- By Jamie Shea
The year 2020 has been one for the history books. COVID-19 has ravaged the world claiming more than 1.5 million lives to date and pushing the global economy into a deep recession. While several vaccines are providing a glimmer of hope for stemming the health crisis, the social and economic impacts of the pandemic are likely to be felt for years to come. Every country and continent has been forced to confront high levels of uncertainty, and consider how best to protect themselves against sudden shocks and stresses.
Amidst the difficulties faced, the pandemic offers important insights. Critically, it highlights how unprepared we are to manage the impending climate change crisis. It also reveals that collective action, in times like these, is imperative. Yet, there are no guarantees that shared interest will trump a nationalist response. 2020 may therefore serve as a moment in history for another reason, proving to be the year when leaders all over the world, recognised the urgency of building that shared response to chart a new path forward. This difficult year may provide the impetus to leverage great opportunity and translate talk into action.
This was indeed the hope expressed by African and European leaders at the launch of the Africa Europe Foundation on 2 December 2020. This new initiative, founded by the Friends of Europe and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation together with the African Climate Foundation and ONE Campaign, offers a platform for a wide range of actors to foster stronger ties between Africa and Europe. Above all, it seeks to create a space for candid exchange and dialogue, for the incubation of new ideas, and for the acceleration of existing initiatives.
The primary purpose of the Africa Europe Foundation is to establish common ground in this uncertain world. We need to openly address diverging as well as converging issues, and identify flagship partnerships to unlock transformative change. Collective aspirations and voices from both continents make them powerful partners on the world stage.
Africa today is an increasingly powerful global player in a world of rapidly shifting geopolitics
One area of mutual interest and potential divide is climate change. Africa is evolving its own narrative around climate challenge and aspires to be both climate-resilient and reap the benefits from green investments and the new climate economy. Climate change is viewed as an intrinsic part of the development agenda, for both continents, as green investments and interventions have the potential to unlock a vast array of new opportunities for development. This is a position expressed in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and Green Recovery Action Plan and the European Union’s flagship Green Deal.
Taking these visions as their starting point, the Africa Europe Foundation, therefore, seeks to identify tangible opportunities for mutual cooperation between the two continents in the fields of sustainable energy, sustainable agriculture and food-systems, digitalisation, youth, transport, and health. Given the critical importance of agriculture and energy, these were the first two areas covered in the Foundation’s flagship report “Towards the Africa Europe Climate Alliance”, released on 9 December 2020.
Africa today is an increasingly powerful global player in a world of rapidly shifting geopolitics. Its relationship with Europe, and with other global powers is undergoing fundamental shifts that require a reset in the way Africa and Europe relate and plan for the future ahead. This has been welcomed by the European Union which recognises the critical importance of fostering a partnership of equals with the African Union, a sentiment clearly expressed by both organisations in the 2017 Abidjan Declaration. Here they emphasised a “common interest and opportunity for a paradigm shift to an even stronger, mutually beneficial partnership in the spirit of shared ownership, responsibility, reciprocity, respect and mutual accountability and transparency”.
This troubled year is an opportune moment for both continents to realise this paradigm shift. As the world starts to move out of the COVID health crisis and towards economic and social recovery, Africa and Europe have the opportunity to put climate change at the heart of their recovery plans. An innovative “Africa Europe Climate Alliance” based on mutual learning and joint interest provides a strong foundation on which to achieve this. A unique constellation of strategic milestones in 2021 and 2022 also provides an opportunity to build an Africa Europe Climate Alliance.
As the Nigerian proverb notes “(i)n the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams”
These include the sixth African Union-EU Summit, the UN Summit on Food Systems, the High-Level Dialogue on Energy and Global Health Summit, the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), and the EU Green Deal. With less than 12 months until the next UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), followed by COP27 in Africa, we can see a timeframe for the Africa-Europe partnership to pivot climate change issues towards a fresh and new narrative, with much greater emphasis given to the climate and development nexus.
As the Nigerian proverb notes “(i)n the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams”. Now is the time for Africa and Europe to build these bridges, to work together to chart a new path forward, bringing climate change to the centre of development and showing the world that a pathway to sustainable development is within our grasp. Let us seize this moment.
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