As we prepare to face another drier and hotter summer, Paris too sweltered as the heat fell on the global debate about climate change. With the world training its eyes on the outcome of the Conference of Parties 21 (COP 21) it was perhaps imperative that urban conglomerates of the global south should have been at the negotiating core of the battle.
Regrettably, it makes limited concessions to the developing world, stressing to promote “universal access to sustainable energy” particularly in Africa with a focus on renewables.
Digging deeper, we have to acknowledge environmental degradation has increased internal and cross-border movements. Migrating populations have spilled into our cities, igniting the forlorn challenge to explore the relationships between global warming, food security and urbanisation.
One does not need to shout aloud to flag this phenomenon - African cities are on the move, the second-fastest urbanising region in the world and, according to a report by management consultants McKinsey & Co, Africa in 2012 was as nearly as urbanised as China with many of its cities in excess of a million souls.
Africa’s urban population is projected to triple according to the World Urbanisation Prospects 2014, burdening the continent with the world’s second-largest urban population behind Asia.
And there’s more bad news - sub-Saharan Africa is now projected as the only region where a considerable share of the urban population has failed to play a positive role in overall poverty reduction rates.
These research trends clearly indicate the worst victims of this “synthetic change” will be the poorest of the poor. Triggering a domino effect on food and nutritional security, children women and the marginalised groups will be disproportionately encumbered in the most impoverished countries.
Distressing is that child mortality of the poor is also on the rise in urban areas and women are increasingly burdened by the effects of climate change and systematically excluded from decision-making mechanisms.
Leading scientists have warned food production in South Africa is likely to be highly constrained owing to the low availability of suitable agrarian land and strained water supplies.
Dry conditions will prevail, escalating the great rural to urban migration, significantly altering our cityscapes. And as one of the most formidable social forces of our times, it will bring forth stifling challenges to urban household food security, sanitation, health, educational and loss of livelihood opportunities, declining access to water and deteriorating infrastructure.
Hunger will be a pervasive factor forcing more into informal economies and survivalist trading on the streets, battling noise, pollution, harassment, discrimination and violence.
Such insecurities have now edged out women who once dominated the informal sector, but are now increasingly being replaced by men.
Urban food street vendors and spaza shops are struggling to procure supplies from local retailers and small-scale farmers in the wake of rocketing prices, falling prey to climate-induced disruptions to food production.
A transition from producer to consumer status highlights climate change is likely to negatively accentuate existing levels of urban food security, reducing the amount and quality of food affordable for the poor. As our townships proliferate, food insecurity will be a result of insufficient storage facilities, lack of space to prepare meals and access to clean water and lack of sewage systems.
After a rather tardy start the global cities’ response to climate change is slowly gaining momentum with 10 cities worldwide, including Cape Town, announcing all planning and requirements are on target under the UN’s Compact of Mayors.
As the largest coalition of city leaders it addresses climate change by publicly committing to deep carbon emissions cuts and transparency in global reporting standards.
But then again, like most urban planning policies, it remains largely oblivious to the concerns of urban informal traders.
As a global challenge, climate change provokes critical thought about our need to engage cross- sectoral collaboration and leadership.
It is critical to ensure that these voices from the street who make up 5 percent of the GDP are firmly ensconced in negotiating, participating, designing and implementing policies that will generate innovative and localised solutions to build resilient urban communities.
* Kundal is senior researcher with the DST-NRF Centre for Excellence in Food Security at University of the Western Cape.