Opinion: Why EU conservation efforts will fail without Africa

The European Green Deal’s success depends on recognizing that Africa — with its abundance of biodiversity — plays a pivotal role, says African Wildlife Foundation CEO Kaddu Kiwe Sebunya. Photo by: Ministry of Environment - Rwanda / CC BY-ND

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The European Green Deal is the flagship policy from the European Commission under President Ursula von der Leyen, aiming to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It is an ambitious plan for Europe to be a more resource-efficient, competitive economy. The European Parliament approved the European Climate Law in May, giving a boost to the ambitions of the European Green Deal.

Yet Europe alone cannot deliver on the deal. In seeking to ensure the continent is climate-neutral, it must work with global partners.

To go fast, go alone; to go far, go together

The European Green Deal is a global one that needs Africa to make it work. The text of the deal says drivers of climate change and biodiversity loss are international and not limited by country borders. Von der Leyen and Werner Hoyer, president at the European Investment Banksaid in March that action beyond European borders is necessary. They jointly called for a “Global Green Deal” to ensure the increase in Earth’s temperature is as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible.

The starting point of this global approach has been to export the European Green Deal to Africa. The European Union's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, was in Ethiopia in October to promote closer links with the African Union and was met with skepticism when selling the deal — primarily because of the mindsets that are driving the false choice between development and green issues.

A sense that Europe was dictating what Africa should do was also adding to the problem. Von der Leyen's call in April for Africans to create an “African Green Deal” may not have helped this impression.

Without adequate empowerment and African ownership of sustainable goals and targets, leaders on the continent will continue making decisions that rank short-term benefits above long-term growth.

The European Green Deal’s success depends on recognizing that Africa — with its abundance of biodiversity — plays a pivotal role and that its countries are, in fact, critical partners in any climate change response. In the case of the EU, this entails working in partnership with Africa toward a sustainable development model for the continent that delivers on the European Green Deal.

Why the European Green Deal needs Africa

Biodiversity makes a crucial contribution to both climate change mitigation and adaptation. It also provides essentials such as food, clean air, and shelter. Protecting biodiversity can help us all adapt better to climate change.

Africa is home to eight of the 34 most biologically rich places in the world. Yet the number of animals and natural resources are in sharp decline. Estimates suggest that “overexploitation and degradation of the biodiversity ecosystems will result in the loss of 50% of Africa's bird and mammal species, and 20-30% of lake productivity by the end of the century, as well as decline of wildlife and fisheries.”

Africa and Africans are therefore critical players in the race toward climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as delivering on the European Green Deal.

The solution

Providing more space for African-led solutions in decision-making can help address this overexploitation and degradation of ecosystems, leveraging Indigenous knowledge and experience with nature. This may also help in avoiding false starts between Europe and Africa in the future. We need a relationship that acknowledges and harnesses African voices beyond government platforms to inform decision-making and policies.

Whereas leaders are taking many of the proper steps to attract financial capital for development, they are frequently less cautious about preserving Africa's natural wealth. This extends to poorly planned agriculture, settlements, infrastructure development, and resource extraction, which drive the degradation of forests, rivers, and grasslands.

The resulting habitat loss and fragmentation threaten the ecosystems upon which people and wildlife depend. Without adequate empowerment and African ownership of sustainable goals and targets, leaders on the continent will continue making decisions that rank short-term benefits above long-term growth, which is unsustainable and, if not addressed urgently, will stray from the intended results of the European Green Deal.

The decisions that African leaders make over the next 10 years — including on economic infrastructure, urbanization, transport systems, energy sources, and food security — are going to determine what will be left of the biodiversity and ecosystems that are so essential for the European Green Deal to succeed.

A key part of collaborating on the deal involves ensuring that the economic growth model adopted by Africa does not come at the expense of the environment.

Therefore, it is important to find alignment between European and African agendas. I believe in the unlimited potential of Africans to lead on solutions for the continent and to work shoulder to shoulder with partners such as the EU to achieve real, lasting outcomes.

This focus area, supported by the U.N. Development Programme, explores how climate change and other planetary imbalances impact the rising trend of human inequality and vice versa. Visit the Focus on: People and the Planet page for more.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Kaddu Kiwe Sebunya

    Kaddu Kiwe Sebunya is chief executive officer at the African Wildlife Foundation, where he is leading the vision of an Africa where human development includes thriving wildlife and extensive wild lands as a cultural and economic asset for the continent’s future generations. He has over 20 years’ experience in conservation at grassroots, national, and regional levels in the U.S., Africa, and Europe.