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11 ways Cape Town is planning for Climate Change and a secure Energy future

 

It is great that Cape Town has developed a Climate Change strategy as this is quite rare for a city. Traditionally, Climate planning is done at a provincial, territorial or national level.To put this plan in perspective, South Africa’s total emissions are roughly 500Mt/year and according to the Moving Mountains  report,  Cape Town is accounting for approximately 27Mt/year of that, roughly 5%. To add further background to South Africa’s emissions policy; the country has committed to a 34% total reduction by 2020 provided the required funding exists.  Given this target, it is my opinion that Cape Town’s strategy would not come close to a 34% reduction.

The targets are quite weak in terms of making any significant reductions however, but this is understandable given the high unemployment rate in the city and the dual challenges that it  presents (i.e. that growth normally means more emissions).

The items Cape Town is targeting as priorities do make sense because they are targeted at essentially decoupling growth in the economy from growth in emissions.  While a good strategy it could go further in terms of the degree to which the city want to do this.  I would bet financing and access to capital plays a huge factor in this strategy.

There is also sufficient attention paid to their biggest emitters (residential, commercial buildings and transportation) and is tackling those challenges head on. Supporting implementation efforts, the various pillars of the plan broken into individual items that can be implemented in order to meet the required reductions, . For example, “reduce residential energy consumption – solar heaters.”

There remains a huge lack of detail about what these programs will cost and how much they are actually expected to reduce.

This is the problem with most climate strategies; they say “we are going to do all these things” but the work has not been put in to actually see if those things will make a significant reduction on emissions.  You would have to do the entire city of Cape Town in solar water heaters (as stated in the plan) to see any significant improvement in emissions but I am not sure what that would cost and if this is the “lowest hanging fruit so to speak”.

South Africa is (almost hopelessly) dependent on coal because it is one of the few domestic energy resources. Coal is the most emissions intensive fossil fuel leaving a very difficult challenge for the country and Cape Town.  I think it is very appropriate that the first pillar of the strategy is a 10% reduction in overalll consumption because this is really the only way to reduce emissions since fuel switching is only an option for a small amount of the mix (hooting for 10% which would even be difficult due to the high costs of renewables and  Carbon Capture and Storage).

It also makes sense that density and transport were both addressed and identified as key pillars.  This is crucial for a city’s CO2 emissions and is often missed, as  density is a longer term strategy but transport can have a pretty large impact quite quickly.

Pillars 8-10 are great in theory but I think the lack of detail shows that the government is not likely very serious about them.

Let’s  address each individually

  • Pillar 8: An economic development plan and renewable agency are almost laughable in terms of what is needed to deploy renewable energy.  Any country that has successfully implemented renewables has had to have massive subsidy (usually feed in tariff) programs and simply having an agency is not enough to overcome cost barriers.
  • Pillar 9 – Finance – There is no talk of how it will be attracted, what types of resources are in place to help people/companies qualify, etc.  It seems to merely highlight in a  paragraph about what is available.
  • Pillar 10: Another recommendation which holds little weight i.e.  “raise awareness to change behaviour”. We have learned time and time again that the only thing that effects behaviour is forcing people to change behaviour through higher costs or simply banning certain behaviour.  People will not respond until they have real incentive to do so.  Education does virtually nothing when a person is making a decision in a day-to-day scenario.

Living in North America, I have never seen a climate change adaptation strategy and I think it is fascinating that Cape Town has made such great strides.  It saddens me that we have gotten to the point that cities and countries have to be thinking about these measures but I think it is great that they are. Cape Town (as a city) has taken this initiative and should be applauded.

As a recommendation, and to continue the good work, I would implore the city to do further analysis and wedge type diagrams to show the actual impacts this strategy will have, how quickly and what the costs will be.  Transparency is key.

 

Energy and climate action plan objectives

  1. Citywide: 10% reduction in electricity consumption by 2012, off a ‘business-as-usual’ baseline
  2. Council (local authority) operations: 10% reduction in energy consumption by 2012
  3. 10% renewable and cleaner energy supply by 2020. Meet growth in electricity demand with cleaner/renewable supply, among other sources
  4. Build a more compact, resource-efficient city
  5. Develop a more sustainable transport system
  6. Adapt to and build resilience to climate change
  7. Improve the resilience of vulnerable communities
  8. Enable local economic development in the energy sector
  9. Access climate finance
  10. Raise awareness and promote behaviour change through communication and education
  11. Recruit staff; undertake research and development; establish data management systems; conduct monitoring and evaluation; update plan annually
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kalitaylor

President of Student Energy. Kali is an admitted energy and environment junkie. She aspires to travel constantly, laugh often and change the world one grassroots initiative at a time.

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