By Ambroise Fayolle
The COVID-19 crisis and climate change are among the greatest challenges facing humanity. The impact of both is—and will be—massive in developing countries. Just as these two threats menace Africa in tandem, so it must be through investment aimed at countering both that we confront them.
The European Investment Bank’s response to the COVID-19 health and economic crisis in developing countries has been swift and substantial with €6.7 billion dedicated to countries outside the EU, including €3 billion for Africa, as part of Team Europe. We are focusing our support on the health sector, but we’re also helping companies face the crisis, in particular SMEs.
The COVID-19 crisis has also revealed that digital technologies offer alternatives to quarantine and can help fight the pandemic. However, it highlights the digital divide in Africa, where 900 million people not connected to the internet are unable to receive information on the crisis or benefit from telemedicine.
We organized a large survey across Africa to understand better the digital solutions that can help the continent and to estimate the investment required. In partnership with the United Nations Development Programme, the report COVID-19: Africa's Digital Solutions lists more than 100 high-impact digital solutions, including a self-diagnostic app available in 15 African countries.
The European Commission estimates that a 10% increase in digital coverage could lead to an increase in African GDP of more than 1%. In line with the EU’s strategy for African digital transformation, the European Investment Bank makes financing digital technologies on the continent one of its priorities. In Africa, we have approved more than €600 million of investment in the digital sector over the past five years.
But financing is not enough on its own. Multilateral partnership is more important than ever as the impact of the crisis hits home. That’s true in digitalisation, as it is in every area of development. Plastic pollution in our oceans, for example, is already a major issue, but it’s also rising because of disposable masks and other protective equipment. The World Wildlife Fund estimates 10 million masks could end up in the seas each month. That makes the Clean Oceans Initiative more important than ever. What started as a collaboration between the European Investment Bank, AFD and KfW two years ago now includes ICO and CDP. It’s a mission that unites—which is a good thing, because these massive challenges are going to take all of our efforts.
Digital solutions for climate action
Just as COVID-19 and climate change pose a dual threat, so digitalisation and climate action merge to provide a joint solution. The use of digital technologies contributes to the achievement of sustainable development goals in Africa, particularly in the field of energy.
The European Investment Bank, as the EU’s climate bank, has financed the extension of mobile coverage by the operator Orange in Guinea to meet growing demand, while ensuring a more reliable supply of electricity. Orange Guinée uses masts powered by photovoltaic panels to install off-grid sites that boost the mobile network. This improves coverage in underserved rural areas and strengthens urban ones. The European Investment Bank is financing this project with a $30 million loan. Solar-powered mobile telecommunications antennae like these can reduce grid diesel consumption by more than 80%.
This kind of sustainable development and the fight against climate change are at the heart of our priorities. By the end of 2020, all our activities will be aligned with the goals and principles of the Paris Agreement. By 2025, we will devote 50% of our funding to climate and environmental investment.
At the European Investment Bank, we are committed to unlocking €1 trillion by the end of the decade for climate and environmental sustainability. With the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on companies across the world, this task just got harder. There is a high risk that firms everywhere will postpone, downsize or cancel investment, with a potential negative impact on long-term growth prospects.
We cannot allow this risk to materialise, especially in developing countries. Digital technology and clean energy provide the jobs and economic growth that are needed to come back from the COVID-19 slump, as well as a solution to climate change. Let’s make the investments that take us there.
Ambroise Fayolle is responsible for climate action and environment, development policy, and oversees EIB activities in France, Germany, and countries in Africa. He spent most of his career in various positions at the French Treasury Department and at the IMF and World Bank before moving to EIB.