ETHEKWINI adapts to climate change
The city of ETHEKWINI's Community-Ecosystem-based Adaptation programme has helped it plan better for a changing climate
Ethekwini's Community-Ecosystem-based Adaptation programme has helped the city to plan better. Ecosystem-based adaptation is the theory that healthy sustainable ecosystems make it easier for
communities to adapt to a changing climate.
Durban is more than the largest city and port along the east coast of Africa. Like many African cities it is dealing with developmental challenges as a result of rapid urbanisation and the obligations that fall on the municipality.
Despite being the poorest major metropolitan area, Durban has become a South African leader in adapting to the challenges of climate change. In spite of challenges – poverty and the spread of informal settlements among them – the city continues to explore and implement ways to adapt.
By improving its systems, adapting its institutions and implementing innovative and flexible planning the city is building a more resilient economy and city. However, the city has high levels of poverty and unemployment so the responses it adopts for climate change need to be responsive to these needs.
As Ms Nongcebo Hlongwa, Climate Protection Scientist with the Climate Protection Branch of the Environmental Planning and Climate Change Department, explains, “Our responses need to not only address environmental change issues but should also address the economic and social challenges. This has been the approach adopted by the city. The Municipal Climate Change Pro--
gramme calls for both mitigation and adaption responses and as the result equal emphasis and the integration of these approaches at project level has been vital.”
Urbanisation is changing the face of Durban, as it has most of Africa's population centres. In-migration and the resulting unplanned informal settlements have overwhelmed the city's ability to supply basic services.
The effects of a changing climate has been swamping the city's infrastructure. ETHEKWINI has brought considerable human resources to bear and has implemented a number of environmental programmes and projects to improve the quality of life in the city.
As Hlongwa points out, “Urbanisation per se is not the challenge, but unplanned urban development. Durban is addressing urban development through engaging with novel governance participator approaches.”
The city's Community- Ecosystembased Adaptation (CEBA) programme along with extensive and ongoing research has helped the city to plan better. Ecosystem-based adaptation is the theory that healthy sustainable ecosystems make it easier for communities to adapt to a changing climate.
Durban is a biodiversity hotspot split between three terrestrial biomes savannah, forest, and grassland - and supports over 2 000 plant species, 97 km of coast, 18 rivers, 16 estuaries and 4 000 km of river shoreline. This green infrastructure complements the city's hard, or concrete-based, infrastructure solutions.
Climate change influences city planning
In 2009 the Presidency announced that South Africa would commit to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 34 per cent by 2020. With financial, technical and capacity building support from developed nations, South Africa would commit to a 42 per cent reduction by 2025.
Cities like Durban have an advantage over national governments in their ability to formulate and enact policy. Being physically closer to the populations they answer to makes it easier to create and deliver resourceefficient and less polluting solutions.
The consequences of policy are observable and cooperation between officials and the citizens they answer to can lead to innovative ideas on waste management, urban planning and transport solutions and how to develop and improve existing infrastructure.
ETHEKWINI has champions driving the generation and implementation of solutions and plans in the absence of formal agreements, policy and legislation. “Local governments can use their own mandates. For example, in South Africa local governments have a mandate for planning, to drive climate change action.”
For its part, the city has implemented air-quality regulations that have lowered the concentrations of major pollutants. Over the last decade it has become the leader among African cities in understanding and mitigating the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.
These regulations have lowered the sulphur dioxide levels in the city from industrial and agricultural operations – sugar cane crop burning was a large source of emissions. It is also starting programmes for the capture of landfill methane onsite.
As early as 2006 climate change began to influence the city's thinking on urban planning. In 2007 the Municipal Climate Protection Programme was introduced, which led to the establishment of the Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department.
As Hlongwa points out, “Durban's approach to tackling climate change has been to play to our twin strengths of our people and natural environment. Institutional commitment, both politically and administratively, is an important ingredient for this plan. Without this commitment, the allocation of resources is unlikely. It also assists with elevating the issue of climate change and urgency for action.”
Hlongwa points out that the city would not be able to respond as well as it has to the myriad challenges it faces if it were not for its commitment to research. There are other challenges – securing funding, political support and engaging with residents – but having research available makes them easier.
One of the more innovative projects is the Metropolitan Open Space
System. It offers mitigation and adaptation benefits to the city by acting as a carbon sink (natural or artificial reservoir that accumulates and stores carbon-containing chemicals) and preserves large areas of natural habitat.
“This system also plans an important role in temperature regulation for the city and assisting with minimising the heat island effect experienced by many cities from around the world.”
If we do nothing
Cities in the global south will bear the brunt of climate change and will exacerbate poverty. A four-degree increase in global temperatures would raise sea levels and the city up to the city hall would be submerged.
“The city's obligation is to all its residents. We have a mandate to ensure their safety and the delivery of services. If we did not plan for climate change we would in the long run not be able to meet our legal mandate. In addition, it will result in social, economic and infrastructural losses that could have been otherwise prevented by the city, thus planning for change including environmental change is one of the municipality's responsibilities.”