Forging an Africa-Europe Climate Alliance: green transition, sustainable energy and agriculture

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Forging an Africa-Europe Climate Alliance: green transition, sustainable energy and agriculture


Fostering new partnerships through an Africa-Europe Climate Alliance

No two continents and their destinies are more closely linked than Europe and Africa, so they must urgently reinforce partnerships to emerge stronger from today’s pandemic and climate emergency crises. Guided by a green agenda, their efforts should have a strategic focus on sustainable agriculture and energy.

These key conclusions emerged at the fourth meeting of the High-Level Group of Personalities on EU-Africa Relations, held online on 1 July 2020 under the banner ‘Forging an Africa-Europe Climate Alliance’. The meeting was convened by Friends of Europe in partnership with the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and the One Campaign, with participants including Frans Timmermans (Executive Vice-President of the European Commission), Damilola Ogunbiyi (Special Representative of UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All), Fatih Birol (Executive Director of the International Energy Agency), Jutta Urpilainen (Commissioner for International Partnerships) and Mo Ibrahim (Chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and Co-Founder of the EU/Africa High-Level Group).

Senior figures from both continents spoke frankly about taking their partnership to the next level, especially in the context of COVID-19. One participant underlined “this is a once in a generation opportunity and responsibility to reset cooperation and address structural change”. The pandemic’s economic impact has been far more significant in Africa than other parts of the world, but it also gives governments a unique chance to reset their economies, address inequalities and tackle core issues such as energy access. According to one African participant, “This global pandemic has put into perspective what really matters – our health and sustainable future. Both continents must work together for a more sustainable growth model.”

The meeting explored ways for both sides to capitalise on the EU’s Green Deal and its economic aspirations as well as environmental ambitions. One speaker called the Green Deal a “growth strategy that could also become an economic recovery strategy”, underpinning a green transition on both continents. However, there remains diverging perspectives and approaches to cooperation on sustainable development and green transition. Africa must confront vital issues such as providing food security and access to energy to its people before setting energy targets like those Europe has for renewables and decarbonisation.

Universal energy access

As a fundamental necessity, Africa needs to roll out universal electricity access, as 565 million Africans still lack this. Renewable sources should be the ultimate goal, wherever possible. The possibilities are there – infrastructure such as large grids is not necessary; solar power is becoming much cheaper, and renewable hydrogen offers great potential. But the transition to a greener and more resilient Africa will mean tapping into all energy resources, including natural gas, which will boost industrialisation and cleaner cooking solutions.

Youth should also be top of the EU-Africa partnership agenda, given that 60% of Africa’s population is under 25. “With progressive EU policies, Africa’s youth bulge could provide Europe with a huge new market over the next 30 years; if not, it could become a source of legal or illegal migration,” warned one African speaker. Participants called for more and better education and access to information across Africa, notably vocational training for young people to become commercial farmers. Both sides must also include more youth at the negotiation table, including the EU-Africa Summit that will be held this October.

African women, the continent’s new economic backbone

Women play an increasingly important role in Africa, for example making up half of the political appointments in Rwanda, South Africa and Ethiopia. Speakers also highlighted the powerful voice of women in African leadership and grassroots networks, and their expertise in problem-solving, especially during this pandemic. Women leaders will largely drive Africa’s transformation, and help to reinforce links with Europe.
Europe can offer vital investment support for Africa through risk capital and more guarantees for development banks. Now is a good time to link up investment funds seeking a greener portfolio with African businesses, such as for green economy joint ventures in energy and agribusiness.

Innovation is another key avenue for EU-Africa partnerships. This includes building on the upcoming outcomes of the High-Level Policy dialogue on Science, Technology and Innovation, and better linking Africa’s network of innovation hubs with Europe and with the support of the EU ‘moon-shot’ missions.

“This is a one-off moment to define our ambition for EU-Africa partnership building and specific visionary ideas,” underlined the moderator in concluding remarks. “The upcoming Europe-Africa Climate Alliance in particular will offer mechanisms to foster new partnerships that would address key issues of a sustainable future, a green transition, energy access, sustainable agri-food systems and growth, and most importantly jobs.”



The 4th Meeting of the High-Level Group of Personalities will focus on the potential for an Africa-Europe Climate Alliance as a central plank of the two regions’ efforts to renew and reset their relations. The meeting will identify key areas of convergence and divergence in the two continents’ approach to climate change and sectoral cooperation on Sustainable Agriculture and Sustainable Energy, with a strategic focus on the rethink required today for long-term development.

Given the current context, are policy-makers right to talk about a “green recovery” or a more holistic transformative climate change-development nexus? What are the areas of convergence and divergence when it comes to an Africa-Europe Strategic Climate Alliance? In which way can Africa and Europe enhance its economic, social and environmental resilience through sustainable energy and agri-food systems, and what are the catalytic and transformative initiatives which could define Africa-Europe cooperation in these domains? The output of the High-Level Group Meeting will help shape the preparation of the AU-EU Summit planned for the end of October 2020 including the preparation of a new report with a thematic focus on the green agenda, sustainable energy and agriculture to be finalised in the leadup to the Summit.

Members of the High Level Group will be joined by guests including Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, Amani Abou- Zeid, African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships, Saliem Fakir, Executive Director of the African Climate Foundation, and Sara Mbago-Bhunu, Director for East and Southern Africa Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD – among many others.

