Thank you so much for inviting me, Minister Creecy. Greetings to you and all the Excellencies present here today.

The end of 2020 is approaching – a year, which was supposed to deliver significant results in climate and nature action. Instead, we find ourselves fighting a pandemic that has brought tremendous suffering to millions of people across the world and has turned our economies upside down.

I want to start by wishing all of you well and safety to you and your loved ones.

But at the same time we must not forget that there are the two other crises, which - without exaggeration – can be called existential.

Climate change and biodiversity loss are threatening human health and safety, food and water security, as well as socio-economic development everywhere.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted even further the interdependence of our continents, and the urgency to increase our resilience.

The pandemic has also reminded us all that destroying nature increases the risk of disease outbreaks everywhere.

I agree with the very powerful words of the UN Secretary General Guterres that, and I quote: “making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century”, end of quote. It is no luxury, because if we don't choose the path of the green transition, it is clear there will be great suffering, and those most vulnerable will be hit hardest. It is always like that when there is a crisis, it is always the most vulnerable that suffer most.

The futures of our two sister continents - Europe and Africa - are interlinked and we should support each other to overcome these mega-challenges.

A year has passed since we in the European Union presented the European Green Deal and it has become now our economic growth strategy but also our way of getting out of this crisis.

As part of it, we have put forward a plan to further cut our emissions by 2030, and we want to become a climate-neutral continent by 2050. We note that similar developments take place all over the world, including the really encouraging objective mentioned by South Africa to reach net zero emissions in 2050. It was such a good news when we heard that.

We have also adopted an ambitious Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, to protect 30% of our land and 30% of our seas, and to embark on a massive nature restoration journey from agricultural land to urban spaces.

We are particularly keen on working on similar efforts with our partners in Africa – in a cooperation of equals. Very often common challenges, sometimes different challenges, but with the same goal. The Green Deal is about building bridges, not barriers. It is in our view the only viable and future-proof model for economic development and prosperity. 

The huge economic stimulus packages launched across the world give us a unique possibility to invest in a green recovery and a sustainable recovery.

Our two sister continents can leapfrog to an economy where the energy we produce is renewable, affordable and accessible;       where our buildings and transport are energy- and resource-efficient;  our food is healthy and produced sustainably;       our cities are greener and cleaner;      our waste is minimised;      and our nature is increasingly protected and restored.

The European Union stands ready to support the development of an African Green Stimulus Programme. This is precisely the type of response that is needed now, and we look forward to its endorsement by the African Union.

Also more broadly, we want the Green Deal priorities to be a central part of EU’s future cooperation with Africa.

We are working on a comprehensive investment package for Africa to boost investments in areas with strong job creation potential, such as renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, circular economy and digitalisation.

An important part of our priorities is to support energy access in Africa. Access to energy underpins the development of key social infrastructures and services, such as healthcare or education. So let’s ensure we get it right from the very start.

That is why we are proposing to create a new Africa-EU Green Energy Initiative with the goal to support large-scale sustainable electrification programmes.

We would also like to discuss the “NaturAfrica” initiative to promote nature conservation, boost job opportunities, and help tackle illegal exploitation of natural resources and biodiversity loss in Africa.

In addition, the EU stands ready to cooperate closely on circular economy. It is inspiring that a number of African countries are moving to develop an African Circular Economy Alliance.

The EU is determined to continue scaling up finance for all these aims. In the 2021-2027 period, the EU will enhance assistance for climate action, including nature-based solutions and ecosystem restoration, while supporting partner countries in their development efforts.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Excellencies

We will soon have the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly. It is vital to have a strong Ministerial statement, highlighting the need to protect nature and facilitate a green recovery with concerted global action.

We need a common a strong and common voice of Africa in support of an ambitious outcome.

Africa has for example already shown leadership in advocating for the global agreement on plastics. We would like to reconfirm our support for launching the negotiations at the fifth session.

We will continue to work with your governments towards agreeing joint European Union–African Union priorities and turning these priorities into concrete deliverables in view of next year’s European Union-African Union Summit.

Lastly, we really need to join forces with you for the next Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity to deliver a strong post-2020 global biodiversity framework, with ambitious targets and proper implementation mechanisms.

We look forward to strengthening our cooperation with Africa – in the partnership of equals – in these decisive and challenging times for our people and our planet.

Please stay safe. Thank you very much.