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Europe Needs to Work With Overlooked Africa on Environmental Policies

Who owns environmental protection? Is it Europe? Returning to Africa after developing a European mindset on environmental protection, I was obliged to break down my own misconceptions to see the bigger picture…

Hanae Bezad

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Two years ago, I was driving on the highway from Rabat to Casablanca to catch a plane to San Francisco with my late father’s “vintage” car. As I was making my way with sunny thoughts of California on the horizon, my reverie was abruptly cut short as my car blundered, stumbled, and eventually broke down. Stranded and immobile, with the stress of missing my conference mounting in my stomach, a passing driver eventually took pity and stopped to give me a hand. Poking around and assessing the state of the car, he confirmed the demise of the vehicle with a shrug. As I waited for roadside assistance to tow the car, he kindly offered me a lift to the airport in an effort to ease my stress. Thanking fate for his generosity, I quickly gathered my belongings while he freed up space in his trunk for my luggage. As I made my way towards his car, I caught him taking out an immense plastic tarpaulin and tossing it to the side of the road. Obviously shocked and somewhat disgruntled, I immediately picked it back up, refolded it and neatly tucked it back into the trunk without saying a word to him. 

My action triggered a swift jestful response from my roadside saviour… “oh you’re here with your ideas from France!” I gave him a dubious look as he continued. “Respect for the environment was never owned by the French in the first place.” 

And so it began… not only did I have an intense but kind spirited conversation with this stranger who drove me to the airport, but I also had a chance to untangle my perception on the ownership of environmental protection. Beyond that, I was moved to consider what needs to be done at an individual, local, regional, and global level to better nourish environmental policies. 

Let’s put things into perspective

Since moving back to Africa, I’ve questioned my daily habits in various ways. It’s obvious that recycling felt easier for me in Paris where it is systemised than in Casablanca where only a handful of rag pickers work with individuals to collect their recyclables upon request on WhatsApp. Yet, despite the difference, I still feel like I have reduced in my carbon footprint more while here. How, you ask? Well, let’s start with some figures.1  

  • The average footprint for people in Morocco is 1.74 metric tons. 
  • The average footprint for people in France is 4.57 metric tons.
  • The average footprint for the European Union is about 6.4 metric tons.
  • The average worldwide carbon footprint is about 5 metric tons.
  • The worldwide target to combat climate change is 2 metric tons. 
  • The average footprint for people in Rwanda (where I am currently living) is 0.07 metric tons.

Now, let’s take this a bit further. 

  • Africa has 17% of the world’s population, yet it accounts for less than 4% of the global total of carbon emissions.2 
  • Africa is the most vulnerable continent in terms of the impact of climate change, according to the UN Environment Programme. Among the top ten most vulnerable countries are Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Nigeria, Chad, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic and Eritrea.3
  • Europe’s population is equivalent to 10% of the total world population, but it is among the top 3 world CO2 emitters.4

Need I say more? 

How are environmental policies striving to put us in a position to address climate change and meet SDG 13 targets? 

With the European Green Deal – Europe’s “man on the Moon moment”- where does Africa stand? 

For those of you who haven’t heard, to meet their significant carbon footprint, Europe has announced an ambitious commitment: by 2050, the European continent aims to become climate neutral. 

Consolidating this commitment in the European Green Deal, the EU is considering a package of relevant policies that will tackle climate change holistically. This will include…  

  • A circular economy action plan; 
  • a review of all relevant climate-related policy instruments including an Emissions Trading System, a Farm to Fork strategy, a focus to shift from compliance to performance, and a revision of the Energy Taxation Directive; 
  • a sustainable and smart mobility strategy, and ; 
  • an EU forest strategy. 

The European Commission (EC) and the African Union (AU) meet ‘Commission to Commission’ (C2C) once a year, as part of their ongoing dialogue. This year’s C2C was held at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa on February 27th, 2020. Sustainable growth and climate change constituted the main areas of discussion for alignment. While the African Union Commission took notes on the new European Green Deal, no further commitments were expressed to further clarify the agenda for the 6th EU-AU Summit, due to take place in Brussels in autumn 2020.  

So why the deafening silence from the African continent, who has the most to lose from climate change? 

There is this general feeling that weak efforts are being made from the global South to protect the environment. Okay… it’s clear that we do not have an African Greta Thunberg to chide the United Nations over their inaction on climate change.  However, what we often overlook is that the African perspective often remains under-reported, and thus unheard. European and African youth might be equally engaged, but the global media bias would tell us otherwise. The Ugandan climate justice activist Vanessa Nakate, in a recent press conference held by Greta Thunberg calls “for the world to listen to the activists from Africa and to pay attention to their stories”. These stories are that of awareness, progress, and growing pressure on governments to take action. And this leads to noticeable efforts.  

How is the African continent tackling climate change?

To summarise, it all comes down to a story of progress, division & continual efforts.  


Maha Skah, OECD expert in Green Growth notes that “In the margins of COP22 in Marrakech, an African Summit for Action was held, marking the launch of the Triple A initiative, and announcing the Congo Basin Blue Fund. COP22 in Marrakech also signalled strong political leadership by African Heads of State and led to the creation of three climate Commissions: the Congo Basin Commission, the Commission for the Sahel Region, and the Africa Island States Climate Commission.”