The EU-Africa High-Level Group of personalities is a joint initiative launched by Friends of Europe, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and the ONE Campaign in 2018. Meeting twice a year, once in Africa and once in Europe, the group explores mutually beneficial ways for the two continents to work together effectively across core policy areas, including development cooperation, trade, investments, entrepreneurship, digital, migration flows, security, and climate change.

The selected EU and African personalities are high-level experts and much-respected thinkers who can provide honest opinions and ideas, not afraid to speak truth to power. The high-level group helps craft a new narrative for a modernised and prospect-oriented Africa-Europe relationship. Their suggestions and recommendations not only feed into the strategies of upcoming political discussions in Africa and the EU but also ensure concrete actions.

This event is exclusively for members of the EU-Africa High-Level Group and invited guests.

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PHOTO CREDIT: European space agency (ESA)



Building a sustainable EU-Africa climate alliance
Expand Building a sustainable EU-Africa climate alliance

Introductory remarks by Mo Ibrahim, Founder and Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and Founding Member of the EU-Africa High-Level Group of Personalities, and Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships.

Scene setting by Damilola Ogunbiyi, Special Representative for Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair of United Nations-Energy, and Chief Executive Officer of SEforALL, and Kandeh Yumkella, Special Advisor on leading African energy initiatives and agricultural economist. This will be followed by an open debate.

Institutional perspectives will be provided by both Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission and Amani Abou- Zeid, African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, with Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), providing insights from the African Ministerial Roundtable the day before.

The final part of the meeting will focus on the upcoming strategic milestones for Africa-Europe cooperation and orientations for the HLG report on the green agenda, sustainable sustainable energy and agriculture.

End of meeting
Participating Members

Participating Members

Fatih Birol
Fatih Birol

Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA)

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Dr Fatih Birol has served as Executive Director of the IEA since 2015, taking up his current position after rising through the ranks of the IEA over two decades. He has been named in TIME’s annual list of the world’s 100 most influential people and by Forbes as one of the most influential people in the world of energy. He chairs the World Economic Forum’s (Davos) Energy Advisory Board and is the recipient of numerous state decorations, including the French Legion of Honour and the Japanese Emperor’s Order of the Rising Sun.

Etienne Davignon
Etienne Davignon

President of Friends of Europe, Belgian Minister of State and former European Commission Vice-President

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Etienne (Stevy) Davignon is one of the few statesmen in Europe who has been actively involved in EU affairs from the beginning, from his early role as Chief of Staff to Paul-Henri Spaak to today. He has held high-level positions in both the public and private sectors, including as Vice-President of the European Commission, President of the Société Générale de Belgique, first President of the International Energy Agency and through various board mandates.

Photo of Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe
Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe

Former prime minister of Ethiopia and former president of the African Union

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Hailemariam served as 14th Prime Minister of Ethiopia and as Chair of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the ruling party, from 2012 to 2018. He also previously served as deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. His politics builds on that of his predecessor Zenawi, contributing to making Ethiopia a bastion of stability, inhabited by over 100 million people. Hailemariam also served as the chairperson of the African Union during his time as prime minister.

Photo of Mo Ibrahim
Mo Ibrahim

Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the Africa-Europe Foundation, Founder and Chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Founding Chairman of Satya Capital Limited, Founder of Mobile Systems International (MSI) and Celtel International, and Trustee of Friends of Europe

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Sudanese-born Mo Ibrahim built his fortune in telecommunications, landing him a place on the Forbes 2011 Billionaire list. One of his many successful ventures was Celtel International, operating as one of Africa’s leading mobile telephone companies which pioneered mobile services in the continent. In 2006, he established the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in order to support good governance and exceptional leadership on the African continent. His approach is two-fold: to reward responsible leaders through the annual Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, and to highlight countries with good governance through the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG). In shedding light on democracy and human rights in African nations, Ibrahim aims to re-brand Africa and change the perceptions many have of the continent.

Photo of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

First democratically elected female head of state in Africa, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Honorary Co-President of the Africa-Europe Foundation

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Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the world’s first elected black female president and Africa’s first elected female head of state. Ellen began her political career in William Tolbert’s government as Deputy Minister of Finance in 1971. After Samuel Doe seized power in a coup d’état, Ellen fled to the United States. Returning to Liberia, she won the 2005 presidential election and remained in office until 2018. In 2016, she was elected as the Chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), making her the first woman to hold the position since it was created. In 2011, Ellen was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman, “for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”.

Photo of Pascal Lamy
Pascal Lamy

Vice President of the Paris Peace Forum, former director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Trustee of Friends of Europe and Member of the Africa-Europe Foundation High-Level Group of Personalities

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Pascal Lamy is a French politician and the Vice President of the Paris Peace Forum, a new innovative global governance initiative. He served as the director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) for two consecutive terms, prior to which he was the European commissioner for trade and head of cabinet for former Commission president, Jacques Delores. Currently an associate professor at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, Lamy also frequently lectures at the Institut Jacques Delors and speaks on issues related to globalisation, global governance, international trade, international economics and regional integration. He has written several publications on the European Union and the ‘harmonising’ of globalisation.

Photo of Carlos Moedas
Carlos Moedas

Mayor of Lisbon, former EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, former Portuguese Under Secretary of State and Trustee of Friends of Europe

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Vera Songwe
Vera Songwe

United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa and Member of the Africa-Europe Foundation Women Leaders Network (WLN)

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