Bright future at risk from climate change, says Lagos state governor


Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu sets out why Lagos has a bright, human-centric future as a global centre, but warns that climate change cost puts everything at risk.  

The 15th governor of Lagos State, Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, speaking at FIDIC’s Global Infrastructure Conference has warned that transitioning to a smart, clean and human-centric city was well underway but that as a coastal city, it faces real risks.

“Lagos is one of the fastest growing cities in the world and with more than 20 million people, we are conducting a census next year so we have real data, not just estimates,” he explained He warned that with 190km of Atlantic coast and a third of its geography made up of water, the implications of climate change are significant in Lagos. “Indeed, like Amsterdam, much of the city is below sea level, creating serious challenges we must address,” he said.

“On a policy level, we are setting the right framework for sustainable infrastructure and development,” Olusola Sanwo-Olu said, before stressing that his city is “closely aligned on this with the Nigerian government” as it aims for a flood-proof Lagos that ensures a secure future for vulnerable groups.

Action and leadership

Olusola Sanwo-Olu said “We are keen to show global leadership on this issue so we have reived our international conference on the climate action plan, which puts the focus on three key sectors responsible for most of our carbon output – waste management, energy and transportation. These are sectors ripe for climate action,” he said.

On transportation, he set out some remarkable progress underway, saying “Lagos by 2030 will have seven fully operational light rail lines, creating a comprehensive network.” He explained that two of those lines will open in 2023 and the whole network will help reduce road traffic in a city that has previously had no city-wide rail network.

Returning to the city’s coastal nature, he said: “At the same time, we are promoting better use of our waterways and investing in 15 jetties and rolling out ferry services to help transition more people to cleaner non-road travel.”

Turning to energy, Olusola Sanwo-Olu said: “A lot of our residents generate their own power, often from small diesel generators. We have to address that. To do so, we are focusing on gas as a transition energy. Nigeria has one of the largest gas reserves in the world and we are using that for transition as we move towards net zero long term.”

He then set out the importance of their work to embed energy efficiency in new buildings and the use of green building certification systems to make buildings more resource efficient.

On waste management, Lagos generates 12,000 metric tonnes of waste daily, mainly from domestic waste. Olusola Sanwo-Olu said: “This largely goes to five landfill sites so we are trying to work with other cities and countries to strengthen investment in recycling.”


As a city, he noted that the economic agenda is crucial, saying: “We cannot discuss infrastructure without talking about finance. The reality is that we need to work with banks and lawyers to ensure infrastructure is sufficiently funded. Infrastructure is the biggest challenge for many governments around the world and the only sustainable way to improve lives is to tap into adaptation and resilience finance.”

In this regard, Lagos is leading the way. As the financial capital of West Africa, the megacity has created its first dedicated green exchange to provide a platform for sustainable investment, all this in a country that issued Africa’s first green bonds six years ago.

Smart city for a youthful future

Turning to smart city operation, Olusola Sanwo-Olu warned that this was not a necessity for a city to thrive.

“We are using cutting edge capabilities to scale up our megacity into a smart city,” he said. “If you are a megacity but you are not making it smart, you will not have a city truly working for its people. So, we are fully integrating data and technology into planning and development. We want our people to have high-speed internet so we can be a city where young people have the online access needed to turn their innovation start-ups into the success they deserve to be,” he said.

To help achieve this, he explained the long-term planning involved. “Before the end of this year, we will launch our 30-year development plan. And this is to help make Lagos a human-centric capital for the world. If you want 1,000 film producers or 1,000 programmers, Lagos will be where to turn to,” he said.

“Lagos has many advantages as a city and our primary aim as a government is to help support these and achieve our potential by taking a strategic approach,” he added.

Of course, to get to that point he accepted that they must engage with industry and ask key questions of the infrastructure sector. “So, how do we simplify things for the private sector? We must do all we can to make things easier for private industries and stakeholders to deliver in Lagos and build a better Lagos for all our people for tomorrow.”

“The journey to drastically cut greenhouse gasses in our city, is a long one, but we cannot afford not to act. The cost of allowing rising sea levels and worsening climate events is too high,” he said.

Industry engagement

Following his speech, a panel of industry experts discussed some of his themes with him.

Jose Aparicio of Siemens Energy addressed the energy aspect, saying: “Natural gas is a transitional fuel. It is needed. So the future of energy and the future of oil and gas is still interrelated. We are in a process but we cannot shut down economies.”

Fidel Saenz De Ormijana of Ferrovial highlighted finance opportunities. “For financing, PPPs have been shown to bring a lot of efficiencies to the public sector, especially in sectors that involve a major technical aspect. This can help with better objectivity, more efficiency and it can achieve good results and it will be interesting to see how that progresses in Lagos,” he said

Mike Haigh of Mott MacDonald highlighted the importance of learning from policy-makers and industry, saying: “Speaking with people across the industry, there are many decision-makers who simply don’t know what to do about energy because so much is changing. My experience is that speaking with policymakers is that we can learn equally well from each other.”

Malani Padayachee-Saman of MPAMOT, then stressed that long term planning requires good information. CWith a 30-year-plan, there are opportunities to create long-term programmes in a very integrated approach,” she said. ”So it is important to get trusted advisors involved up front to shape that and in Africa we can only achieve technological leapfrogging if we are well informed about what is happening around the world,” said Padayachee-Saman.