INTERNATIONAL - Africa is sometimes better known for its vulnerability to climate change than its action on the problem – but a set of African cities intend to change that.
Eight cities – from Accra to Dar es Salaam – pledged this week to deliver their share of emissions cuts needed to meet Paris Agreement targets to limit climate change.
That means achieving “zero carbon” city economies by 2050 - with climate changing emissions eliminated, or dramatically reduced and any small remaining emissions offset by other green actions.
“We cannot ignore the implications of what will befall us if we do not act now,” said Mohammed Adjei Sowah, the mayor of Accra, Ghana’s capital, at a planning meeting in Nigeria on urban climate action in Africa.
Pursuing development in the way it’s traditionally been done is no longer feasible, he said in Lagos at the launch of the emissions cutting push.
Achieving the aim will require significant work. According to the World Bank, of the top 10 big world cities with the lowest climate-changing emissions, only one – Johannesburg – is in Africa.
Under the new commitments, cities will work to reduce emissions from things such as transport, buildings, energy production and waste management – an effort some have already started.
The city of Tshwane (formerly Pretoria) in South Africa, for instance, has carried out an inventory of its emissions, to better understand which areas need the most urgent work.
The city’s mayor also has for four years organised the African Capital Cities Sustainability Forum, which led to the creation of a sustainability unit in Tshwane’s mayoral office.
“We started this climate action trajectory in 2013, putting together the carbon emission inventory and vulnerability assessment, out of which we then started to take action based on the data”, Sello Mphaga, head of the Tshwane mayor’s sustainability unit.
The city’s emissions come from “three main sectors – energy, waste management and transport. From the study, we see how much each sector is emitting and that assists us in planning to reduce or act upon these emissions,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the Lagos meeting.
Besides Accra, Tshwane and Dar es Salaam, other African cities that have signed the new pledge include Addis Ababa, Lagos, Dakar, Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.
Two other cities – Nairobi and Abidjan – are expected to submit their plans to take part soon, said Mark Watts, executive director of the C40 Cities alliance, a global network of cities tackling climate change.
To try to achieve the Paris Agreement goals, cities signed on to the new African effort commit to reduce their carbon emissions to zero by 2050.
Sowah, of Accra, said he believes it is possible to dramatically cut urban African emissions, particularly as more African cities become aware of the impact of worsening climate extremes, from recurring droughts and floods to failed crops and more migration.
But African cities will need to hold the line on emissions even as their populations grow substantially in coming decades.