Tetchy Africa-Europe relations threaten COP27, warns Africa-Europe Foundation

By Anne-Marie Bissada
Posted on Friday, 28 October 2022 14:17

European Union - African Union summit 2022
Officials during a European Union - African Union summit, in Brussels, Belgium February 18, 2022. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Pool2

A little over a week ahead of the opening of UN COP27 climate summit in Egypt, the fractious relations between the continent and the rich nations of Europe are undermining the possibility of substantive progress at the meeting, according to a report just released by the Africa Europe Foundation.

The AEF report argues that relations between Africa and Europe “have worsened since mid-February’s AU-EU summit and following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”.

Two of the main causes, according to the report, are “…the inequitable responses to the Covid-19 pandemic and the failure to deliver on climate finance, [which] have highlighted the clear economic and power imbalances between our two continents”.

African officials say they resent being told by the wealthiest countries what needs to be done to curb climate change – yet those very countries have not been leading by example and are producing the vast majority of climate warming carbon emissions.

At a pre-launch meeting for the AEF report in Brussels on 27 October, Mohamed ‘Mo’ Ibrahim, the British-Sudanese activist philanthropist, called for a reset in Africa-Europe relations.

“Think and don’t take Africa for granted. Africa has many suitors,” Ibrahim said. “Europe needs to understand that… Don’t talk down to Africa. Don’t issue instructions to Africa. It doesn’t work.”

“To be frank, I’m worried. I don’t think enough agreements, enough discussion, or even agreements have taken place,” says Ibrahim on the sidelines of the launch of the event.

“[…] the changing global situation with war in Ukraine, and the associated global shorts have developed some leaders’ attention away from the climate debate ahead of us. I’m a little bit worried.”

The AEF report notes three areas of strategic focus to help steer the European-African relations towards a productive relationship, particularly in the context of climate change:

  • Delivering on commitments;
  • Driving global governance;
  • Making partnership on climate work.

Commitments with a grain of salt

His own foundation released a report in May titled The Road to COP27, Making Africa’s Case in the Climate Debate. The report outlines the paradox of “Africa being the least responsible for the climate crisis, but paying the highest price globally for it”.

In the lead-up to COP27, one major issue in light of the Russia-Ukraine war has been energy. When Russia turns off its gas tap, where does Europe go? The answer looks to be Africa for sourcing, but not for development.

The DRC recently announced its decision to auction off 30 oil and gas blocks worth $600m in the Congo Basin, popularly known as the ‘lungs of Africa’. However, Washington’s climate envoy John Kerry immediately shut down this decision and tried to convince the DRC to change its course at the pre-COP27 that was held in Kinshasa in early October.

In the same vein, since last year’s COP26, despite promises to cut down greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, South Africa has upped its exporting of coal to Europe by five times between January to September period.

“South Africa [had] a level of greenhouse gas emissions, which [was] quite high. [It] was supported by [the] European Union and Germany to go through a just transition, but with the war in Ukraine, South Africa exported to Germany five times the level of coal… so commitments on the just transition are put aside for a moment in order to export coal to Germany, which is contrary to the just transition,” says Ibrahim Mayaki, AEF’s strategy group co-chair on agri-foods systems on the state of Au-EU relations and Niger’s former prime minister.

People should hear what 1.4 billion people have to say.

South Africa is a specific example, but in general, the level of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) has jumped, rather than gone down. “GHG concentrations are currently at their highest levels in 2 million years, which means the Earth is 1.1 degrees celsius warmer than in the late 1800s,” says the Mo Ibrahim report. 80% of global emissions come from the countries that make up the G20, whereas Africa as an entire continent contributes less than 4%.

The AEF report notes that one way to rectify the imbalance in terms of demands made on African countries to have more decision-making power in exporting or producing energy would be to make the African Union the 21st member of the G20.

This would be a “failsafe mechanism for the African priorities to remain high on the multilateral agenda and provide a foundation on which the Africa-Europe partnership could play a strong role in the international arena”, says the report.

“People should hear what 1.4 billion people have to say,” says Ibrahim.

‘Crisis of leadership’

A change in how global leadership is formed is what may be key to unlocking productive partnerships to tackle universal issues, namely climate change in this context.

The global crisis (energy, financial, climate, pandemic) we are currently witnessing can be changed through effective leadership.

“I’ve seen leaders emerge who can change the system by two or three ideas, […] so [this] crisis is at the same time, a crisis of leadership,” says Mayaki.

As the AEF report notes, the Africa-Europe relationship is still living in the colonial shadow, making partnerships imbalanced. This imbalance reverberates globally leaving Africa’s voice behind.

“I think even the global order itself needs to evolve to something more representative,” says Ibrahim.

If African leaders are not at the helm, major decision-making organisations or organs, such as the UN (no African country is a permanent member of the Security Council), the G8, the G12, or the G20, then the world order remains in a perpetual state of imbalance.

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