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News announcement30 November 201711 min read

Science for the AU-EU partnership

Over 30 years of JRC scientific collaboration with Africa have been compiled in one publication, "Science for the AU-EU Partnership - Building knowledge for sustainable development".

Africa EUMETSAT, 2017
© ESA, 2017

From air pollutant emissions to zooplankton productivity – over 30 years of JRC scientific collaboration with Africa have been compiled in one publication, "Science for the AU-EU Partnership - Building knowledge for sustainable development".

The report is accompanied by the online Africa StoryMaps, which present key findings via interactive maps.

Already the hottest continent, parts of Africa may warm by up to 6 °C by the end of the century, even though its greenhouse gas emissions of 4 tonnes per person per year are way below the global average of 7.3 tonnes. As an estimated one in 4 people on Earth may live in Africa by 2050, infrastructure and services will come under increased pressure, and detailed up-to-date information on settlements, transport networks and exposure to natural and man-made disasters will be essential.

To cope with these challenges, Africa needs to tap into its natural and human potential, including its considerable hydropower sources, its bountiful solar power, and its young and internet-savvy population. However, conflicts have massive detrimental impacts on development and, with an average Conflict Risk Index of 5 (a third higher than the global average of 3.7), Africa is a more risky place for development then the rest of the world.

This is just some of the information included in the new JRC report, which is structured around the shared priorities of people, planet, prosperity and peace. With detailed assessment of the current situation, trends, challenges and opportunities in each of the four priority areas, the report also identifies gaps in available knowledge, and proposes future actions and priority areas for AU-EU research.

The report is accompanied by the online Africa StoryMaps, which presents the key findings of the report in a series of interactive maps.

Thanks to over 30 years of JRC collaboration with academic and administrative bodies in Africa, the report also offers historical perspectives and presents the data in a holistic way.

AU-EU research cooperation opportunities – improving access to innovation and education

It is essential to develop and share knowledge to address the interconnected challenges that face Africa and Europe. Despite the great strides made in the past decade, Africa still has less than 100 researchers per million people, compared to the global average of 1 100. It can therefore benefit from research cooperation and support.

The AU-EU report presents three main avenues for collaborative actions:

- Share experience of using scientific evidence for policymaking (for example in partnership with the International Network for Government Scientific Advice);

- Provide geographic information and knowledge management systems (such as on human settlements, surface-water occurrence, protected areas, renewable energy potential, and soils);

- Provide customised training and capacity-building.

Joint action along these lines can lead to improved innovation and education, which in turn would advance knowledge and skills in areas of future employment growth such as computer and Earth observation sciences, cybersecurity, e-commerce and renewable energies.

People – there will be more of them. Improved urban planning is key, together with better disaster preparedness and rapid reaction to food-security emergencies

Today, Africa is home to 1.2 billion people (more than twice the population of the European Union). This is projected to rise to 2 billion by 2050. To put it in perspective, this means that 1 in 4 of the world's inhabitants will live in Africa by 2050. Africa's rapid population growth is concentrated in urban areas as people migrate from rural areas to the larger cities.

Between 1990 and 2015, the urban population of Africa has doubled, with 80 % of Africans living in urban areas. If managed well, urbanisation contributes to sustainable growth. However, its speed and scale brings challenges, including rapidly growing demand for affordable housing, transport systems, and other infrastructure, basic services, and jobs. The European Commission's Global Human Settlement Layer (GHSL), the most complete and consistent, global, free and open dataset on human settlements helps to quantify and understand the issues driving urbanisation.

Around half of Africa's population is located within 100 km of the coast, and most do not have access to good quality transport. The JRC's Global Map of Accessibility highlights those areas that are remote from major urban centres by showing overland travel time to cities that have more than 50 000 inhabitants.

As regards migration, over the past 25 years the ratio of intra-African migration to the overall population has declined (from 2.1 % in 1990 to 1.4 % in 2015), but the ratio of Europe-bound migration remained stable. Given the increasing population, there has been a 60% growth in the actual number of migrants since 1990. Worldwide, about one-third of all refugees are African nationals, and most of them remain in Africa.

