Weaning Europe off fossil fuels: Decarbonisation and the Global South

26 May 2022 – Written by Fatimata Atty Djibrine


Interactions across borders are unprecedented, the speed of movement and exchanges across the planet have been consequential, creating direct lines of dependence and interconnectedness. With an irrefutable factor of globalisation, it is no surprise that the climate crisis is affecting all poles of the globe. The Earth’s climate is changing at an exponential rate compared to any crisis known in history. According to the latest report released in February 2022,  the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has unanimously declared that “unmitigated carbon emissions will lead to global warming of at least several degrees Celsius by 2100, resulting in high-impacts globally”.  In the press release, the IPCC chair, Hoesung Lee states: “This report recognises the interdependence of climate, biodiversity and people and integrates natural, social and economic sciences more strongly than earlier IPCC assessments. It emphasises the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option.” The report provided detailed insights on each region and future projections within the century. Europe within the upcoming century is predicted an increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events which will have significant effects on its ecosystems. As alarming as it may sound, Europe’s projections are less severe in comparison to other nations. The highest vulnerabilities will be concentrated in areas where infrastructure and technologies are lowest such as in the regions of West, Central, and East Africa, South Asia, Central and South America, Small Island Developing States, and the Arctic. The call to a global human action has never been stronger to change the course of events as accountability resides at a transnational scale. 



The urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reach net-zero carbon emissions has been heard by the European Union. Multiple legislations have been put in place across various policy sectors to target a climate-neutral EU by 2050. The Green Deal has translated this ambition into a concrete blueprint to achieve their goal, expecting to reach at least 55% net emissions cut by 2030. The European Climate Law turns carbon neutrality into a legal obligation regulating the pace of emission. It provides a monitoring process and ensures a cost efficient transition. As collective action is incremental in reaching the Paris Climate Agreement targets, the EU has set provisions for climate financing of projects in developing countries to assist a greener transition. These structural changes have provided a stepping stone for worldwide action on the climate crisis. This concrete progress toward the Paris goals has put the EU at the vanguard of climate leadership but has also redefined its relationships across borders, catalysing the necessity for climate action and the development of greater resilience. 



As Europe embarks upon a new trajectory, its policy restructuration has significant effects beyond its territory. Economically, the implications for many developing countries are proven to be complex. The decline in demand for fossil fuels with a simultaneous rush towards nickel, cobalt and other minerals which serve energy transitions may redefine trade relationships with African countries. With crude oil reserves on the African continent totaling over one hundred billion barrels extending across eleven countries, counting Libya and Nigeria amidst the top ten producers globally, and with even more gas reserves across the territory; the economy has long been dependent on its natural resources. As the EU decarbonises their energy systems, declines in fossil fuel investments to African suppliers can be seen. Nonetheless, the shifting demand for cleaner energy sources still fit within the plethora of resources found amidst the continent. The EGD has refined the EU’s strategies for raw materials. The heavy reliance on critical raw materials for development has led the EU to look past its borders with CRMs that are projected to significantly increase. Currently, the EU sources 68% of its Cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 64% of bauxite from Guinea, 24% of its barite needs from Morocco, a total of 66% of Tantalum from the DRC and Rwanda, and over 90% of platinum group metal from South Africa. Countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe and Ghana have the capacities to supply bauxite, copper, and PGMs. As such, the fossil fuel phaseout may not ravage the African economy as the rise in demand for CRMs provides a multitude of opportunities that, if done well, could propel development to newer heights and create capacities for resilience both in Europe and Africa?. 



As many developing countries are affected disproportionately by the climate crisis, their current high vulnerability is projected to intensify by the end of the century. The paradox that Africa bears minute levels of responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions yet remains one of the regions severely affected by the impacts of climate change has been acknowledged. Nonetheless, as countries restructure their policies, it is essential to highlight the interconnectedness of our global spheres and repercussions of social dynamics across borders. At the peak of fossil fuel consumption, misconduct and poor management within the extractive sector created extensive pollution, environmental erosion, biodiversity destruction and, most importantly, exacerbated climate impacts that catalyzed exposure to climate-driven hazards. The use of raw materials, although cleaner than fossil fuels, still impacts the environment in numerous ways and may account for significant shares of global warming exacerbation if extracted with negligence. The IPCC report provided a dire warning about the consequences of inaction and unethical behavior, emphasising the importance of reshaping our interactions at all levels. 

As climate action is taken and possible opportunities are delineated, it is essential to avoid the risks of reinforcing dependency and accelerating environmental degradation which provide a foreground for climate disruptions. The IPCC has noted some positive results of policies, regulations, and market instruments of certain countries as a step forward towards climate action. The European Union has emerged and asserted itself as a global leader within the climate discourse. It is essential that its current plans for actions at the transnational level avoid retracing history and instead provide a model of stewardship that will set a precedent for other nations to follow. As relationships with countries classified as highly vulnerable are established, due diligence is called for to ensure a collaboration that will enable a capacity to build resilience to the climate crisis.

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Recommended citation:

Atty Djibrine, F. (2022) Weaning Europe off fossil fuels: Decarbonisation and the Global South, IDRN, 26 May. Available at: https://idrn.eu/weaning-europe-off-fossil-fuels-decarbonisation-and-the-global-south/ [Accessed dd/mm/yyyy].