06 Feb 2020   |   News

EU to strengthen green energy R&D partnerships with Africa

The move is part of broader plans to make Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050, but also to increase its geopolitical influence around the world

Ditte Juul-Jørgensen, director general for energy at the European Commission. Photo: Lysiane Pons, Science|Business

The European Commission is actively seeking ways to collaborate with countries in Africa to develop and implement green energy technologies.

The aim is to “strengthen our international partnerships with Africa and work closely with the African Union countries on energy issues and the green transition,” said Ditte Juul-Jørgensen, director general for energy at the European Commission, speaking at a Science|Business conference on Monday.

Commission president Ursula von der Leyen kick-started her mandate in December with a visit to Ethiopia, underlining the EU’s geopolitical ambitions in Africa, where it hopes to collaborate on developing technologies needed for a transition to a carbon neutral economy by 2050.

In partnering with other countries, the commission hopes the outputs of its investment in the science and the technologies needed to become carbon neutral will spill over to other regions of the world. The partnership with Africa in green technologies “is very much a part of the Green Deal,” Juul-Jørgensen said.

Some countries in Africa are about to shift towards greener energy production and consumption, and have the potential to leapfrog fossil-based technologies Europe is relying on. “They are going straight to more renewable sources,” said Juul-Jørgensen.

Carbon neutrality is the main driver behind the European Green Deal, a new push by the EU to introduce green technologies into all sectors of the economy.

Clara de la Torre, deputy director general for climate action at the European Commission, said if the EU is to achieve these goals, it has to “invest in climate science”, including biofuels, bioeconomy and sustainable agriculture, but also in social and economic research.

Policy makers in South Africa are keen to pick up on the positive signals from the EU and jump on the green deal bandwagon. Daan du Toit, deputy director-general at South Africa’s department of science and innovation said there is a consensus in his country about the impact of climate change on poverty, inequality and unemployment. “Our policy responses need to interrogate the climate dimension,” Du Toit said. “We live the impact of climate change on a daily basis.”

For South Africa, the EU has been “a policy laboratory”, said Du Toit. As African countries are moving closer towards deeper regional integration, South Africa is looking at what it can learn from EU policies and how can they be applied in the local context.

“We are delighted to see the prominent cross-cutting role of science and innovation in the Green Deal and the cooperation that it entails,” said Du Toit.

South Africa is, “deeply committed to multilateralism,” Du Toit said.  The move by the European Commission to begin investments under the Green Deal has been duly noted by policy makers. “When an important partner such as Europe makes an important policy announcement, we do take notice,” he said.

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