Europe and Africa need to learn the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic to bounce back with a vibrant and sustainable economic relaunch that can unleash the potential of green transition and inclusive digitalisation, speakers at the latest ‘Debating Africa-EU’ online event agreed on Thursday.
“The post-pandemic recovery process presents an opportunity for the green transition, for countries to build back better and to invest in a more environmentally friendly, sustainable and resilient economy,” (13:51) said Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture.
To achieve that, both public and private investment must be mobilised, and government and multilateral institutions on both sides of the Mediterranean need to work-hand-in hand to define priorities and free up financing for projects that really make a difference. “It is an opportunity for us, and Europe, working together to rethink and reimagine the way we are doing our work,” (23:29) added Amani Abou-Zeid, AU Commissioner for Infrastructure, Energy, ICT and Tourism. She stressed the importance of investment that improves Africans’ access to energy; develops renewable energy for rural communities, health, education and transport; and advances digitalisation.
The key role of digitalisation in boosting the post-COVID economic recovery and the green transition was emphasised by several speakers. “Doing things digitally saves a lot of time and money for companies and for private persons, so this is one of the pillars around which we should build our recovery plans. Another one is green transition,” (37:12) said Kadri Simson, European Commissioner for Energy. She said a joint AU-EU initiative to pursue green growth and sustainable development would be a “game changer” in relations between the two continents.
However, several participants raised questions about the difficulty of accessing financing for green transition projects in Africa. Raising money for renewable energy could be as painful as giving birth, said Damilola Ogunbiyi, Chief Executive Officer of Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair of UN-Energy. “Climate financing is very, very hard to target. If we still are working in a global economy where it’s easier to get financing for fossil than green, we are just losing out,” (44:52) Ogunbiyi told the debate. She also highlighted the problems of access to energy and fuel for clean cooking across Africa.
The ‘Debating Africa-EU’ series gives civil society an opportunity to interact with policymakers and influence the agenda in the run up to the AU-EU summit scheduled for the end of 2020. Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships, expressed hope that the EU would soon approve its Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for the next seven years, clearing the way for the Commission to ‘immediately start’ programming for development cooperation funding. “There will be some policy priorities, but I can assure you that one of them will be the green deal and green transition, and of course the other one will be digitalisation,” (1:05:15) she said. However, she too stressed the importance of also mobilising private investment. “The role of the private sector is also crucial because the needs are so huge, we are not able to solve them only through public funding,” (1:06:05) Urpilainen added.
As Africa and Europe seek to re-set their partnership, Friends of Europe is engaging with its partners across both continents about the long-term vision, as well as the diverging and converging issues at the heart of this established cooperation. Africa and Europe have a shared interest in accelerating work on the global agenda for sustainable development and facing together the climate and environmental emergency. The Covid-19 crisis is exposing the lack of resilience on the fundamentals of life (water, food, health, energy and biodiversity) and the urgency to rethink our common future as Africa and Europe.
Through its “Debating Africa-EU” series, Friends of Europe is focused on engaging its partners and the new EU College of Commissioners around their vision and priorities for EU-Africa cooperation. The series has been timed to take place in the run-up to the AU-EU Summit in October 2020. Following an introduction by the European Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, the second ‘In Conversation With’ in this series takes place on September 10th with the European Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, the African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, Amani Abou-Zeid, and the African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, Josefa Sacko and the African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, Amani Abou-Zeid with a strategic focus on “Building a greener and fairer future for Africa-Europe”.
Past Event Recordings
- The Next Generation of Africa Europe Relations, with Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen
- Strategic conversation with Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA)
- Strategic conversation with Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu, Chief Executive Officer of the Tony Elumelu Foundation
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The global pandemic has put into perspective what really matters – our health and wellbeing on a sustainable planet. No two continents and their destinies are more closely linked than Europe and Africa. Guided by a green agenda, we must strengthen our partnership to emerge stronger from today’s pandemic, climate and environmental crises. Investing in a green transition could deliver many of the jobs and long-term prosperity that Africa and Europe need to achieve our visions for Agenda 2063 and the Green Deal. Both our continents have a mutually beneficial opportunity to work together to reset our relationship, and shift investment in favour of more sustainable production and consumption, as well as addressing inequalities, poverty and energy access.
