Europe and Africa can only achieve energy transition together
This year, Europe and Germany in particular are moving from ambitious announcements to decisive action on climate protection. At last! For our continent, the climate turnaround is a Herculean task - and despite all the ambition and investments, it can only be accomplished if we cooperate closely with Africa right from the start.
Any climate goal that Europe sets itself will literally go up in smoke if the countries of Africa and other developing countries continue to meet their growing energy needs primarily with coal and gas. Nearly half of Africa's 1.3 billion people still lack electricity, and the population is expected to double by 2050. According to estimates by the International Energy Agency, electricity demand will almost quadruple by then.
The success of European climate programs therefore also depends crucially on wind and solar energy - in addition to electricity generation from hydropower - becoming a supporting part of all development programs in Africa. At first glance, this seems to be another almost insurmountable task. But if it succeeds, climate transformation can become a booster for economic growth, in Europe and Africa.
The key to climate success lies in the massive expansion of power generation from renewable energies. This applies to Germany, which aims to double to triple this capacity by 2030, and also to the EU and Africa. Because in energy-intensive industries in particular, coal and gas can probably only be replaced in a CO2-neutral way by green hydrogen, the demand for green electricity is growing gigantically: because hydrogen production by electrolysis requires huge amounts of it, more than we can produce here.
Europe can therefore only meet its electricity needs if a large proportion is produced in Africa in the future and exported from there to the EU. The aim is to simultaneously drive electrification in Africa and build large-scale plants to produce green hydrogen for export. So far, the necessary technologies for the green hydrogen economy are still in their infancy. But the EU and the European Investment Bank (EIB) stand ready to provide massive support for the necessary investments in research and development, as well as facilities for industrial production.
In the case of renewable energies, it has already been shown how much start-up financing pays off: The production costs of solar power have fallen by a good 80 percent in the past decade, and of wind power by 40 percent. The cheapest electricity now comes from these energy sources - we should also keep this in mind in light of the currently very high energy prices.
When the heads of government of the EU and the African Union meet in Brussels in mid-February, the summit should discuss ways to transfer climate technology and trade in energy, in addition to trade cooperation. The opportunities would be enormous if innovative technologies could be rolled out simultaneously in Europe and Africa. "Cooperation at eye level with Africa" would no longer remain a phrase in Sunday speeches. Instead, positive reciprocal links would emerge: Europe would gain access to enormous wind and solar energy resources, and Africa would in turn gain access to state-of-the-art energy generation technologies that could largely spare the continent the CO2 emissions and air pollution of the fossil age.
The approach of linking climate and development policies and translating them into investment projects has been pursued by the European Investment Bank (EIB) for a long time. Now it is important to strengthen this commitment. That's why, at the beginning of 2022, the EIB bundled its development activities worth up to ten billion euros a year under the umbrella of a new EU development bank, EIB Global. With more engineers and bankers on the ground and in close exchange with national development banks as well as private investors, the climate policy transformation is to be promoted in a targeted manner.
At the summit in Brussels, governments from both continents want to present projects that can be used to implement the common vision for green, digital and sustainable development. In many African countries, this development has long since begun, for example, with the expansion of mobile networks in combination with local solar installations and the spread of mobile banking. With such investments comes the hope that long-term business partnerships between European and African companies will emerge, contributing to sustainable, strong economic growth - on both continents.
The EU Commission recently adopted the Global Gateway project as an alternative for the targeted global expansion of climate, energy, transport and digital infrastructures, which will mobilize EUR 300 billion by 2027 in a sustainable way. EIB Global will implement most of this. A key value here is fairness. In this respect, Europe can and must offer more than China, for example.
Incidentally, this also applies to concrete project implementation. In infrastructure projects in Africa, European companies, unlike their competitors, often employ local workers, whom they train and in some cases educate. In the future, this aspect should be given much greater weight in European tenders, in addition to the price bids. Only then will stable local private companies with skilled workers emerge around the hopefully growing number of European-African projects, which are urgently needed for the construction and maintenance of roads, railways, ports, green power plants, telecommunications and electricity networks.
All of this sounds ambitious, and there has been no shortage of ambitious plans at previous EU-Africa summits. What has changed in 2022, however, is the starting position: The EU is dependent on cooperation with partners in Africa for its climate goals and future energy policy. This reduces the power gap between the richer and poorer continent. Government talks now take place more on the level of reconciling interests and less on aid.
The African Union has already created an important prerequisite for closer cooperation: the African Free Trade Area between 54 of its member states. Intra-African trade will be strengthened by common rules, regional value chains can emerge, and cross-border infrastructure development will become possible.The summit holds many opportunities to use climate protection as a catalyst for economic development. The investment required is high, but it will pay off. This also applies to Africa, half of whose current gross domestic product is threatened by the consequences of climate crises such as extreme droughts and floods. The expansion of the green economy will also create many jobs. Europeans and Africans should not miss these opportunities.
Image by Seagul