in the transition because they are the same ones that hinder progress. 

In 2024, Shell has agreed to sell its onshore oil and gas business in Nigeria to a group dominated by local companies, and they are also offering buyers loans to finance this transaction. How ironic that they wish to evade accountability. Meanwhile, Nigerian businessman Aliko Dangote has also begun production in the largest oil refinery in Africa to reduce the need for imports.

Still, these short-faced tactics presented as solutions cause constraints for the future. The truth is oil, a non-renewable resource, has led to many lawsuits along with a decline in production due to mismanagement. Shell’s transaction shifts any preexisting problems to the new buyers who will assume responsibility for any further matters. The implementation of more refining infrastructure deflects from renewable solutions we could turn to. 

So who is this truly benefitting?


As expressed in Sustainable Energy Transitions for African Petroleum Producers by The African Climate Foundation, “continued poverty is not the solution to climate change.” When it comes to envisioning a future that benefits Africa it will not only require phasing out fossil fuels but also a new regime to strengthen the political and economic state.

Financial reparations and funding provided by developed nations to close the climate gap do serve as vital tools when it comes to this issue. But wealth isn’t the only power needed for a transformation to occur. 

Education and awareness are steps many non-governmental organizations use because there is a need for citizens to understand how the fossil fuel industry is not only detrimental to the environment but also to the social welfare of the people as it profits off labor alone. In terms of the climate crisis where privilege plays an adequate role in accessibility, there is a need to break barriers.

The turn to renewable energy is the most advantageous approach countries like Nigeria could take. It shouldn't be normalized frustration for citizens to lack access to electricity daily when renewable energy offers a cost-effective solution. Nigeria’s solar energy sector remains largely untapped despite its abundant potential. The proximity to the equator ensures year-round sunlight — therefore power, even in the more remote locations. This solution creates employment opportunities for local communities and paves the way for sovereignty.


In the year 2023, African countries held their first-ever Climate Summit that led to the conclusion of the Nairobi Declaration. This declaration recognizes Africa is not historically responsible but still bears the brunt of the effects of climate change. It also emphasizes how the continent is home to a plethora of natural resources and renewable energy that can contribute significantly to mitigation but does not have the necessary funding for implementation. It calls on nations to remember the agreements they agreed to adhere to make this possible.

Additionally, The Climate Change Act was implemented in Nigeria in 2021. This is a legal framework that emphasizes a Climate Council and Fund to help the country achieve net-zero emissions between the years 2050-2070.

With a recent end to fossil fuel subsidies in Nigeria, it is pushing people to turn to solar power. This spark backed by the work of activists and non-governmental organizations can be what is needed in the transition to renewable energy sources.

There’s a need for the efforts of climate action to be transformational and not incremental. We must look into adapting to the Earth and what it has to offer. African nations do not need to follow in the footsteps of their former colonizers as seen through present-day solutions. The climate movement must no longer only be spoken about in terms of Westernization and instead prioritize exploring solutions that do not only exist in that context. 

Climate action should embrace intersectionality, considering the varied challenges different communities face. For many African nations, climate action must mean poverty eradication, gender equality, secured livelihoods, and technological and educational advancement. It must mean justice. The growth of these nations is exponential and can hold the key to many answers to the challenges we face today once utilized positively. 

If the oil economy is neocolonial, the transition to renewables can be decolonial. Hence, we must recognize the climate movement cannot be possible without decolonization. The pathway to a sustainable future is hopeful. We must work together for a future we may not individually get to experience until it becomes a collective reality.