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Home » Africa, Climate Change, COP21, EU-Africa Relations, Europe

A Europe-Africa marriage in Paris?

Submitted by on 30 Mar 2016 – 10:38

The EU-Africa rapprochement culminated in the creation of a “high-ambition coalition” during COP21. Before the end of negotiations, this coalition had been joined by the US, Canada, Japan and Brazil, among several others. Hanne Knaepen, Policy Officer on Climate Change, European Centre for Development Policy, discusses how EU-Africa relations could add value to the international climate policy process

HK 2Disagreements between Europe and Africa on how to tackle climate change have delayed progress at global climate conferences. The difference in their positions predominantly owed to the principles of equity and fairness. Europe’s economy could blossom for decades thanks to gravely polluting industries, causing temperatures to increase in Africa, animals to die, crops to perish and people to flee their worn-out lands. Africa, on the contrary, could only but adapt to these adverse climate impacts. Europe would work mostly on mitigating its own emissions. The Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997, was based on this divide.
By now, developing countries, including some African ones, have climbed the socioeconomic ladder. Some emit more than European countries. Global dynamics have changed. And, responses from politicians, companies and civil society have changed alike.

The Paris Agreement, signed by nearly 200 countries at the closure of COP21, is evidence of new forms of global climate action with all countries agreeing to progressively increase the ambition to decarbonise and build climate resilience.

First signs towards an engagement

In 2011, in Durban (COP17), an Africa-Europe coalition broke some of the deadlocks that plagued the COP. Both probably understood that joining hands would lead to more success instead of replicating the antagonistic positions taken in Copenhagen, two years earlier. In April 2014, during the 4th EU-Africa Summit, the EU and the African Union expressed their willingness to fight climate change together. Since then, diplomatic efforts, numerous travels and inter-ministerial meetings led to an even closer alignment. They did however not agree on all fronts: while Africa lobbied in favour of adaptation at the previous climate conferences, Europe maintained that adaptation measures in countries’ intended post-2020 climate actions (the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, INDCs) should be a voluntary choice.

A wedding with many guests

The EU-Africa rapprochement culminated in the creation of a high-ambition coalition during COP21 to marry disagreements and agreements. The EU teamed up with 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries in calling for an ambitious deal and agreed on the core elements of the envisioned Paris deal. Before the end of negotiations, this coalition had been joined by the US, Canada, Japan and Brazil, among others. This informal coalition put the necessary pressure on China and India. The success in Paris is partly thanks to multilateral diplomacy.

Building up a solid relationship

Ultimately, the Paris Agreement aims to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees. The heart of the Agreement is the ambitious mechanism by which progress towards meeting the 2 degrees limit is reviewed every 5 years. This creates a global “political moment” where countries can be encouraged to do more. As the key advocate of this mechanism, the EU must ensure this dynamic logic is reflected in its own legislative framework implementing its 2030 targets.

Agriculture has been high on the African climate agenda. This is because it constitutes almost 40 percent of Africa’s GDP and about 80 percent of Africans rely on it. Shocks to its production could have damaging effects. Although the Paris Agreement does not mention “agriculture”, it opens the door to food security. It also places adaptation (which is especially relevant in the agricultural sector), resilience and response to climate impacts at the heart of the new regime. Insurance will be provided to 400 million people in vulnerable countries by 2020. This will address the many problems of environmental refugees.

Can Europe-Africa relations add value to international climate policy processes?

Certainly, they can jointly contribute to the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement. Intensive work is needed. Once the honeymoon period wears off, the climate agreement will need what all solid marriages need: commitment, dedication and keeping one’s promises.

There are a number of promising initiatives, setting the pathway towards a carbon neutral world by 2050. During COP21, the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative was launched to help Africa leapfrog into low-carbon development. The EU and separate EU countries signed declaration to ensure Sustainable Energy for All in Africa with African partners.

The EU and Africa can also cooperate towards the elaboration of adaptation techniques, design indicators to measure the level of adaptation, and to find out whether adaptation methods contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases. The two blocs can also intensify their advocacy efforts to ensure that ‘agriculture’ can take an even more prominent place during the COP22 discussions in Marrakesh at the end of this year.