Even beyond such commitments, “a number of African countries are winning international praise for meeting the goals set out in the Paris Agreement. The Climate Change Performance Index, which tracks countries’ efforts to combat climate change, ranks Morocco within the group of high-performing countries. thanks to its concentrated solar power plant and bold efforts of achieving a 52% share of renewable in its energy mix by 2030.”5Revisiting international climate negotiations from an African perspective, Maha Skah, Policy Center for the New South, February 2020

Rwanda, a country that has put environment and climate change at the heart of decision making across the public and private sector, stated its policy objectives to ensure the following…

  • Greening economic transformation; 
  • enhancing functional natural ecosystems and managing biosafety; 
  • strengthening meteorological and early warning services; 
  • promoting climate change adaptation, mitigation and response; 
  • improving environmental well-being for Rwandans; 
  • strengthening environment and climate change governance; 
  • promoting green foreign and domestic direct investment and other capital inflows.


These developments are all very encouraging. However, the struggle with Africa is that countries seem to have a hard time unifying their competing interests due to varying socio-economic realities. This restrains any effort to push forward a plan comparable to the European Green Deal, despite a number of entities and institutions providing key technical support.6The African Group of Climate Change Negotiators established at COP 21 in Berlin, including the Climate for Development in Africa Program (ClimDev-Africa), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC). 

Continual efforts

Yet perhaps a renewed strategic alliance between Europe and Africa will help in overcoming such challenges. In fact, the European Commission has recently announced a new comprehensive EU strategy with Africa built on five key partnerships7 including working together for green transition and energy access in order to achieve a low-carbon, resource efficient and climate-resilient future8EU paves the way for a stronger, more ambitious partnership with Africa: The purpose of this renewed partnership is to maximize the benefits of the green transition and minimise threats to the environment in full compliance with the Paris Agreement. This would entail the launch of a “Green energy” initiative, the development of new ocean governance, and the launch of a “NaturAfrica” initiative to reduce pressure on forests, water and marine ecosystems.

Now is the time to co-create environmental policies 

In our current context, dealing with the Coronavirus outbreak has placed sanitary, economic and social crisis management at the forefront of our minds. There is also growing hope that this pandemic will cause a major shift towards a green economy.9 At this point in time, it remains unclear whether the stimulus packages agreed upon in Europe and Africa (e.g.  African finance ministers have called for a $100bn stimulus package to help the continent) will be prioritizing green economy businesses.  

We know that in any case, at the end of 2020, world leaders are expected to come forward with updated, more ambitious national climate change plans under the Paris Agreement. 10

Whilst this institutional realignment seems necessary and urgent, I believe there’s a fundamental need to develop a bottom-up approach led by our youth…

Why youth-led? 

Climate change will impact the next generation more significantly. Today, 60% of the African population is under 25 years, while the age of African leaders is between 52-84 years. Climate change requires agility, and that agility doesn’t always come from the current governing leaders who are far from the ground and often weakly versed in the technologies needed to win this race. A youth-led collaborative platform between the EU and Africa would not only promote greater responsibility across generations, but (to appropriate the expression used by my roadside saviour…) it will also rebalance the “ownership” paradigm with regard to the environment. 

By putting in place such a platform, we could hope to….

1. Convene on the most pressing needs (e.g. food security, waste management, protection of natural resources and wildlife, resilient, affordable, and sustainable urban and rural infrastructure, etc.) and most recommendable actions to take, using collective intelligence.
2. Fully engage with public decision makers and business leaders, while holding them accountable on a transparent and responsible basis (for instance, via real-time monitoring) to ensure that we create an organic process of getting the right leadership on the matter. This is especially key in a context whereby global leadership on the topic is deceptive, with the United States pulling out of the Paris Agreement, Brazil withdrawing its candidacy to host the 2019 Conference of the Parties (COP), and Chile unable to host the conference because of social unrest.  

3. Showcase best practices of individual and community led efforts to impulse change towards climate action in order to foster equal South-North and North-South skill transfer. We need to defy the wait -and -see approach. In other words, we need to stop being reactive. Instead let’s be proactive by promoting solutions and ideas demonstrating that we are not powerless in the face of climate change.  

4. To provide the most up to date, readable and reliable data on environmental challenges, compensating for any lack of institutional reporting with crowdsourced information between the EU and Africa that could better inform the work of the IPCC, for instance, or other sources of knowledge and decision making.  

These are just a few ideas amidst thousands of possible solutions. Our hope is to move beyond the “inherently asymmetrical relationships exemplified by the persistent North-South divide over “burden-sharing”, the ongoing redefinition of the role and responsibilities of emerging powers, and the broader “free-rider” dilemma”.11 “Revisiting international climate negotiations from an African perspective”, Maha Skah | March 02, 2020 

Our environment needs everyone engaged. When we consider what is at stake for the future of our planet, mitigation is not enough. What we need is existential change… across -the -board. Perhaps what we can find in the COVID-19 outbreak, as a result of growing awareness of global impact and cross-border mobilisation, is an unprecedented opportunity to transition more quickly and efficiently. Because this change is either now or never.

Hanae Bezad

Hanae is a lead expert on startups and innovation ecosystems at the pan-African organization, Smart Africa. She also founded Douar Tech, a Moroccan non-profit organization that promotes the economic independence of young people, especially women, from precarious backgrounds in rural areas, empowering them with trainings in innovative entrepreneurship and technology. Her areas of interest & expertise are at the intersection of technology, inclusion, entrepreneurship and international development. Prior to launching Douar Tech, Hanae was founder & CEO of the tech hub Le Wagon in Morocco, the first African campus part of the worldwide network of coding schools and tech hubs Le Wagon. Hanae also holds member status in the pan-African Taskforce of i4policy, Responsible Leadership Network of the BMW Foundation, the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders network of the Policy Center for the New South, and the House of Beautiful Business. She also presides the board of the Emerging Business Factory Foundation.