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Towards a new EU-African partnership: Part 1 – The green transition

Towards a new EU-African partnership: Part 1 – The green transition

Written by Daniel Costa in Brussels and Boipelo Mogamisi in Johannesburg

The EU-Africa relationship has had its challenges over the years; concerns around fair trade, migration and the paternalistic nature of the association have at times eroded trust and cooperation between the regions.

Acknowledging this and looking to turn a new page, a new strategy framework has been proposed by the EU – one based on a clear understanding of the mutual interests and responsibilities of both trading partners. This new partnership is expected to be finalised at the 6th European-African Summit pencilled in for later this year. The agreement is seen as a pivotal step in addressing the many imbalances that have plagued the relationship since its onset, and positions the two blocs as equal partners in the fight for a more equal and just world.

To strengthen the EU’s alliance with Africa and develop a closer partnership, in March 2020 the European Commission proposed a new Strategy with Africa. Its ratification by the European Parliament, though delayed by the pandemic, has just occurred.

As the Strategy is vast, we believe there is value in breaking down key elements in a series of analyses, while exploring how Africa would view the proposed developments. This one focuses on climate change.

Europe’s vision for a new partnership for a green transition

The fight to mitigate the impact of climate change, and ultimately reverse it, is the cornerstone of the current EU Commission’s plan for Europe. But the Commission sees its fight as an international one too. Given this, it is no surprise that speeding up Africa’s green and energy transition is a key part of the strategy.

The EU sees innovation as key to driving the green transition in Africa, with investments in the continent geared towards boosting Africa’s capabilities so that it can pursue a low-carbon, climate-resilient growth trajectory. In the strategy, emphasis is also put on sustainable economic models with “circularity”—cradle to cradle recycling systems–and fair supply chains at its core.

The Commission proposes to support the implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs),  which help devise long-term strategies for reducing emissions and helping the creation of national adaptation plans. The Commission would also like to launch a ‘Green Energy’ initiative to help in the green transition, a ‘NaturAfrica’ initiative that reduces pressures on ecosystems, and systems to help Africa develop better ocean governance.

The strategy envisions that both cities and the countryside would have a crucial role to play in this transition. Smart urbanisation models and boosting the supply of green energy in rural agglomerations are identified as priorities. This is not only to reduce pollution, but also help preserve Africa’s natural capital. The document calls for the development of sustainable agricultural practices, especially because food production, processing and distribution provides the bulk of direct employment in Africa. It recommends that trade between the two continents also be aimed at stimulating food production to facilitate a thriving economy and food security.

Although a year has passed since the Commission proposed the EU Africa strategy, and a pandemic has left both continents reeling, the European Parliament has stressed that despite the health crisis, the environmental crisis should continue to head their joint agenda. For Europe, there is a need for a ‘green deal diplomacy’ between the two partners and a clear requirement for the political will to help create a future ‘EU-African green deal for climate and biodiversity’. The Parliament emphasised those points in its ratification of the Strategy. Still, the question remains whether African leaders believe that this is the right approach to tackle the many issues their people and their countries face.

Africa’s vision for a new partnership for a green transition

An AU-EU partnership on green energy transitions offers many opportunities for both regions. In Africa, new job opportunities, increased energy access and revenues through energy trade are possible, while for the EU, green energy demand could be partly covered through cooperation with Africa.

There are a few challenges that have to be addressed. Firstly, phasing out fossil fuels in the near term would be politically risky – and potentially economically devastating – for countries dependent on fossil fuels . Resource-rich developing countries such as those in Africa want to exploit their fossil fuel reserves and say the EU should provide tailor-made incentives through infrastructure finance, technology transfer and education and training if they would like Africa to change its industrialisation trajectory.

At the same time, many African countries are particularly rich in renewable energy resources. With the right investment and incentives, the continent could potentially cover a quarter of its energy needs from domestic and clean renewable energy by 2030, while creating jobs and accruing the related health benefits.

For example, successful solar energy projects in Morocco show that renewable energy technologies have the potential to provide affordable and clean energy to citizens. And decentralised, renewable energy generation is a model already successfully deployed to promote electrification in remote areas. Africa benefits from high sunlight zones, such as the Sahara, where the productivity of solar-powered energy is much higher than in Central Europe, as well as good locations for on- and off-shore wind and hydropower energy generation.

Renewable energy is a stated priority for the first 10 years of the AU’s Agenda 2063.  It is key to its aspiration for a ‘prosperous’ Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development – and many African countries have already made political commitments to address energy sector greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

Given that the EU is Africa’s largest export and import partner, accounting for 31% of Africa’s exports and 29 % of imports, the proposed EU strategy presents an opportunity for a mutually beneficial relationship; one in which Africa is treated as an equal partner and its developmental and environmental needs are factored into all decisions taken.

Climate change remains a key issue for both regions, but especially for Africa which continues to endure the devastating impacts of global warming and extreme climate events.  As such, a  renewed EU-AU Africa partnership centred on capacity building, skills transfer and cooperation, is Africa’s most effective means for building – and benefiting from – the infrastructure and resources that create resilience against the effects of climate change.

Next: EU-Africa partnership critical to bridging the digital divide in Africa

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