An Africa and Europe climate partnership could flourish if issues around green policies are amended 

Europe and Africa have different climate needs and interests, and it is becoming clear that European policies designed to slow global warming will have a huge impact on African economies. 


The European Union is one of Africa’s biggest partners on climate change, with probably only China surpassing it in terms of funding. The two continents share common interests in renewable energy expansion and an ambitious global green recovery narrative.


Africa, as a continent, contributed the least to creating the crisis, yet it is already facing the harshest of its consequences. At the same time, Africa hosts some of the natural resources such as cobalt, nickel, and other critical minerals required by Europe to power its energy transition. There is thus a huge opportunity for Africa to use the climate crisis to industrialise and create jobs, and Europe could be a worthy partner to help with the continent’s green transition. 


But the European and African partnership is by no means concrete, explains Faten Aggad, an analyst on international negotiations and African Climate Foundation’s Climate Diplomacy and Geopolitics adviser.


“We can’t really speak of a climate partnership that is still under discussion, in the sense that we don’t know what shape or form it will take,” she says. 


A major roadblock that has emerged in the last year in shaping the partnership is the new European Green Deal (EGD), which the European Union (EU) adopted in July. 


Aggad said the deal is being viewed by many in Africa as a highly problematic approach, because of its potential to damage African economies. 


The EGD proposes to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% from 1990 levels by 2030, with the hopes to become climate neutral by 2050. The deal also envisions the protection of human life, animals and plants by cutting pollution, helping companies become world leaders in clean products and technologies, and ensuring a just and inclusive transition. It aims to make Europe the first mover in international climate policy.


One of the ambitions the EU will employ in the EGD is the farm to fork strategy which aims to reduce the use of chemical pesticides, and minimise nutrient losses for instance. While it is a revolutionary move to green Europe’s farms, it comes at a price and European farmers will receive financial assistance to help them transition. 


On paper the green deal doesn’t seem that bad for Africa. While the “Africa strategy” to fight climate change also leads with a proposed partnership for “green transition and energy access”, a call to jointly work towards a low-carbon, resource efficient and climate-resilient future, it is the impact of the deal that has set the cat among the pigeons. 


Analysts have warned that even though the deal is mainly an internal policy instrument for Europe, its potential global spillovers will reach African countries in view of the strong ties between the continents. 


Africa is sure to feel the effects in agriculture, fossil fuels and other natural resources markets. African countries will see a decline in European demand for fossil fuels in their markets, but might benefit from the rising demand for cobalt, nickel, and other critical minerals needed for the energy transition. But ultimately Africa’s agriculture will be most affected. 


As part of the plan, a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism would effectively apply a tariff on carbon-intensive goods coming into the EU, and this could potentially hurt African farmers.


Aggad explains: “Let’s say a farmer in Stellenbosch does not use green energy to produce their citrus fruit. That fruit will be subject to a tariff when entering the EU border” because South Africa used coal to generate electricity necessary to cultivate that fruit. 


“And so it becomes highly problematic for African countries that are already struggling to have market access. This becomes an additional hurdle,” she says.


“What we know is that the EU will be imposing tariffs on certain products from 2023 and we know that in that mix some countries, in Africa in particular, export industrial products will be hurt by this.”


Aggad also said the farm-to-fork initiative handed out subsidies to farmers to help them to go green. But African farmers would not get the same subsidies, and thus they will be penalised by legislation in Europe favouring green farmers.


“It becomes unfair competition.”


The EGD is also problematic because it comes across as imposing conditionalities of the continents that are traditionally not polluting, without providing any type of financial compensation to allow it to adjust, she said. 


The question is wow do we mitigate the risk to African countries with the new European green legislation, and that still needs a lot of discussion, Aggad adds. 


The EU has also not been forthcoming with a lot of funding in terms of financing green infrastructure, she says. 


It launched its Global Gateway initiative, a sprawling scheme that it states will result in nearly $340 billion of supposed investment in infrastructure across the developing world by 2027.


Aggad said the section on climate transition in the initiative, particularly looking at green infrastructure, brings nothing firm to the table. 


“There is nothing concrete,” she said. “It is a promise, not a pledge, but there is nothing concrete to work with.”


While Europe has the reputation of being Africa’s biggest climate partner, Aggad said that statistics rather supported that China was pulling more financial weight. “It is actually providing much more funding for green infrastructure,” she explains. 


At the moment there is a feeling that multilateral negotiations with Europe aren’t particularly supportive to the cost African countries will need to bear in the climate transition, and that is certainly not fair on Africa.


All of these issues should have been addressed at the EU-Africa summit in 2020. Preparations for the AU-EU summit fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the process lost momentum in 2021 with the summit postponed to 2022. At the moment the summit has been scheduled for April next year, but the date has not been confirmed. 


The summit will set the platform for high-level discussions in defining the Africa European partnership, and there are high hopes that ministers will be able to iron out an agreement that helps Africa. Aggad agrees that the key is the ministerial meetings at the summit.


“The expectation is that the summit will raise this issue of climate financing in particular again,” she says. “It will also raise the issue of mitigation of the implementation of the Green Deal. That is politically the kind of development that we can expect.”


An African-EU partnership certainly promises exciting opportunities if it can be harnessed. Capacity building, the sharing of skills, and green manufacturing opportunities abound. Aggad said in terms of green technology for instance, green production in Africa could definitely benefit, bringing green jobs to Africa. 


But a good partnership would also bring a sense of reality to Europe of what the rest of the world is grappling with. An example of this is the interesting gas debate. 


“Many African countries have taken quite a strong position saying that gas needs to be allowed as a transition source of energy,” said Aggad, adding that some European countries such Germany have announced that they will be divesting from fossil fuels including gas.


“The EU is developing what’s called the taxonomy proposal that would recognise gas as a green source of energy and I think that would be welcome news for African countries.”


Yet the questions remain unanswered of whether countries could move away “from this transition of gas”, which the partnership could look at answering. 


For the partnership to flourish the challenge in the long term, Aggad says, African countries will need to have fair access to financing arrangements.


“Africa will need strong climate finance that will allow them to access green energy, either through access to affordable solar panels or wind infrastructure,” she says. A strong partnership could propel such financing forward. c

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