“Many city leaders acknowledged the urgency of building capacity to enhance local action by developing strategic documents on climate change.”
African cities are making significant progress tackling climate change. Kasope Aleshinloye reports from COP21 in Paris.
By Kasope Aleshinloye
At the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris last December, the Cities and Regions Pavilion, organized by ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability), was the venue for many insightful discussions about the role of cities and their partners in tackling climate change. By harnessing opportunities in housing, transportation, energy, food supply chains and waste management, city leaders and subnational actors can plan, finance and build low-carbon resilient cities.
African city mayors taking action
Reflecting a global trend, many African mayors and governors are already undertaking transformative actions to prepare their cities for the effects of climate change and mobilizing their citizens and the business community to build a more sustainable future. Antoine Faye, the Chief Resilience Officer for the city of Dakar, presented the city’s Integrated Territorial Climate Plan (PCTI) during a session on low-carbon development and sustainable waste management. The first decentralized climate plan in Africa, PCTI is an ambitious strategy to improve local renewable energy access, protect coastal and forest areas, reduce risk of flooding, while transitioning towards a diversified urban mobility regime. Through a shared assessment of the territory, the city aims to create synergies between sector-based initiatives at the local level and coordinate the identification and implementation of mitigation and adaptation actions.
Representing the City of Cape Town, Councillor Johan Van Der Merwe of the Mayoral Committee for Energy, Environmental and Spatial Planning, highlighted efforts to designate a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) with incentives for companies to form a hub for green technology and renewable energy.
Reinforcing the theme of the green urban development, Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa of the City of Tshwane Municipality, which houses the administrative capital of South Africa, called for bold innovation to undermine sprawl and adapt to the area’s increasingly common droughts, floods and extreme temperatures, all symptoms of climate change.
Buses are better?
One of the ways in which Tshwane is heeding this call is through the expansion of its bus rapid transit (BRT) network. Since Tshwane is a signatory to the Clean Bus Declaration, a pledge by a coalition of cities — including Cape Town and Addis Ababa — to incorporate low- and zero-emission buses in their fleets, its new BRT fleet is propelled by compressed natural gas (CNG). These sustainable mobility strategies have the potential to reduce congestion and air pollution, and crucially, limit the growth of greenhouse gas emission from driving. Notwithstanding its climate mitigation potential, the mayor also reflected that the network serves to facilitate spatial justice and restore citizens’ dignity in the previously segregated city by enhancing access to economic opportunity.
In the past decade, several African cities, including Lagos and Johannesburg, have adopted BRT systems, and the emergence of metro networks, such the Addis Ababa Light Rail, indicate a promising future for sustainable transport. According to panelists at the session on ecomobility, investing in such mass transit systems will be key to meeting the demand for transport in with regard to growing urbanization on the continent. The panelists also affirmed the need to design and build inclusive transport infrastructure, which caters to all road users, including pedestrians and cyclists, to improve road safety.
Smaller cities matter
Apart from the large urban areas, several smaller cities also presented their work on sustainable waste management. Quelimane (Mozambique), Gitega (Burundi) and Oran (Algeria), have all designed solid waste management plans to promote household waste sorting and composting, and implemented waste-to-energy projects.
Such initiatives serve to engage ordinary citizens and entrepreneurs with sustainability and the valorization of waste, and raise awareness about climate change issues. Meanwhile at a post-COP21 dialogue on clean energy in Africa, the governor of Akwa Ibom State (Nigeria) showcased the opportunities for building a low carbon economy within the state, including afforestation and flood control programmes, solar street lighting and the development of a strategic plan on climate change.
What the Paris agreement means
The diversity of initiatives, strategic plans and partnerships that were presented at the COP21, shows that African cities and subnational governments recognize the importance of preparing for the impacts of climate change. Many city leaders acknowledged the urgency of building capacity to enhance local action by developing strategic documents on climate change. Nonetheless, there is a wide range of competencies among these actors and many local governments, and even large cities, remain behind their peers in developing climate adaptation strategies. These capacity gaps point to the need for increased cooperation among cities as well as more inter-regional fora to share knowledge and best practices for mitigation and adaptation.
Ultimately, in light of the adoption of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, city leaders and subnational actors have become key stakeholders in climate governance as the Agreement welcomes their efforts to reduce emissions, build resilience and decrease vulnerability to the adverse effects of climate change.
To ensure that African countries contribute towards a low-carbon and resilient global economy, the momentum generated by these African city initiatives needs to be sustained. It will be imperative to secure adequate financial resources and technology support from national governments, international finance institutions and the private sector. Only with such support can African cities scale up their efforts to build sustainable futures for their citizens and contribute to fulfilling their countries’ climate commitments.
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