Mayor Parks Tau and Earthlife Africa Jhb’s Tristen Taylor debate whether the City of Joburg has done enough to curb climate change.
Corridors of Freedom point the way
The idea is to create a more people-centred city, where the needs of all citizens are placed at the heart of all planning processes, says Parks Tau.
The concept of the City of Joburg’s public transport, Corridors of Freedom, is aimed at ensuring that all residents and users are able to reap the benefits of this new spatial vision.
These public transport corridors will lead to residents having freedom of choice, freedom of movement and, most important, connections to employment opportunities that stimulate economic freedom.
This new cityscape and approach to city planning and development will provide urban spaces that work for residents, and those who commute in and out of the city each day for employment purposes.
The idea is to create a more people-centred city, where the needs of all citizens are placed at the heart of all planning processes, including acknowledging housing challenges, the need to create more employment opportunities for residents, and an urgent need to improve public transport for those living in the city or commuting.
But these are not the only benefits to be offered by the Corridors of Freedom.
They also offer an unprecedented opportunity for the City of Joburg to lead the way in finding effective and sustainable solutions to some of the most pressing climate-change challenges facing South Africa.
The City of Joburg is faced with the challenge of providing housing, services and opportunities for a diverse and growing population of about 4.4 million people.
The city continues to attract local and international migrants seeking economic opportunities, quality of life and refuge.
Climate change is expected to increase the pace of migration as people face natural resource scarcity and the collapse of agricultural livelihoods because of rising temperatures and extreme weather events.
The City of Joburg recognises that there is a need to be more resource-efficient and smarter in the way it provides services, to reduce its carbon footprint while expanding access for all residents, and to build resilience in the face of climate-change impacts and threats.
The city needs to embrace global climate change advice and expertise, combined with technological innovation to create greener neighbourhoods, in terms of services, transport and the built environment.
This aspiration is embodied in the Growth and Development Strategy vision and goals for the development of the city towards 2040, with its focus on the concepts of resilience, sustainability and liveability.
At the same time, the City of Joburg recognises that it is among the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in South Africa, mainly as a result of its considerable industrial, transport and domestic activities.
However, with its progressive Climate Change Adaptation Plan, the City of Joburg aims to reduce harmful emissions through raising awareness initiatives, diversifying energy sources through renewables, enhancing energy efficiency, stimulating economic growth through green planning and development programmes, and strategic adaptation interventions.
To address these challenges as part of its plan, the City of Joburg carried out a city-wide vulnerability assessment.
The assessment, which brought together a multidisciplinary team of engineers, environmental consultants and climatologists, identified key sector-specific risks in the city, based on climate projections developed specifically for the assessment project.
The assessment identified 10 high-priority risk areas.
These included increases in heat-related deaths, energy demand, and health risks related to disease vectors; a range of urban flood-related risks; disruption to water security; and climate change-driven migration from sub-Saharan Africa.
The vulnerability assessment provided the basis for the city to develop and launch its comprehensive Climate Change Adaptation Plan, which prioritises strategic investments and activities to reduce climate risks.
The Corridors of Freedom initiative actively demonstrates the progressive inplementation of the Climate Change Adaptation Plan through its decisive turn towards a low-carbon future, with eco-efficient infrastructure that underpins a sustainable environment.
Key actions towards achieving greater climate resilience through more effective environmental sustainability impacts can be seen in a number of strategic projects that are being implemented as part of the Corridors of Freedom project:
Ultimately, the social benefits and advantages to be gained as a result of this ambitious and exciting Corridors of Freedom approach to spatial planning and development by the City of Joburg all mean good news for residents, workers, businesses and, importantly, the environment.
It will provide a tangible and innovative road map for a more sustainable future, and one that leads the way in addressing some of the most pressing climate-change challenges facing the country’s major cities.
C40: where only the rich and powerful gather
Under such scenarios our children would truly become, to paraphrase Frantz Fanon, the wretched of this Earth, says Tristen Taylor.
Next week mayors from 40 cities across the world will gather in Joburg to discuss climate change. And that is all they will probably do – talk. And maybe have a couple of cocktails and some fine dinners at Sandton’s top restaurants.
Will they actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent catastrophic climate change? Highly unlikely, especially given the choice of Joburg as the venue for the C40 shindig.
The 600-megawatt coal-fired Kelvin power station, visible from OR Tambo International Airport, stands as a mocking indictment to the city of Joburg’s commitment to combat climate change.
Mayor Parks Tau will undoubtedly trumpet the city’s sterling work on a planned 19MW of landfill gas – Rea Vaya – and five government buildings using energy-efficient lighting.
He will ignore the city’s purchasing of 13.1 million MW of electricity from the Kelvin power station and Eskom’s coal-fired power stations, which results in the city emitting 13 million tons of CO2 a year.
When the data is examined, the city’s sourcing of electricity from coal-fired power stations is a significant cause of climate change.
If you want to know who is responsible for the impending drought, extreme weather, malnutrition, malaria and economic chaos that climate change will bring to the Highveld, you don’t have to look further than Eskom’s top brass sitting in Megawatt Park and the political leadership at city hall.
And herein lies the fundamental contradiction within gatherings like the C40.
Like mayor Tau, many of these officials are elected by the residents of cities (almost 600 million people) to provide them with a better life.
A better life is incompatible with catastrophic climate change, as defined by anything above 2ºC warming.
The latest report from the International Panel for Climate Change indicates that over 4ºC warming this century is likely if we continue burning coal and other fossil fuels, and this will rise to 6ºC and beyond in the 22nd century.
These kinds of temperature increases are incompatible with modern civilisation and would probably bring about global and local societal collapse. Under such scenarios, our children would truly become, to paraphrase the African philosopher Frantz Fanon, the wretched of this Earth.
While the science on climate change is clear and the causes well known – even the World Bank, an institution not noted for alarmism, has repeatedly stated that a 4ºC temperature rise is to be avoided at all costs – our politicians have failed completely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Hosting the C40 summit is a prime example of talking about climate change, but failing to act upon it.
For, if the City of Joburg was serious about the reduction of greenhouse gases and the upholding of democratic and social gains from our political liberation in 1994, it would act, and the appropriate actions are remarkably easy to identify:
With leadership and effort, these three actions would dramatically reduce the city’s negative impact on the planet and provide hope for all of us who call Joburg home.
If we do not have such leadership, we will have the death of the social contract: We vote mayors into power to act in our interests, they fail to act, and we end up in a world blighted with catastrophic climate change, which is not in our interests or those of our children.