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Spare no effort to stem climate change effects

By Jutta Urpilainen | October 24th 2020

Over the past few months, the world as we know it has changed in ways we could not have imagined a year ago. However, even before the pandemic hit, the path to a sustainable future was under threat.

At the same time, we started to build a new partnership between Africa and Europe. A partnership that turns some of the great challenges facing us, like the climate emergency and the digital divide, into solutions for a better future. Twin continents embracing together the twin transition. Building on shared interests and values, our new approach puts forward win-win opportunities for both Africa and Europe. Last March, the European Commission put forward a proposal ‘Towards a comprehensive strategy with Africa’. Building on the priorities agreed at Abidjan in 2017 and the successful work of the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs, the joint communication marks the beginning of a new chapter.

Together, we face problems related to the climate emergency, biodiversity loss and pollution. We have to reconcile planet and economy, and the European Union took a critical step forward with the launch of the European Green Deal. From the way we produce to the way we consume, the Green Deal is an ambitious growth strategy, which aims to take on the massive climate and environmental challenges facing us. Our success will hinge on working with partner countries through partnerships, including trade agreements and green initiatives. For this, we need allies and partnerships.

A crucial partnership is with our closest neighbour, twin continent and natural partner: Africa. The EU and Africa need to opt for a low-carbon, resource efficient and climate-resilient future to deliver the SDGs. We can achieve that by having a solid international partnership with ambitious objectives. This means proposing integrated responses that tackle climate change and environmental degradation, and consider the economic and social dimensions.

There is work to be done. GDP exposure in African nations vulnerable to extreme climate patterns is projected to grow from $895 billion in 2018 to about $1.4 trillion in 2023, nearly half of the continent’s GDP (based on pre-Covid-19 estimates). The cost of inaction is greater than action. And we need to act together.

I am proud of our Team Europe response in Africa. We have supported measures such as the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative, we organised a global pledging conference for vaccines raising euros 16 billion, and we have collectively with our Member States, as Team Europe, allocated euros 7 billion in support to Africa.

Covid-19 lessons

But our work is not done, we must learn important lessons from this pandemic. Firstly, we must not wait around for crises to hit, secondly we must learn to think in the long-term, and be proactive as well as reactive.

Our focus should be on making rapid progress on areas with great potential for both our continents: sustainable energy and food systems, protecting biodiversity through restoring ecosystems, fighting wildlife trafficking, and sustainable forest, land and protected area management. With our project “Beyond livelihoods at the Lake Naivasaha” in Kenya, we show how the fight to save biodiversity and reverse the changing climate can help restore communities in a very difficult situation.

One thing for sure is that the green transition will need massive investments. Public funds alone won’t be enough. This is why we are de-risking investment to pave the road for more private sector engagement in Africa and to support the green transition for all.

Covid-19 is arguably the biggest test the world has faced since the Second World War. We are at a crossroads. There has never been a better moment for Africa and Europe to join forces. “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” This is the ageless wisdom of the great Nelson Mandela. Let’s together build a better tomorrow.

 -The writer is the European commissioner for International Partnerships

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