While the EU green transition attaches great importance to the African continent, what the future holds for African countries under this deal is the main question.
When the European Commission introduced a set of goals to tackle climate change and environmental degradation, it opened up a path for economic recovery for African nations as well.
The EU policy, part of the broader European Green Deal (EGD), looks at ways to address issues related to climate, energy, transportation and taxation to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030. The strategy is aimed as a multifaceted map for international climate policy, prominently including boosting and finding economic opportunities following the energy transition.
The target implementations of the EGD towards African countries widen in various areas, such as agriculture, biodiversity, energy, critical raw materials (CRMs), circular economy, new technologies, and finance.
Among them, the crucial factor is energy. A drop in European demand for fossil fuels, combined with a rise in demand for cobalt, nickel, and other minerals for the energy transition will have a significant impact on global markets, as well as oil-dependent and mineral-rich African countries.
“EU countries generally have a serious energy supply problem. They are in a situation now that we can call an energy shock, especially after the pandemic. Although they show a will to prioritise renewable energy from existing sources as much as they need, this is currently a serious problem due to the situation created by Covid-19,” said Filiz Katman, an assistant professor at Istanbul Aydin University who has done extensive studies on energy and security.
According to Katman, Africa emerges as a prominent alternative for this type of energy supply considering the steep increase in natural gas prices.
“Africa is an oasis of renewable energy resources for Europe. When we look at the European Green Deal text, we see that a special title has opened for Africa. There are no other pages that specifically mentions another region like this one,” Katman told TRT WORLD.
As President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen remarked during the EU-Africa Forum on Green Investment in Africa in April 2021, the deal is not only about combating climate change but also a win-win economic recovery, simultaneously in Europe and Africa.
No wonder, the green transition is at the centre of the Africa political discussion with the African Union’s " ‘Agenda 2063: the Africa we want’ strategic framework.
African countries contribute only about 3 percent of global carbon emissions. But the continent has been facing the impacts of global climate change on a much bigger scale than any other part of the world—from locust infestations to devastating droughts and floods that have forced millions of Africans to leave their homes in search of food, water and livelihood.
Economic development and jobs are the main agenda of most African countries. But many African leaders are concerned that the enactment of the European Green Deal could damage Africa’s structural transformation process.
Consequently, this raises the question of what prospects and risks this agreement will present for Africa.
Access to energy: The report of Africa Energy Outlook of the International Energy Agency assesses that about 580 million people in Africa lack access to energy.
The health crisis and economic difficulty induced by Covid-19 are forcing countries to move away from achieving universal energy access. As Africa has immense potential for renewable energy, specifically solar, the shift toward cheap renewable energy with the deal could provide increased energy access across the continent.
Expanding production: Considering that global food demand will rise by as much as 60 percent by 2050, only some EU states can provide adequate land to meet this demand. Thus, the EU will increasingly rely on food imports.
South Africa particularly, has at least 1.3 million hectares of additional cropland that may serve for sustainable production.
South Africa may expand its production to meet an increasingly important portion of the EU’s food demands. This can happen if local food systems are adapted and aligned to new regulatory standards, especially the agricultural sector, with new technological innovation.
Adopting new technologies: The EU will be required to expand its import of raw materials to sustain the development of new technologies for the green transition. Hence, the EU will likely seek to improve the supply of critical raw materials vital for clean technologies, digital, space and defence applications.
As the need for these materials will grow, this will likely create new trade opportunities for the African continent since it is rich in raw materials.
As for the agriculture sector, this process will presumably boost the adoption of high-yielding, drought and pest-tolerant genetically engineered crops. These will allow farmers to cultivate more crops in less land. This will also permit more land to be set aside for protection and grow the possibility for carbon sequestration which is a priority for the EU Green deal.
Enhancing Unemployment: The EU is Africa’s largest trading partner of exports from oil-dependent African countries coming from fossil fuel. Following the Green Deal and more focus on renewable energy, exports from Africa may become costly and unappealing to consumers, thus discouraging exporters.
Mineral-rich economies with promising prospects, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, will likely be severely impacted by decisions the world's largest trading partner makes.
Moreover, this can offer major challenges, such as widespread unemployment due to job losses and stranded assets for countries such as Nigeria and Angola that currently rely on fossil fuels and coal.
In this sense, Africa’s path over low-carbon economies might force the continent to pick between climate goals and employment creation in the short term.
Advancing Unfairness and Inequality: The EU Green Deal plans to impose a carbon board adjustment mechanism and emission taxation to prevent the threat of carbon leakage and achieve its 2050 purposes. Such tax penalties might severely impact the African continent and its economies. Also, rich nations had promised in 2009 to pay $100 billion a year for five years from 2020 to poorer countries to help them tackle global warming. But the funding is set to be delayed by three years due to the pandemic and other related reasons.
According to African Climate Foundation’s (ACF) Podcast Series titled Africa’s Voices: Messages for the COP, Prof. Carlos Lopes, it is unfair to compel African countries to suffer from international policies and agreements invented to address their own ecological problems though Africa is the least contributor to the imminent ecological catastrophe of climate change.
He added that telling African countries not to use the same course as wealthy countries, who have profited from carbon-intensive consumption patterns of development and made themselves rich, and making it punitive for Africans to emit greenhouse gases is unfair while they try to meet economic needs.
Moreover, he highlighted the fact that the deal gives wealthy nations, which can afford to invest in green developments, a one-sided advantage over African countries which cannot afford the huge financial obligation of retrofitting their economies green.
Eventually, this may further increase inequality between African and wealthier countries yet again.
In this regard, Katman emphasises that there is more to be done if the EU really intends to implement this agreement.
“For this agreement to fully fulfill its function, it is necessary for the EU to increase domestic and renewable energy resources and transform its connection with Africa into a much more serious and more qualified one.”