European Union’s Ambitious Climate Roadmap and How It Will Impact Africa and Other Developing Nations

European Union’s Ambitious Climate Roadmap and How It Will Impact Africa and Other Developing Nations

In July, the European Union released what it calls its Roadmap to a sustainable future, a monumental progress especially in the wake of the G7 Summit which failed to make substantial climate progress. While the move was huge, it did not come totally unexpected. From EU elections to the Green Deal presented in December 2019, the European Union has made it clear that they hold climate sustainability as a priority.

The roadmap aims to achieve a Net Zero Europe by the year 2050. This will be achieved through wide sweeping policy and environmental reforms in transportation, trade and even shipping and aviation which before now have not been covered in most carbon reduction efforts. Historically such decisions by the global West often have second and third-degree effects on the developing nations. Therefore, upon hearing this announcement, I could not but think about what the effects would be on countries like my home country of Nigeria.

One of the highpoints of the roadmap is the plan to phase out gas-powered cars. According to the European Commission, the new policy will require the auto industry to slash the average emissions of new cars by 55% by 2030. A further reduction to 100% by 2035 would effectively mean that all new cars registered from that year onward must be zero-emission vehicles. It’s all good until you realise that 80% of cars imported into Africa are fossil-fuel based second hand cars.

In all likelihood, this policy will have inadvertent effects on the Africa continent by making it the dumping ground of used cars for the rest of the world. From fashion waste to the more environmentally harmful electronic waste, the roadmap for Western Nations has always been to shirk their responsibilities and simply dump them on other nations. I have no reason to believe that this issue of fossil fuel-based cars will be any different.

Lagos, Nigeria. Photo: Omotayo Kofoworola.

Another highpoint of the policy is the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), a system intended to combat “carbon leakage”. To assist the prevention of climate change, countries across the globe have various greenhouse gas emission rules, with some being stricter than others. For instance, in the past few years, Europe has developed an increasingly stringent carbon regime. Many companies are required to pay taxes on each tonne of carbon they use. This in turn has created Carbon Leakage.

Carbon leakage occurs when a firm decides to shift manufacturing from a country with strict policies to one with laxer policies, resulting in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon leakage refers to the additional emissions caused by the transfer. For example, whereas carbon emissions in the United States and Europe have been declining for years, emissions in developing countries such as China and India have been significantly increasing. While domestic growth accounts for the majority of the increase in greenhouse gas emissions in developing nations, it’s no secret that companies based in wealthier countries set up plants in poorer countries to save money and circumvent restrictions, contributing to global pollution.

I do not for one second think that the European did not see this coming. It is entirely possible that when the EU created these policies, what they had in mind was for these big companies to move their operations elsewhere; simply put, “go pollute somewhere else”. In their defence, the EU is now taking action towards curbing carbon leakages by creating the CBAM. CBAM, simply described, is a policy of imposing a carbon tax on goods imported into the EU by companies who manufactured them in countries with fewer carbon restrictions. 

The workings of the CBAM seems good in theory, but in practice, things aren’t nearly as great. According  to a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the mechanism’s value in combating climate change is limited, as it would only save 0.1% of world CO2 emissions. If the proposal is executed with a tax of $44 per tonne of CO2 emissions, exports by poor nations will be reduced by 1.4%, and by 2.4% if the price is $88 per tonne. According to the analysis, at a $44 per tonne price, developed nations’ income would increase by $1.5 billion, while developing countries’ income would decrease by $5.9 billion.

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According to UNCTAD, “While the system aims to prevent manufacturing and CO2 emissions from leaking to EU trading partners with less strict emissions objectives, it is yet unclear how it can help decarbonization in developing countries.” So, in reality, what it does is to work more hardship on these countries and economies which are already disadvantaged in global trade.


The report also addressed concerns raised by EU trading partners who fear the CBAM will significantly reduce exports of carbon-intensive goods including cement, steel, and aluminum. According to the organization, the changes may not be as catastrophic as some fear. Depending on their export structure and carbon output intensity, the effects would differ greatly in each country. I am willing to bet that those “effects” would be extremely hard on developing African nations.

UNCTAD urged the EU to consider allocating some of the CBAM’s revenue to developing nations in order to stimulate the adoption of cleaner production technology. “Effectively reducing these pollutants will necessitate more efficient production and transportation procedures. Once again, I am not optimistic that this will happen. In the recently concluded G7 Summit, the G7 nations failed to come through on their promise of giving developing nations 100 billion dollars to fight climate change.

This is typical. For years now, the most developed countries (and their global corporations) have been responsible for most of the carbon emissions. Each time they claim to do better, what happens is that they mostly move their operations and emissions to a poorer nation. I do not believe that the EU did not think of the first and second-order effects of these policies. Since the industrial revolution began, the countries that now make up the European Union (EU-27) have been responsible for roughly 18% of worldwide carbon emissions. Germany, France, Italy, and Poland – the EU’s three most polluting countries – are responsible for a large portion of these historical emissions. Carbon dioxide accounts for over 80% of total greenhouse gas emissions and is the principal cause of global warming.

A “roadmap to sustainability” which simply moves emissions from one part of the world to another, and simply makes the European Union richer and developing countries poorer, is really not my idea of an ideal roadmap to sustainability.

Climate change is a global problem and until we start acting like it, we are only going to be chasing our proverbial tails.

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Cover image by Jeremy Bezanger.

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