Joburg a leader in climate change adaptation


Hosting this year's C40 Climate Summit, the City's strategy to build a resilient Johannesburg, to withstand the risks climate change poses is well ahead of the curve.

This February, Johannesburg will host the fifth biennial C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group Mayors Summit, the first to be held in Africa. Johannesburg is one of four C40 cities in Africa, along with Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Cairo in Egypt, and Lagos in Nigeria.

The Summit will be held at the Sandton Convention Centre, and comprises 63 of the world's megacities taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to reduce local and global climate risks. It will bring together city 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," said Joburg executive mayor, Parks Tau. He will be the host of the summit, together with New York mayor and C40 chair Michael Bloomberg. The theme for the summit is: Towards resilient and liveable megacities: demonstrating action, impact and opportunity.

Johannesburg's climate change strategy, part of the Joburg 2040 Growth and Development Strategy, is based on mitigating, and adapting to, the risks climate change poses. It is in line with the Summit theme and has already led to sweeping changes.

The country's commercial heart, the city is among the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in South Africa, largely from industrial, transport and residential activities.

Climate change mitigation

To mitigate climate change risks, Joburg's Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit system, introduced in 2009, brought several hundred buses to the city, resulting in the removal of 500 taxis and minibuses from the city's roads. The system 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, mayoral committee member for environment and infrastructure services.

The Rea Vaya buses will eventually transport passengers along 330 km 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 500 m 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.

The City aims to replace more than one third of its Metrobus fleet with modern dual fuel green buses in the future and is also developing a Metrobus gas refuelling station.

An energy-efficient city

The City has retrofitted five municipal buildings with energy-efficient lighting, creating 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, sufficient to supply power to 4 500 houses and reducing carbon emissions from the landfill by around 149 000 tons of CO² per annum. 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.

The City has also installed more than 1 000 low pressure solar water geysers to households in Cosmo City, a housing development in northern Joburg. In 2012 the city launched the Solar Water Geyser Programme, and it aims to roll out 110 000 geysers to poor and low income households over three years.

The City has also instituted greening projects, planting some 200 000 trees since 2006 in townships like Soweto in southern Johannesburg. The project has helped improve air quality in the city, already one of the most forested cities in the world, with more than a million trees.

"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.

Some 30 organic food gardens have been initiated in schools and communities between 2010 and 2011, and are seen as "a vehicle to grow green minds and hearts". The project supplements the school feeding programmes, while giving communities an additional source of income through the sale of produce.

Mfikoe says, "Organic food gardens produce fewer greenhouse gases and are better for the environment and our health.

Climate change adaptation

Climate change affects populations in industrialised areas, and those living in rural areas, where changes in weather patterns threaten crops and livestock.

"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," said Tau.

A Johannesburg Climate Change Adaptation Plan (CCAP) was completed in 2009. Adaptation initiatives from the plan include a Vulnerability Assessment and Risk Management Plan, flood modelling for flood-prone areas and disaster response. The city has several rivers running through its suburbs; these flood readily in the city's summer flash floods.

The CCAP was recently one of only 29 projects globally nominated for the C40 & Siemens Climate Leadership Award, which awards cities with leading climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.

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