File photo: Tristen Taylor, the project co-ordinator of Earthlife Africa Jhb, plans to protest outside the Sandton venue with his colleagues because of Joburg  and South Africa's  addiction to coal-fired power. Picture: Cara Viereckl

Johannesburg - Take innovative action to avoid the worst impact of climate change, and cut back on the rhetoric. That’s the plea civil society groupings want Joburg mayor Parks Tau to heed when he meets mayors from around the world to discuss how they are tackling climate change.

“The irony of hosting a meeting about climate-change action in a country that is steadfastly investing in new coal mines and power stations (one of the primary contributors to climate change) is not lost on us,” Melita Steele, who is the energy project leader of Greenpeace Africa, says of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group Mayors Summit, to be held in Sandton.

She laments that all South Africans are “locked into dirty electricity” supplied by Eskom, generated almost entirely by coal-fired power stations.

“If the City of Joburg were serious about acting on climate change, affordable, easily installed household-generated renewable energy, with a feed-in tariff, would be top of the list. We look to the South African mayors to come up with immediate and measurable outcomes by the end of this summit.”

Steele says “much better public transport, solar water geysers and energy-efficiency measures, together with actively lobbying cities and mayors”, are important elements of the solution to the threats posed by climate change.

Tristen Taylor, the project co-ordinator of Earthlife Africa Jhb, plans to protest outside the Sandton venue with his colleagues because of Joburg – and South Africa’s – addiction to coal-fired power.

By not embracing renewable energy, South Africa is sleepwalking into disaster and Joburg will bear the brunt of the calamity, he warns.

“You can expect malaria to come to the highveld and the upheaval of the rural economy because of drought. Where will all those people come to? Joburg. This is going to put more pressure on infrastructure, which is creaking already without climate stress.”

If temperatures rise by 2ºC, this will present a “huge financial, administrative, logistical burden” for the City of Joburg. Temperatures are likely to climb by as much as 5º in this century – and Joburg will not be able to cope.

“If they can’t keep things like stormwater drains and municipal services running, making sure people don’t get flooded on the banks of places like the Jukskei, a functional transport system – all the things we want now, I doubt they will be able to deal with an increase of four or 5º.

“Very few cities in the world are able to deal with that. Parks (Tau) can host nice meetings and get on to his bicycle, but unless these mayors actually change the way cities purchase and generate power we can forget about it.”

This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its latest report, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, said the warming of the climate system was unequivocal, human influence on the climate system was clear, and limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

Bob Scholes, a systems ecologist at the CSIR, salutes the City of Joburg for some of its measures to tackle carbon emissions.

“Cities like Cape Town, eThekwini and Joburg are quite proactive on this issue in different ways. I wouldn’t necessarily say they are global front runners… but they are in the pack.”

Matshidiso Mfikoe, mayoral committee member for environment and infrastructure, says the city is committed to reducing its reliance on coal.

“We know that coal is creating problems for our environment. Let us ensure we work together to add renewables to the mix, to work towards green procurement and creating a green economy.” - Saturday Star