Africa remains the continent most at risk of disasters and humanitarian crises. The combination of conflicts and natural hazards often causes complex and protracted crises. In the past 40 years, over 400 million people in Africa have been affected by droughts, 68 million by floods, 13 million by disease outbreaks and 13 million by tropical cyclones.

While some 20 African states have achieved Millennium Development Goal of hunger reduction, undernourishment is still widespread. Early-warning systems (such as INFORM) that facilitate rapid reaction to food-security emergencies are of particular value and should be strengthened.

The Index for Risk Management (INFORM) features a risk index which identifies countries at risk of humanitarian crises and disasters (0 = no risk). It comprises three dimensions: hazard and exposure, vulnerability, and lack of coping capacity.
© European Union, 2017

Planet – the continent offers abundant and valuable natural resources, but will become hotter, drier, and its rich biodiversity threatened. Climate observation, modelling, monitoring, reporting, investing in improving sustainable management of forests, land and protected areas and cooperation can help mitigate and adapt to these trends

Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to weather and climate variability. Millions of its people regularly suffer the impacts of extreme weather events, despite the fact that the continent’s greenhouse gas emissions of 4 tonnes per person per year are far below the global average of 7.3 tonnes. Africa will become hotter by the end of the 21st century, with estimates of warming of over 3.5 °C for most of the continent, and of up to 6 °C in northern Africa and the Sahara.

It is therefore important to collect climate observations and build climate services. Gaps in climate observations can lead to greater uncertainty when planning policy responses to climate change. The Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR) developed by JRC provides past and present day anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants by country and on a spatial grid, giving policymakers access to a wealth of information concerning emissions.

Healthy and fertile soils can contribute to climate resilience, food security, sustainable rural development, poverty reduction and societal stability. With less than 13 % of the African land mass relatively free of natural constraints to agriculture, threats to soils such as soil erosion, loss of soil organic matter and soil nutrient depletion must be taken seriously. In 2013, the JRC produced the first ever Soil Atlas of Africa, which has become a reference work on the soils of the continent.

As in other continents, Africa's biodiversity is threatened by the expansion of agriculture, extractive industries, infrastructure development, urbanisation, pollution, invasive alien species and climate change. Over three million hectares of natural habitat are lost each year in Africa. Protected areas help conserve natural heritage and generate local revenue and other benefits. African protected areas attract an estimated 69 million recreational visitors annually (mainly international tourists), and generate about US$ 4.8 billion direct in-country expenditure. This contributes substantially to local incomes and employment. Through the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management (BIOPAMA) project and the Digital Observatory of Protected Areas (DOPA), the JRC is developing a solid information base to measure the status of these areas and to help devise the best management and policy actions.

Access to sufficient and clean water plays a crucial role in achieving Africa's development goals. Given the increasing demand for water due to population growth, rising living standards, increased economic activities and climate change, it is important to keep track of the changes in water availability. The JRC has developed the Global Surface Water Explorer to map these changes by analysing satellite images over the past three decades.

Africa's seas cover about 35 000 km of coastline and 13 million km2 of maritime economic zones in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, all with diverse environmental features and processes.

The Global Marine Information System (GMIS) developed by the JRC provides a time series of ocean observations from space, including this example of Sea Surface Temperature from October 2009, together with arrows showing the major ocean currents.
© European Union, 2017

Prosperity will be further enhanced by investing in renewables and ICT, sustainable agriculture, land tenure systems, improving infrastructure – all underpinned by spatial analysis systems

During the past decade, agriculture employed up to 65% of the labour force in most sub-Saharan African countries. The farming sector is estimated to contribute 18 % to 25 % of sub-Saharan Africa's gross domestic product (GDP). Due to population growth and economic advances, demand for dairy products, meat, fish and eggs is expected to double by 2035.

Much of that demand will come from expanding urban areas. Production will have to be balanced with growing demands for fibre and fuel. This may lead to competition among production systems (and regions and countries), as well as food-price volatility and inequality between subsistence and commercial farming sectors.

