Africa-Europe Summit: A common agenda around climate change?

Photo: Ainhoa Goma/Oxfam
Photo: Ainhoa Goma/Oxfam

International emergencies, create a major opportunity to recast cooperation and elevate it, truly, to a ‘mutually-beneficial’ partnership between Europe and Africa. One area where cooperation will be tested is in the area of climate change.

It has been a bit more than four years since African and European leaders met at the African Union – European Union Summit in the Ivorian capital, Abidjan. Four years during which the context of the partnership changed significantly. What were then emergent trends were accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic to become immediate realities. This month, leaders will meet in a different context, characterised by a global health crisis that has had a significant economic and socio-economic impact on African countries and their populations, heightened geopolitical tensions and a global trade and financial system that is still finding its way to recovery (or reform). 

Africa has significant, but under-exploited, renewable energy potential, especially in the solar and hydrogen areas. Through appropriate financing, the EU could play a role in tapping into 

These shifts create greater pressure on the partnership, which will need to prove its worth for an African continent that has successfully diversified its partnerships over the last two decades. But, most importantly, change, and indeed international emergencies, create a major opportunity to recast cooperation and elevate it, truly, to a ‘mutually-beneficial’ partnership between Europe and Africa. One area where cooperation will be tested is in the area of climate change. 

While the Summit is expected to officially downplay divergences on approaches to tackle climate change, informally the issue is likely to take centre stage. The launch of different legislative packages within the European Union on its Green Deal has generated a certain degree of uneasiness about their compatibility with the international commitment of ensuring that the ‘differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’ of developing countries remain a cornerstone of engagement on the climate transition. 

Concerns were expressed by African countries and civil society groups in Africa and beyond about the impact of the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), a measure aiming at reducing carbon leakage notably by China and other large economic players by imposing a tax on imports from outside of the EU. The mechanism is already expected to start having an impact on industrial exports of several African countries as of 2023. This is at a time when the African countries are seeking to promote industrialisation, including in the framework of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). 

Against this background, it will be important for Europe and Africa to move beyond what is seen as a unilateral measure that risks unfairly penalising countries and arresting their development, and identify a more collaborative agenda to, at a minimum, seek to mitigate the negative impact of the EU’s Green Deal.  

One such area of possible collaboration is financing of renewable energy, which would in turn provide the continent with the adequate infrastructure to allow it to mitigate the risks presented by measures such as the CBAM. The potential of the African continent in terms of renewables is tremendous. Its capacities in terms of solar energy remain under-exploited – Africa generates only 1.5% of is energy from solar power. Its technical potential for producing green hydrogen for under $1.5/kg by 2050 is the highest in the world, which presents in itself a significant economic and geopolitical opportunity for the continent especially if combined with its natural resources potential. 

Yet, while investments in renewable energy in Africa are growing at a higher rate than in other regions, recent data from IRENA indicate that the cumulative sum of such investments represent a mere 2% of global investment over the two decades, representing a total amount of US$60 billion since 2000. To put this into perspective, the required investments for the African continent’s renewable energy until 2030 are estimated at US$375 billion.

Scaling up investment in renewable energy is critical, not only to meet industrialised countries’ obligations under international frameworks but also to ensure that Africa’s own socio-economic development drive is not compromised. Africa remains the region with the highest levels of energy poverty. While awareness of the negative impact climate change is high among Africans – 67% of Africans believe that climate change has had a negative impact on their lives – the challenge of providing credible alternative solutions that have an impact on daily life remains. 

The EU’s contribution to these efforts could benefit from an energy boost. So far, China has provided 51% of financing followed by multilateral banks, notably the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) (14%). But as demands for investments grow, the EU still has an opportunity to become a strategic partner. This will require the EU to reconsider its role and offer, as seen in its recent Global Gateway proposal.  This proposal is designed to counter the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) but has been underwhelming due to the lack of new financing and innovative financing modalities that would make the proposal truly attractive for the African context. 

While it is important to acknowledge efforts made by a handful of individual European countries that have contributed to the financing target of US$100 billion for developing countries, the challenge for the international community, and indeed Europe, is to focus efforts on supporting countries’ plans as well as paying greater attention to the quality of financing to ensure that it responds to the needs of countries. 

Tracking such support is important. Indeed, African negotiators have openly criticised the lack of transparency on climate financing. Such a challenge plagues the AU-EU partnership more generally. Creating a clear monitoring mechanism on what the partnership has delivered is therefore central to building trust and improving cooperation by ensuring that the right issues are targeted. 

The partnership between the AU and the EU, in its current format, is nearing its 15th birthday. Time has now come to move beyond the broad statement of a “paradigm shift” and focus on actual delivery. Many policy makers speak of the need to “turn the page” and to build a new relationship. And indeed, there is a need to move forward. But turning the page does not mean avoiding reading the stories and lessons they offer. In the rich pages of the last 15 years lay lessons to truly change the partnership. They show us that transparency, credibility and respect will be key if the leaders want to give hope that stronger cooperation on global public goods between the two continents is possible.

Faten Aggad is a Senior Climate Diplomacy and Geopolitics advisor at the African Climate Foundation (ACF). She tweets at @fatenaggad.

Article by:

Faten Aggad
Senior Advisor on Climate Diplomacy and Geopolitics at the African Climate Foundation

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