- What are the converging and diverging issues and interests at the heart of the Africa-Europe relationship on green transitions, and how can we address them? How can we join forces on the transition to low carbon and circular economies?
- Does the proposed EU Strategy with Africa provide an opportunity to rethink our common destiny and transform our relationship towards a fairer, greener and more sustainable future?
- How can the EU build with Africa a strong partnership to roll-out cleaner, more sustainable and secure energy access, resilient infrastructure, and regional integration for energy security?
- How can the renewed partnership offer a framework for Europe to work with African countries in their efforts to mobilise and align a wide range of financing sources with their sustainable development priorities?
- The proposed EU strategy with Africa but also the Agenda 2063 recognise the importance of biodiversity. How can we engage to tackle biodiversity loss for the benefits of people and for a long-term economic development?
European Commissioner for International Partnerships
African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure, Energy, ICT and Tourism
Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko
African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture
European Commissioner for Energy
Chief Executive Officer of Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair of UN-Energy
Director of Insights at Friends of Europe
Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid is the African Union Commissioner in charge of Infrastructure, Energy, ICT and Tourism. For more than 30 years, Dr Abou-Zeid, an Egyptian nation, has served in leadership positions in international organisations and has amassed a remarkable mix of experience from across continents and stakeholders. She has managed AfDB largest operational portfolio and implemented national and continental multi-sectoral development programmes, including implementing the world’s largest solar power plant. In 2018, she launched the Single African Air Transport Market, delivering on the first flagship project for African Integration under African Union Agenda 2063. This year, she launched Africa’s digital transformation strategy and many other continental initiatives and projects. Dr Abou-Zeid has a multi-disciplinary education: Electrical Engineering, Cairo University; MBA, Université Senghor; MPA, Harvard University; and Ph.D. Social and Economic Development, The University of Manchester.
Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, from Angola, was elected as the Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union Commission in 2017. Prior to her current role, she was nominated as executive administrator on the Administrative Council of the Funds for Agriculture Development and also served as Special Adviser to two ministers in Angola, the minister of environment and the minister of agriculture. Commissioner Sacko is a leading agronomist and was the former Secretary-General of the Inter-African Coffee Organization (IACO). Sacko also served as special adviser to the Vice-President of The Panafrican Woman Organization for Southern African Region.
Damilola Ogunbiyi is CEO of Sustainable Energy for All, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair of UN-Energy. She is also a Commissioner for the Global Commission to End Energy Poverty. Damilola Ogunbiyi was formerly the Managing Director of the Nigerian Rural Electrification Agency and the General Manager of the Lagos State Electricity Board. She also worked as a Senior Special Assistant to the President on Power and Head of the Advisory Power Team in the Office of the Vice President of Nigeria.
EU Commissioner Kadri Simson currently oversees the Commission’s work on energy. She was previously an Estonian politician from the Centre Party and the Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure in Jüri Ratas’ first cabinet from 2016 to 2019. During the Estonian Presidency in the Council of the EU, Simson chaired both energy ministers and transport ministers meetings in Transport, Telecommunication and Energy Council and ministers of economy format in EU Competitiveness Council. From 2007 to 2016, she was a member of Estonia’s parliament and served as chairman of the Estonian Centre Party, and the deputy chairman of the National Defence Committee. She holds a degree in History at the University of Tartu and a Master’s degree in Political Science from University College London.
EU Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen currently oversees the Commission’s work on international partnerships, in addition to being an outspoken advocate for gender equality, social justice and youth participation. Before joining the Commission, Ms Urpilainen served as a Member of the Finnish Parliament from 2003 to 2019. In 2008, she became the first woman leader of the Social Democratic Party of Finland. From 2011 to 2014, she served as Finland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister. During that time, she became closely involved in development issues. She served as the Foreign Minister’s Special Representative on Mediation (2017-19) and chaired the Finnish National Commission for UNESCO (2015-18).
Prior to joining Friends of Europe, Dharmendra Kanani was director of policy at the European Foundation Centre (EFC). He was the England director at the Big Lottery Fund, the largest independent funder in the UK and fourth largest in the world. Dharmendra has held senior positions in the public and voluntary sector and advisor to numerous ministerial policy initiatives across the UK.
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