Addressing the climate crisis is deemed “the task of our generation” by the European Commission. The European Union (EU) is vying to become the first climate-neutral economy globally, targeting a 57% reduction in emissions by 2030, with an eventual goal of achieving EU-wide climate neutrality by 2050. The EU Green Deal, adopted in 2019, outlines a comprehensive strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across energy, transport, and food supply sectors.
North Africa: Europe’s Renewable Energy Partner
North Africa’s enormous renewable energy potential can be a valuable asset for Europe’s energy transition, given the right steps are taken. The region’s rich solar and wind power resources can generate surplus energy easily exportable to Europe. It’s not a short-term answer to Europe’s dependency on fossil fuels post-Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but a medium-term solution to diversify the energy mix and decrease reliance on imported fossil fuels.
North Africa also shows promise for green hydrogen production, an energy source integral for the EU to achieve its climate goals in difficult-to-decarbonise sectors. The region is a reservoir of CRMs required for energy transition, providing the EU an opportunity to diversify its clean energy technology supply chains. With a young, well-educated workforce, North Africa can support the EU’s technology manufacturing and R&D efforts.
Addressing North Africa’s Carbon Emissions
Simultaneously, the EU must aid North Africa in reducing its carbon emissions, especially in energy technologies. There is apprehension about the EU’s proposed carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) among North African governments, fearing it might negatively impact their economies. However, closer cooperation between European and North African countries can alleviate these concerns, helping them produce CBAM-compliant energy and products that stimulate job growth, national prosperity, and budgetary strength.
The EU Green Deal and North Africa
The European Green Deal is a pivotal opportunity to drive mutual transformation across the Mediterranean. This brief reviews parts of the European Green Deal that can benefit both EU and North African nations by facilitating long-term energy security and environmental gains. It also explores the main hurdles the EU must overcome, including operational investment challenges and the need for a rights-based approach in its engagement.
North Africa, boasting considerable solar and wind resources and strategic location between Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, can play an essential role in clean energy value chains. North African governments have shown interest in partnering with European counterparts on clean energy, given its economic and political attractiveness. The region is highly vulnerable to climate change impacts such as rising sea levels, desertification, droughts, and extreme weather events, which will affect water, food, and energy security.
The Politics of Cross-border Cooperation
Before realizing these benefits, North Africa needs to resolve the political deadlock hindering cross-border cooperation and energy trade. Tensions between Morocco and Algeria, two of North Africa’s largest electricity producers, have impeded progress. In addition, political instability in Libya effectively disconnects Egypt from the rest of North Africa’s power grid, making regional electricity transfers unviable.
North Africa also has a vested interest in preserving access to Europe for existing exports like agricultural products, manufactured goods, and fossil fuels. The EU’s incoming CBAM could potentially disadvantage southern Mediterranean trading partners, but Europeans can assist North African states in capitalizing on the lower carbon-intensity of their products compared to those made elsewhere.
Europe’s and EU Green Deal Interest in North Africa
Europe can gain significantly from partnering in the industrial development in North Africa, increasing access to clean energy, diversifying supply chains, and advocating for democratic reforms. Without strong European involvement, North Africa might lean towards other dominant suppliers in clean energy value chains, particularly China.
The EU and North Africa have a longstanding strategic partnership, bolstered by geographical proximity, trade and investment, aid flows, and diplomatic links. The partnership reflects both economic and political interests, from access to North Africa’s natural resources to controlling migration across the Mediterranean.
Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation programme, could play a crucial role in supporting North Africa’s R&D efforts. However, this may raise questions about using public funds to create green energy jobs outside the EU.
North Africa’s Climate Change and Political Challenges
The region also faces significant environmental concerns linked to energy production. Moreover, Europe’s ability to invest in clean energy technologies in North Africa comes with political, ethical, and legal obligations to ensure that green investments are not used to legitimize repressive rule in the region.
The European Green Deal and similar tools, like the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan, the Just Transition Mechanism, the European Biodiversity Strategy, and Horizon Europe, can stimulate green development in North Africa, providing the necessary support for infrastructure upgrades, capacity building, and knowledge sharing.
Leveraging the EU Green Deal
The European Green Deal, as a flagship initiative of the EU, can become a key tool in driving North Africa’s energy transition. This plan not only sets clear goals for a greener Europe but also serves as an inclusive tool, opening up new avenues for cooperation with neighboring regions. Alongside the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan, the Deal can provide essential financial support to North African nations, thereby strengthening renewable energy initiatives, developing green infrastructures, and encouraging innovation.
Fostering the Renewable Energy Transition
North Africa’s renewable energy transition could be facilitated by the active involvement of European partners. Various aspects, such as grid infrastructure, supply chain development, and workforce training, need substantial investments. The European Commission’s Just Transition Mechanism offers a possible model for assisting North Africa in its transition, alleviating social and economic challenges faced in this journey.
The region’s abundance of Critical Raw Materials (CRMs) can fuel Europe’s clean energy technology. By encouraging responsible extraction and use of these resources, the EU can stimulate sustainable development and economic growth in North Africa while diversifying its own supply chains.
Climate change poses significant risks to North Africa, including extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and desertification. These effects not only threaten the region’s natural environment but also jeopardize its socio-economic stability. As such, the EU, via initiatives like the European Biodiversity Strategy, can assist North African countries in adopting effective climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.
The Way Forward: Engaging in a Rights-Based Approach
Recognizing the complexities of the North African political landscape is crucial for the EU’s involvement in the region’s renewable energy transition. It’s necessary to ensure that green investments do not inadvertently support repressive regimes or contribute to socio-economic inequalities. The EU must, therefore, adopt a rights-based approach in its engagement, promoting democratic reforms and ensuring the respect for human rights. This will not only help create a sustainable and equitable renewable energy sector in North Africa but also strengthen EU-North Africa ties.