21 February, 2022
By Mohamed Adow
Thomson Reuters Foundation
This week African and European leaders will meet for a special summit to chart the future relationship of the two continents. The moment couldn’t be more crucial when it comes to climate change, which threatens citizens of both regions.
The history of Europe and Africa is a long and painful one.
The colonisation of Africa by a number of European nations helped build European wealth and create the stark inequality between the global north and south. Despite the recent development gains made by African countries, this progress is now under threat by climate change, driven in large part by the historic and continued emissions of European countries.
It’s true that Europe is not escaping the wrath of the climate crisis either: the awful fires in Greece and floods in central Europe are just two vivid examples from recent months.
But the scale of the suffering doesn’t compare to the droughts, cyclones, and rising temperatures which Africa is facing.
Africa is not only experiencing more intense effects of climate change, it is also more vulnerable to those effects given the widespread lack of infrastructure and access to basic services. This suffering is deeply unjust. Africans contribute just 4% of current global emissions while making up 17% of the world’s population.
The reality is that a strong Africa-Europe relationship has been the backbone of the global fight to address climate change. The voters, and leaders, of both have been supportive of climate action and progressive alliances at UN COP summits often have both blocs pushing for ambitious outcomes.
But sadly, the EU’s Green Deal response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been inward looking, a plan that ignores the needs of the people which most suffer from Europe’s historic emissions.
Provide climate finance
Africa is on the cusp of sweeping economic development. How its billion inhabitants power this development will have a significant impact on global efforts to address climate change.
For too long Africans have been without access to the energy resources which Europeans have exploited in abundance. And despite calls for European countries to provide sufficient climate finance for Africa and to share the benefits of Europe’s renewable energy technology, the support has been piecemeal.
That is why there are some voices pushing hard for Africa to shun efforts to develop along a green path and turn to our fossil fuel reserves instead, like Europeans have done over the past 150 years. This may be climate folly in the long term but without help from richer countries the prospect will be tempting for many African leaders.
If Europe wants to forge a new partnership with Africa – one which helps right the deep wrongs of the past, addresses the inequalities of the present and forges a prosperous future for all – its leaders need to make climate support a key pillar of the new relationship.
The first step is to provide technology and funding to help accelerate the African energy transition.
Africans are the most energy starved people in the world, which has held us back for decades. Yet we live in a continent with abundant clean energy potential. What we need is the support to harness this and use it to power our development and tackle the many challenges we face.
Further, this technology and funding needs to be channelled into African entities to build local jobs and capacity – it must not replicate the extractive and debt-driven models European companies and countries have adopted in Africa thus far.
A truly African clean energy revolution, which allows us to leapfrog fossil fuels, like we leapfrogged fixed-line telephones, would be a huge step to boosting African prosperity and tackling rising emissions.
Secondly, Europe needs to prioritise funding to help Africa adapt to the climate impacts already taking place, impacts that have been caused in large part due to European emissions. At COP26, rich nations failed to deliver on their promise to provide $100bn in climate finance by 2020 to begin to address the climate impacts that poor countries are suffering from.
We need to see much greater focus given to the adaptation needs of vulnerable communities. Europe must stop side-lining this issue if the world is going to have an equitable approach to dealing with the climate emergency. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report coming out at the end of this month will highlight the major adaptation needs the world is facing.
These two objectives should be atop the agenda at the summit in Brussels.
If a new alliance between Europe and Africa can be forged it will be the perfect launch pad for this year’s UN climate talks taking place on African soil in November, to accelerate climate action around the world.
But if not, these leaders risk exacerbating the climate crisis and creating a perilous, rather than prosperous, future for us all.