A New Africa-EU Partnership Can Help Protect Africa’s Unique Biodiversity
By Michel Masozera and Arnaud Goessens | February 9, 2022
Africa is home to a vast and rich natural capital, including outstanding biodiversity and numerous important marine, forest, grassland, wetland and freshwater ecosystems. These include the tropical forests of Nouabalé Ndoki in the Congo Basin, the savannahs of Northern Cameroon, marine biodiversity along the Gulf of Guinea coastline, and the miombo woodlands of Niassa in Mozambique.
However, there has been growing pressure on natural resources in the form of land conversion for large scale agriculture and other uses, climate change and related disturbances like fire and drought, and escalations in the targeted exploitation of wildlife, including for the illegal wildlife trade, among other sources.
These actions have led to significant biodiversity loss and habitat degradation, bringing entire ecosystems to the brink of collapse. This is also threatening a way of life for several million Indigenous Peoples and local communities, natural stewards of these vast areas, who depend upon healthy forests for their livelihoods, food and shelter.
The sixth European Union (EU)-African Union (AU) summit is scheduled to take place in Brussels on 17–18 February during the French Presidency of the Council of the EU. These two governing bodies now have an opportunity to increase their partnership to address the multiple challenges related to biodiversity conservation.
The EU-Africa Strategy, NaturAfrica, and the EU-AU Summit all represent unique opportunities to strengthen partnerships between the two continents and reverse the trend of biodiversity loss, while helping to secure the sustainable livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
The AU and the EU can play a leading role on the international stage, building on the global momentum of 2021’s One Planet Summit and the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) as we look to the coming UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) scheduled for later this year in Kunming, China.
One area in which this partnership can deliver is the long-term investments in protected and conserved areas that are needed to combat the intersecting biodiversity, climate change, and health crises. By building a network of protected and conserved areas that will protect wildlife and ecosystems with high ecological integrity, while creating economic opportunities for Indigenous Peoples and local communities, the new NaturAfrica initiative will be a key AU-EU partnership and constitute a key deliverable of the European Green Deal.
Later this year, the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity are expected to endorse a goal of securing at least 30 percent of marine and terrestrial areas globally as protected or conserved areas. Strong support from both the EU and AU will be a vital step in adopting and achieving that goal; any chance of success will also require the support and participation of IPLCs.
Another area where the AU-EU partnership can have a major positive impact is the institutionalization of a One Health approach that recognizes the intrinsic connection between human health, animal health and healthy, resilient natural systems. Such an approach, by acting to prevent epidemics and pandemics of zoonotic origin at the source, will also help ensure that intact ecosystems are protected, and that commercial wildlife trade and markets for human consumption no longer threaten human health and sustainable development.
In December, the World Health Assembly agreed to initiate a process to develop an international pandemic treaty, an idea initially launched by EU Council President Charles Michel. Such new treaty must focus on pandemic prevention at source, not solely on preparedness.
To further that effort, Dr. Zacharopoulou, as European Parliament Rapporteur for the new EU-Africa Strategy, joined with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) last March to organize a high-level virtual dialogue on The Role of the Africa-EU Partnership in Addressing the Biodiversity Crisis. African and EU leaders participated, elevating the discussion on the AU-EU political agenda. Action is needed now to turn these discussions into meaningful outcomes.
As Europe, Africa, and the rest of the planet continue to face the multiple impacts of COVID-19 on human health, well-being, and economies, we have hope that this new AU-EU Partnership will go a long way to foster biodiversity conservation in Africa, for the benefit of all.
Michel Masozera is Director of Policy and Institutional Partnerships for Africa at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society). Arnaud Goessens is Senior Manager for EU Policy at WCS EU, a European affiliate of WCS.