Energy and climate should be at the heart of EU–Africa relationship

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Policymakers need to put energy and climate policy at the heart of a new EU–Africa partnership, write Kandeh Yumkella and Connie Hedegaard.

Kandeh Yumkella is the co-chair of the Africa-Europe Foundation Strategy Group on Sustainable Energy, a member of parliament in Sierra Leone; former CEO of SEforALL and Chair of UN-Energy

Connie Hedegaard is the co-chair of the Africa-Europe Strategy Group on Sustainable Energy, chair of the KR Foundation, and former EU Commissioner for Climate Action.

Africa has contributed the least to climate change, yet it is the continent that suffers the most severe impacts, according to the recent ‘State of the Climate in Africa 2021’ report. Europe, through its historical, social, cultural and economic ties with Africa, has a role to play in building greater climate resilience in Africa.

And in Europe, we can also learn from experience across Africa with community-based adaptation to climate change.

A strong AU-EU partnership on environmental issues and resilient infrastructure could best meet the challenges facing both continents, and draw upon increased technical and financial support from public development banks, international donors, and investors from both Europe and Africa.

Mobilising a diverse set of actors and resources would make it possible to finance and support the transformation of African industrial and economic capacities while contributing to European green aspirations and addressing the global climate challenge

Climate innovation, an opportunity for Africa and Europe

Achieving climate neutrality while ensuring economic growth will be key for us all in the coming years. But how far can African and European economies decouple GDP growth from an increase in greenhouse gas emissions?

European countries have made progress in recent years, and future success will need to ensure this is done without offshoring business to other jurisdictions, and relying on imports to meet consumption needs. For Africa, growth in productivity and wellbeing needs to avoid the 20th century pathway of carbon-intensive growth.

Remarkably, sub-Saharan Africa has managed to grow its economy while reducing its CO2 emissions per capita over the past 20 years. According to the French Development Agency (AFD), this little-known success is in contrast to the Middle East, North Africa, South and East Asia, which have experienced much higher carbon growth per person over the same period.

Let’s also remember that Africa emits only 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while Europe is responsible for 8.2% of global emissions with only one third of Africa’s population.

Yet despite this favourable growth path, Africa will need to adapt its landscapes and infrastructure to the consequences of climate change by combining its own expertise with that of development partners, including European countries.

Business, large and small, can help incubate innovations and deliver solutions in digital, financial, energy, agricultural, and transport sectors, as has been evident during the pandemic.

Innovation is needed to spur technical, institutional and behavioural changes, in both public and private sectors, in cities, across landscapes, in coastal regions and in households and enterprises across both continents. We need, together, to pursue systemic actions to bring about the profound changes now urgently needed at home and in our strategic partnership.

An Africa-Europe energy and climate partnership must build on just and equitable foundations. Every country, in Africa and Europe, must map out its own energy transition, recognising where each is today and planning for the next 15-20 years.

African countries face a different set of choices, given that so many governments must achieve access to energy for their people alongside the push for climate neutrality.

A sub-regional approach to energy planning makes most sense in Africa, so that the benefits of scale and connectivity can generate opportunities for strategic industrial development across its different sub-regions, recognised as ever more necessary as a result of pandemic-related disruptions.

Conversations between Africa and Europe have highlighted the hard trade-offs faced, as regards Africa’s large reserves of coal, oil, and gas and and how to align these with the reality of climate change and the Paris Agreement targets. And this dialogue, while unresolved, continues.

Europe can help with the continent’s energy transformation, by sharing its own energy history, the mistakes it has made, its technical expertise, and valuable lessons from energy policy and regulation.

This could be accelerated by the setting-up of an African School of Regulation, with the aim to build skills and knowledge, and to strengthen the regulatory infrastructure, thereby creating effective energy regulation across African countries, as well as improved partnerships on energy with the European Union.

Reliable finance mechanisms are needed to support investment in resilient low-carbon infrastructure and clean cooking solutions, reinforcing the grid, and ramping-up renewables.

These mechanisms need to reduce investment risks and increase flows of both private and public capital into building the future energy networks needed on the African continent, at all scales, grid, mini-grid and off-grid.

There is so much a broad partnership between Africa and Europe could achieve, from completion of the Africa Single Electricity Market (AfSEM) to shared interest in extraction and transformation of key minerals for the digital and energy transition in our economies; from renewed effort to restore productivity to Sahelian landscapes, and the fight against deforestation, to strengthened transcontinental climate diplomacy.

Such joint actions would build trust, and further facilitate an aligned position at major forthcoming international meetings on building a fairer, safer world.

At the COP 27 in Egypt in November, Africa and Europe should forge a common agenda, based on clear recognition of the asymmetries which have shaped their past, while seeking to construct a shared interest in achieving a just and equitable global energy transition.

For the Africa-Europe Foundation, in keeping with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, we’re keen to push our leaders hard to ‘ensure access to reliable, sustainable and modern energy services at an affordable cost’ for the 600 million people in Africa who lack access to electricity and the 1 billion who lack clean cooking solutions.

We also see energy access and the ramp-up of renewables as central to Africa’s plans for economic diversification, job creation and revenues, industrialisation, and the competitiveness of our two continents in a rapidly changing world, thus strengthening our collective prosperity through a revised strategic partnership.

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