In March this year, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Foreign Policy Chief Joseph Borrell announced a new EU strategy for Africa.
At the launch, they outlined five key areas where closer EU-Africa cooperation would focus, including sustainable growth and jobs, peace and governance, migration and mobility, digital transformation, and green transformation.
Von der Leyen argued that the move marked a new chapter in relations with Africa, saying, “The strategy is a roadmap for moving forward and taking our partnership to the next level. Africa is the EU’s natural partner and neighbour.
Together we can build a more prosperous, more peaceful and more sustainable future for all.” The Commission’s ambitious plan aims to “maximise the benefits of the green transition to create more carbon neutral economies and minimise threats to the environment in full compliance with the Paris Climate Change Agreement.”
This will include increasing environmental, social and financially sustainable European investments in Africa.
Despite this new emphasis on closer cooperation to tackle climate change, Executive Vice-President for the European Commission Frans Timmermans, accepted much more had to be done to help developing countries adapt, especially if the EU wanted African support when pushing for deeper global cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
“You have sun, you have wind, and you have the coastline, ideally placed to be extremely successful in renewable energy for wind and solar” Executive Vice-President for the European Commission Frans Timmermans
Although the historic 2015 Paris Agreement established the goal of limiting the rise in global warming temperatures to below two degrees Celsius, national commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are thought to be inadequate in reaching that target, with further carbon emission cuts expected.
Timmermans who is responsible for the EU’s flagship European Green Deal initiative, stressed that if any future climate change agreements were going to succeed, “The EU and African Union positions will be need to be aligned as closely as possible.”
Speaking in South Africa just after the launch of the EU strategy for Africa, Timmermans also accepted that in the past the perceived lack of help by Europe and the West generally to African countries caused differences, especially with South Africa. “We now have to be serious about adaptation because that was a bone of contention between the two of us in the past,” said Timmermans.
However, Timmermans said that his visit had been a success in terms of agreeing a closer position on climate change between the EU, South Africa and the African Union. Reflecting on his South African visit, he said, “It was also good for me to learn from so many people that the issue of climate change might not be the first concern of people who are struggling.”
He admitted, that one of the big promises which the EU and other richer countries needed to keep, was to properly fund the global Green Climate Fund, launched in 2010 to help poorer countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Timmermans said the commitments to the fund were still, “only on paper, and there was a need to follow up and show that we [the EU] are going to put real money on the table.”
Along with more cash, the EU also intends to launch tailor-made climate change programmes for each of the African Union’s members. In his discussions with the South African government, transitioning from coal to renewables as an energy source was identified as a key area where the EU could help African Union Member States.
Being a grandson of a coal miner, Timmermans said he knew change could be difficult and painful. But despite the challenges he was optimistic saying, “You have sun, you have wind, and you have the coastline, ideally placed to be extremely successful in renewable energy for wind and solar.”
“In my dreams, I would create a partnership with Africa, especially in North Africa, where we will build huge capacity to produce solar energy” Executive Vice-President for the European Commission Frans Timmermans
But Timmermans - as he has done from the beginning of his tenure as Commission Executive Vice President - stresses the potential and need, for closer cooperation with Africa on renewable energy production.
Speaking to MEPs during his Commission hearing in 2019, he said, “In my dreams, I would create a partnership with Africa, especially in North Africa, where we will build huge capacity to produce solar energy and transform that energy into hydrogen production which can be exported to other parts of the world.”
Stressing the geopolitical need for stability on Europe’s Southern flank, which cooperation on renewable energy could help bring, he said, “Let’s not kid ourselves, if we do not incorporate North Africa and the rest of the continent in our plans, we will always be vulnerable from that side.”
It remains to be seen whether the EU’s new strategy for Africa, will be able to help fulfil Timmerman’s dream.