Joburg acts to beat climate change

electricity
The City of Joburg has retrofitted five buildings with energy efficient lights. It plans to do the same with 104 more council buildings. (Image: Media Club South Africa)


Christa Venter
Project Assistant
C40 Climate Change Summit
+27 82 492 2424


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Mitigation and adaptation are universally accepted approaches to tackling climate change. Johannesburg, the host city of the fifth biennial C40 Cities Mayors Summit in February, has a climate change strategy that is in line with these imperatives.

The C40 is a network of 63 of the world’s megacities that are taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in an effort to reduce climate risks locally and globally. The summit will bring together mayors for three days, from 4 to 6 February, to consider urban solutions to global climate change “through individual efforts as well as international engagement and collaboration”.

“A principle of working together to create and build partnerships is crucial to the success of achieving the city’s strategic agenda, including matters relating to resource sustainability,” says Joburg Executive Mayor Parks Tau. He will host the summit, together with C40 chair Michael Bloomberg, who is the mayor of New York City.

City delegates, business people, environmentalists, activists and community representatives are expected to attend. They will deliberate on the progress being made by cities around the world, and suggest interventions that can be jointly undertaken to address environmental issues. The theme for the summit is “Towards resilient and liveable megacities: demonstrating action, impact and opportunity”.

“Even if emissions are stabilised relatively soon, climate change and its effects will last many years, and adaptation will be necessary. Climate change adaptation is especially important in developing cities since those cities are predicted to bear the brunt of the effects of climate change.”

The city of Johannesburg, the country’s commercial heart – which contributes 16% to the country’s gross domestic product – is among the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in South Africa, largely from industrial, transport and residential activities. Its long-term growth and development strategy, Joburg 2040, has a strong focus on climate change and depletion of natural resources.

Climate change mitigation

Regarding climate change mitigation, Joburg’s Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit system, introduced in 2009, has resulted in 233 buses taking to the roads, driving in dedicated lanes. It has led to the removal of 500 taxis and minibuses from Joburg’s streets. Some 44 new buses will be introduced to the roads in mid-February, taking the total to 277. Rea Vaya transports more than 50 000 commuters daily.

“With the full implementation of Bus Rapid Transit it is estimated that the city will save 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 2020,” explains Matshidiso Mfikoe, the mayoral committee member for environment and infrastructure services.

The Rea Vaya buses will eventually transport passengers along 330km through the suburbs and city, with modern fleet buses. This will give more than 80% of Joburg’s residents the choice of catching a bus, placing residents within 500m of a trunk route or feeder corridor. Running on low-sulphur diesel with the most advanced pollution reduction equipment, the Rea Vaya buses are the cleanest on the continent. They reduce nitrous oxides, the most dangerous health risk from vehicular emissions, by thousands of tons a year, and particulate matter, such as soot, by hundreds of tons annually.

Joburg aims to replace more than one third of its Metrobus fleet with modern dual fuel green buses in the future. It is also developing a Metrobus gas refuelling station, and has retrofitted five municipal buildings with energy efficient lighting with a total saving of 100 tons of carbon dioxide.

“One hundred and four municipal buildings have been identified to be retrofitted under a larger energy efficiency building retrofit programme. This building retrofit programme will include lighting, cooling, and heating systems,” says Mfikoe.

Efforts are being made to convert waste to energy. The city is now flaring methane gas at one of its five landfill sites, producing 5MW of renewable electricity, which is sufficient to supply power to 4 500 houses. This reduces the carbon emissions from the landfill by about 149 000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. The other four sites will be operational in the near future, and will generate 19MW of electricity to supply 12 500 households over the next 20 years and beyond.

Sections of the city are also being greened, such as the townships of Soweto in south-western Johannesburg. Since 2006, 200 000 trees have been planted in the region. Joburg is already one of the most forested cities in the world, with over 10 million trees, making it an urban forest. This has led to an improvement in the air quality. “Furthermore, there has been rehabilitation of the southern catchments, park developments in disadvantaged areas, and the provision of green servitudes and ecological assessments of the city’s catchments,” adds Mfikoe.

Joburg has also installed over a thousand low pressure solar water geysers to households in Cosmo City, a housing development in the north. Installing energy efficient lights and planting fruit trees has also been undertaken. In 2012, it launched the Solar Water Geyser Programme, under which it aims to roll out 110 000 geysers to poor and low income households over three years.

Climate change adaptation

A Johannesburg Climate Change Adaptation Plan or CCAP was completed in 2009. Adaptation initiatives coming out of this plan include a Vulnerability Assessment and Risk Management Plan, flood modelling for flood prone areas, and disaster response. Johannesburg has several rivers running through its suburbs, which flood readily during the city’s summer heavy rains.

The CCAP was recently one of only 29 projects globally nominated for the C40 and Siemens Climate Leadership Award.

Guided by the CCAP, Joburg is mapping flood prone areas, developing early warning systems, and raising awareness in vulnerable communities, particularly through Alexandra township. CCAP recommendations have been integrated into long-term city strategy and day-to-day operations.

Some 30 organic food gardens were planted in schools and communities between 2010 and 2011, a project that is “a vehicle to grow green minds and hearts”. The project supplements the schools’ feeding programmes, at the same time giving communities an additional source of income through the sale of produce. “Organic food gardens produce fewer greenhouse gases and are better for the environment and our health,” notes Mfikoe.

Johannesburg is one of four C40 cities in Africa, along with Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Cairo in Egypt and Lagos in Nigeria. Climate change affects not only the industrialised but also those living in rural areas, where changes in weather patterns threaten crops and livestock.