The Summit between EU and African Union leaders – postponed from October 2020 to 17 - 18 February 2022 because of COVID-19 – is deemed by EU institutions to be a chance to recreate the bloc’s “partnership” with Africa. But civil society organisations (CSOs) worry that the ongoing dialogue between the EU and Africa will promote business as usual over tackling the unfolding climate and environmental crisis.
Indeed, signals from the French Presidency’s ministerial conference on the trade partnerships between Europe and Africa seem to confirm such concerns. CSOs are similarly disappointed with the EU’s Comprehensive Strategy, which falls short of proposing viable, holistic solutions for halting biodiversity destruction and reversing marginalisation of resource-dependent communities. As Fern’s partner Barthélemy Boika, Cercle pour la Défense de l’Environnement in the Democratic Republic of Congo, puts it: “Our countries no longer want to be commodity cows that sign on to deals which mainly protect the EU’s economic interests”.
Africa is host to remarkable biodiversity, with immense tropical forests such as the Congo Basin rainforest. Biodiversity plays a critical role in human development and livelihoods in Africa; most African economies depend largely on natural resources such as agricultural lands, forests and other ecosystems. However, the continent is experiencing an unprecedented decline due to extensive agricultural practices, mining, large scale logging and environmental criminality, among others. Climate change poses another tremendous threat to Africa’s biodiversity, as indicated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Local resilience must be strengthened by protecting biodiversity, urgently. African and EU leaders must support bold policies that reduce the impact of resource extraction on nature, notably by promoting forest protection and restoration, and prioritising good governance and community benefits. The EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreements with timber-producing countries are such bold measures, and should be complemented by policies to halt commodity-led deforestation.
In line with the EU’s vow to help partner countries implement their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the Summit should include a commitment to support African countries to implement ambitious and just climate action. EU finance under the new NDICI instrument must champion a human rights-based approach that makes local communities and Indigenous Peoples central to climate, environmental and development efforts, starting with civil society and community consultation.
Finally, resetting the partnership would mean the African Union and the EU could begin to address difficult issues derailed by the COVID pandemic, such as governance and civic space. Therefore, it is Fern’s and our partners’ hope that the Summit move away from vague promises and heed the voices of the frontline communities experiencing the “first and worst” consequences of climate change and environmental destruction.