A key prerequisite of economic growth is energy supply. Sub-Saharan Africa has only 0.3 million km of power lines, compared to the EU’s 10 million km. Over 600 million people living in Africa have no access to electricity, and half of the continent’s energy consumption comes from biomass (wood, charcoal and dung).

Given Africa's wealth of renewable energy, expansion of the electricity grid should be accompanied by renewable energy expansion. Solar power is the most competitive technology option for almost 40 % of the African population - the same photovoltaic panel in Africa can produce twice the electricity it would in central Europe. Furthermore, only 8 % of Africa’s considerable hydropower potential has been harnessed so far, which leaves much scope for growth. Also, reducing dependence on wood for fuel and use of more efficient stoves will reduce the health impact of emissions, alleviate pressure on woodland ecosystems, and free up time spent on gathering wood for fuel.

As countries develop economically, telecommunications networks and broadband internet services become essential infrastructures. Given that fixed broadband penetration is very low in Africa, the vast majority of users access the internet through mobile broadband infrastructure. In 2012, there were already over 650 million mobile phone subscriptions, and more than 60 % of the population currently has access to ICT infrastructure. This, along with rapid economic growth and the widespread diffusion of mobile devices and networks (the key enablers of the African ICT revolution), means the e-commerce and online services industries may expand to an estimated US$75 billion (EUR 62.3 billion at 2017 exchange rates) by the year 2025, promising to give one of the strongest boosts to the African economy.

The JRC's NetBravo app collects and provides information on the quality of mobile internet coverage. This can be particularly useful for the African continent where, given the sparsity of fixed telephone lines, people rely primarily on mobile telecommunications.

Peace will be promoted and sustained through developing early warning and monitoring systems and enhancing cooperation

Conflicts impede economic and societal development and lead to population displacement and migration. Histories of violence and environmental factors such as water stress and the location of hydrocarbon resources are particular contributors to the continent’s elevated risk levels. While some conflicts have been reduced (spurred, for example, by the Kimberley process that cut down trade in conflict diamonds to less than 1% of the overall total) other threats may be emerging.

There is an increasing risk of global threats in the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) area. In Africa, chemical risks associated with the industrial and agricultural sectors have intensified, and exposure to health risks (epidemics and disasters) remains high.

Acknowledging the global, multidimensional and cross-border nature of CBRN security threats, and the links between Europe’s security and development and stability in the neighbouring regions, the EU CBRN Risk Mitigation Centres of Excellence initiative was launched in 2010 under the Instrument for Stability. The initiative has 56 partner countries, including 27 African countries from three regions, with technical support from the JRC.

Early warning, and an integrated view of the factors driving conflict in a specific region at a specific time, such as the Continental Early Warning System, can help in conflict prevention. Statistical conflict modelling can establish the link between natural resource location and armed conflict occurrence. Crowdsourcing and big data analytics can improve analysis by providing more and better data to feed conflict-measurement methodologies.

JRC and Africa – 30 years of research cooperation

The JRC has an over 30-year history of collaboration with academic and administrative bodies in Africa. Its satellite imagery, tools, models and research have been serving people across the continent, from forecasting crop yields, carrying out climate and environmental research, providing data when disasters strike, through to putting a spotlight on demography and migration issues. Now, this wealth of knowledge has been compiled for the first time in one publication, the JRC's Science for the AU-EU Partnership report, presented on the occasion of the 5th AU-EU Summit, taking place in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on 29-30 November.

The scope of the report reflects the evidence collected and the scientific work conducted by the JRC together with its partners in Africa and around the world. It aims to present reliable data, information and analysis based on the JRC's expertise in specific domains – while putting it in a broader perspective and referring to a variety of sources. The report will support and inform an evidence-based dialogue and further engagement with Africa’s policymaking and scientific communities, and thus further strengthen, with a solid knowledge base, the renewed AU-EU Partnership.

Related Content

Electronic version of the publication

JRC report: Science for the AU-EU Partnership - Building knowledge for sustainable development

Interactive on-line service Africa StoryMaps

JRC NetBravo application


Publication date
30 November 2017