The EU-AU Summit: Considering Africa’s climate priorities

Women herd goats towards one of the few water points in Marsabit, Kenya. The Kenyan government has declared a national emergency as over 2 million people face the looming danger of worsening drought. Image: Getty, Siegfried Modola
Women herd goats towards one of the few water points in Marsabit, Kenya. The Kenyan government has declared a national emergency as over 2 million people face the looming danger of worsening drought. Image: Getty, Siegfried Modola

The EU-AU Summit takes place this year as Africa looks ahead to Egypt’s hosting of the twenty-seventh session of the Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in November 2022.

Already being billed as the ‘Africa COP’, the region is hoping to secure meaningful progress on its climate and resilient development agenda. The Africa region will be looking to leverage its partnerships and build on the commitments made last year at COP26. Though COP26 disappointed on many fronts, there were some significant steps taken that can serve as the foundation for progress this year.

Africa has made no secret of its climate priorities. The region insists that climate action should support its development and industrialisation ambitions. Achieving this will require skills and capacity development, technology transfer, the generation of green jobs, and significant investment. Progress on these fronts will not only help address climate challenges but can revitalise a regional economy weighed down by high inequality and the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as helping the region create opportunities for young, growing and urbanising populations and positioning Africa strategically in the context of emerging global economic and technological transitions. 

There is a strong history of collaboration on renewable energy investments between Africa and Europe, and the energy transition will no doubt feature prominently in discussions at the Summit. Electricity access remains low and unreliable in much of the continent; addressing this will be key to supporting growth and development in the region. But the region is not only looking for investment – it is acutely aware that the transition to a low carbon future comes with potentially high risks for jobs and industry in carbon-intensive sectors. Africa is therefore seeking support, both financial and technical, to ensure a just transition. At COP26, to initiate momentum is this regard, the EU and other partners proposed a partnership with South Africa to support a just transition to a low carbon future. 

Avoid Where Possible, Adapt Where Necessary

It is an unfortunate irony of the climate emergency that those countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change have contributed least to historical greenhouse gas emissions. This is certainly true for Africa. While efforts to reduce carbon emissions remain essential to the global climate response, it is apparent from numerous scientific reports (such as the IPCC’s sixth assessment report), and on the ground experiences, that at least some level of climate change is already occurring. This will continue to negatively impact societies, economies and livelihoods in the future. Given Africa’s heightened vulnerability, developmental challenges and fiscal constraints, there has long been an emphasis on the need for developed countries to assist Africa in adapting to unavoidable climate risks and responding to the issues of climate injustice.

Financing and, in the context of global climate negotiations, diplomatic support for adaptation will be an important element in the discussions at the EU-AU Summit. Indeed, financing across a range of climate issue areas is a priority for Africa, not only in terms of the quantum, but also in ensuring that barriers to accessing available financing are reduced. In addition, African countries are united in their call for developed countries, including the EU, to display further urgency and ambition in reducing carbon emissions. This includes ensuring that countries globally translate the commitments within their Nationally determined Contributions (NDCs) into urgent climate action.

An important aspect of the adaptation agenda in the Africa region is the question of how the protection and restoration of ecosystems can help the region build its resilience and adaptive capacity. Framed as nature-based solutions or ecosystem-based adaptation, these priorities are reflected in a range of policy documents, including the Africa Blue Economy Strategy and the draft African Union Climate Change and Resilient Development Strategy (2022-2032), as well as being reflected in regional initiatives such as the Great Green Wall initiative and the more recent Great Blue Wall initiative. Such nature-based solutions are an opportunity to align Africa’s biodiversity, development and climate agendas.

Delivering on the Green Deal

Fortunately, there is relatively strong alignment between Africa’s stated priorities and elements of the European Green Deal, as well as with Europe’s blueprint for a joint strategy with Africa (the European Union Commission and European External Action Service’s Joint Communication ‘Towards a Comprehensive Strategy with Africa’). The Green Deal highlights that climate and environmental issues will be key strands in collaboration between Europe and Africa, while also emphasising collaboration on green and circular economy issues, including sustainable energy and food systems, as well as smart cities. Biodiversity and climate linkages are similarly highlighted, while it is also explicitly recognised that global climate and environmental challenges are a significant threat multiplier and a source of instability.

That is not to say that there are no potential sticking points. The Green Deal is clear that the EU is willing to use ‘diplomatic and financial tools’, including trade policy and development support to pursue ‘green deal diplomacy’. African stakeholders will be very attentive to how this might play out in practical terms. Of particular concern is the move towards a carbon border adjustment mechanism to address ‘carbon leakage’, and the implications this may have for African exports to Europe. Europe also recognises that access to strategic raw materials is key to the production of green technologies, including renewable energy infrastructure. It has explicitly stated that it will work with global partners to ensure Europe’s resource security and reliable access to strategic raw materials; yet Africa, which possesses large reserves of these raw materials, will be looking to add value to these materials domestically and use them to support the development of green industries and the growth of green jobs locally.

Another concern around ‘green deal diplomacy’ is the extent to which this will constrain the region from benefiting from its fossil fuel reserves. While acknowledging the need to transition to renewable energy sources, many African states are already benefiting from, or have plans to develop, fossil fuel reserves. Kenya is an illustrative example: even as it was constructing the largest wind farm in Africa near Lake Turkana, it was developing oil fields in the very same region. Mozambique and Tanzania are forging ahead with developing their significant offshore gas reserves, South Africa seems set on developing offshore oil and gas finds, and Nigeria’s Dangote Refinery, the largest in Africa with capacity of processing 650,000 barrels of oil per day, is starting operations this year. Timelines for the transition away from fossil fuels, and the specifics of the policy carrots and sticks Europe would be willing to use to expedite the energy transition in its dealings with Africa, will undoubtedly result in some tough negotiations around the Summit and beyond.