Durban on a pathway towards a low carbon city
Climate change mitigation and adaptation opportunities for the city of Durban in transitioning to a low carbon city are the focus of a consensus study commissioned by the eThekwini Municipality and completed by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf).
The report entitled Towards a Low Carbon City: Focus on Durban identifies key areas of intervention that would position Durban on a pathway towards a low carbon city.
Climate change is one of the most significant global issues of our time. The population of Africa is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and has done comparably little to cause the phenomenon. South Africa, on the other hand, in addition to being vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, is a major contributor to climate change through its heavy dependence on fossil fuels, particularly coal. Cities are recognised as major contributors to climate change as they are densely populated with high levels of consumption and energy-use. Hence, they have a major role to play in finding solutions to the problem.
The report provides 12 key strategic recommendations, as well as sector-specific recommendations, which Durban needs to address in order to transition to a low carbon city. While focusing on Durban, the recommendations are generally applicable to cities in developing countries and can be used as a guideline for local governments in other cities.
In the report the critical issue of transitioning to a low carbon city in the face of high levels of unemployment and the need for economic development is addressed by emphasising the need to shift to a green economy. The green economy provides an overarching framework in which all activities can be steered in a coordinated way in a low carbon and sustainable direction.
To ensure that climate change policies and actions can be developed and implemented effectively and efficiently, with the full support of the political leadership of the city and local citizens, it is essential for co-benefits of climate change to be emphasised. Furthermore, a strong drive to ensure multi-level governance and the recognition of the role of visionary leaders or local champions is necessary for low carbon development in the city.
Other recommendations urge the city of Durban to promote low carbon lifestyles and play a leadership role in reducing upstream carbon emissions. An understanding of the carbon footprint of the city from a consumption perspective is important.
Land-use planning also plays a key role in low carbon development. Key principles include combating urban sprawl, compacting city form, decentralising urban opportunities, promoting sustainable neighbourhood planning, and a shared vision of spatial development in the city amongst all stakeholders.
Traditionally, mitigation and adaptation activities have developed separately in cities, frequently residing in different municipal departments. There is a need to develop a strong drive to integrate mitigation and adaptation activities across the municipality.
Urgent attention must be given to the industrial and transport sectors, as they are recognised as the major greenhouse gas emitters in the city. Energy efficiency in buildings is often hailed as the ‘low-hanging fruit’ in the low carbon transition process, as actions can be implemented more easily than in other sectors such as transport. It is recommended that eThekwini Municipality extends its focus on energy efficiency in municipal buildings to the broader built environment in the city.
The city of Durban has been a leader in South Africa with regard to climate change adaptation and mitigation initiatives and the release of the report coincides with the city’s hosting of the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2011.
Dr Debra Roberts (Deputy Head: Environmental Planning and Climate Protection) said: “This marks another important step in Durban’s journey to becoming a climate smart city. A city in which a low carbon, green economy provides opportunities for both climate change mitigation and adaptation and fosters a new form of urban development that ensures ecological integrity and human well being”.