EUROPE-AFRICA FORUM: A Common Future for Sustainable Development

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EUROPE-AFRICA FORUM: A Common Future for Sustainable Development@La Tribune

Food security, sustainable water management, energy efficiency, and digital connectivity. These were the main topics at the heart of the second Europe-Africa Forum, which closed on 16 May 2023 in the French city of Marseille. Faced with the climate emergency that transcends the shores of the Mediterranean, the event, of which Afrik 21 is a partner, enabled political and economic actors from both continents to pool their resilience strategies.

Africa and Europe will move together towards the ecological transition. This is the substance of the Europe-Africa Forum which was held from 15 to 16 May 2023 in Marseille, France’s second largest city. Among the main topics on the agenda of the meeting were the climate emergency, collaboration between the European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU) on renewable energy, agriculture, the place of digital technology in green growth, etc.

For its second edition, the event mobilised political decision-makers, economic operators, local authorities and academics from both continents to rethink the challenges of sustainable development. For example, Alain Richard Donhawi, the President of the 15th United Nations Conference of the Parties on Desertification (COP15). The former Minister of Water and Forests of Ivory Coast presented to the many participants the solutions tested in his country to counter the effects of climate change, in particular “compressed land bricks” (CLB). This “innovative” approach used for the construction of schools, markets and other public buildings allows “the creation of jobs for young people, improves the quality of the landscape in urban areas and guarantees comfortable temperatures”, he explained at the Palais Pharo, which hosted the Europe-Africa Forum. In addition, regional forests have been set up in each major Ivorian city thanks to the National Reforestation Plan, which aims to reforest 3 million hectares of land by 2030. However, these various initiatives to tackle drought will not be enough to counteract other realities such as air pollution generated by thermal vehicles or anarchic waste management. Thus, according to Martine Vassal, the perpetual sensitisation of the population to “use public transport and to sort household waste” would be a solution for the development of sustainable cities both in Africa and on the old continent. The President of the Bouches-du-Rhône Departmental Council has also promised 100,000 euros to African start-ups focused on the green economy, particularly the energy transition.

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The issue is vital for some 650 million Africans who still do not have access to energy, according to World Bank estimates. But the promise of Ibrahim Yacouba, Niger’s Minister for Renewable Energy, to accelerate electrification by focusing more on clean energy is a sign of hope for a more sustainable future. Thus, European experience and equipment are proving to be very useful, particularly in the training of engineers (for the construction of solar photovoltaic plants and the manufacture of cables) and the supply of equipment such as inverters, according to Myriam Fournier Kacimi, who runs SunGy, an energy solutions provider based in Algeria.

This cooperation is essential insofar as the population needs electricity for all activities, notably education and health, according to former Beninese Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou.  While France was unhappy with the German government’s authorisation to “restart the production of 27 coal-fired power plants” from August 2022 to March 2024, the energy consequences of the war in Ukraine have further encouraged some African countries to resort to fossil fuels. And since the energy transition advocated by Europe is costly, the time has come to look for funding to start building large solar power plants and new hydroelectric dams in the face of the obsolescence of many thermal power plants (gas and oil) on the continent.  Thus, the panelists of the Europe-Africa Forum agreed on the energy sovereignty of each country on the planet.

What about water and food security?

The latest episodes of flooding, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda, as well as the prolonged droughts in the Horn of Africa, have brought the problem of food insecurity in Africa back into focus.

In fact, these climatic hazards, in addition to being deadly, undermine the livelihoods of populations, mainly in rural areas. Faced with this situation, which also concerns Europeans, who are themselves prey to extreme phenomena, the Europe-Africa Forum has fostered exchanges between the agricultural companies invited to Marseille. Cooperation between the two continents will have to focus on soil mapping and new irrigation techniques, particularly via solar energy, especially as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is disrupting food supplies worldwide. However, the second United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG2), which advocates sustainable agriculture, is at stake, say Karim Ait Talb, the managing director of the French group Geocoton, and Charlotte Libog, from Cameroon, head of the Think Tank l’Afrique Grenier du Monde.

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If agriculture is seen as one of the keys to economic development today, it cannot be dissociated from the field of water. Indeed, better transcontinental cooperation would enable an effective offensive against the water stress that is reducing harvests in Europe as well as in Africa, where hydrological data vary from one sub-region to another. This includes, for example, the conservation of natural areas (peat bogs, wetlands) to guarantee better water quality, as well as the eco-responsible use of groundwater, which is a fundamental resource for human consumption. Speaking to Delphine Chêne, President of Afrik 21, who led this very important debate for the future of the two continents, Juste Désiré Mondele, Minister of Decentralisation and Local Development of Congo-Brazzaville, also stressed the urgency of decentralisation “so that municipalities contribute to rational water management”.

Digital connectivity to help green growth

All these reflections will bear fruit thanks to the integration of technological innovation. This is the opinion of Stéphanie Selena Souah from Gabon, who hopes to connect as many Africans as possible to digital technology through her start-up Revolution’Air based in Kigali, Rwanda. Such projects focused on the digital and green economy should soon benefit from the technical and financial support of the European Union (EU) to promote job creation, especially for women. As a reminder, only 46% of the population in Africa has access to the internet, compared to 95% in Europe according to a joint study by Hootsuite and the agency We Are Social.

Benoit-Ivan Wansi

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