Durban goes green

2011-09-10 11:14

Durban 2100: the sea level will rise by a metre, the air and water temperature will shoot up by five degrees Celsius, heatwaves will treble, malaria and cholera will sweep the city, and the water ­supply will fail.

Local crops will be destroyed by extreme weather conditions, ­alternating between heavy rains and periods of drought.

These are not the dire visions of some crazed doomsday prophet, but part of the findings of a study by the Academy of Science of South Africa, entitled Towards a Carbon Free City.

It was commissioned by the eThekwini municipality to start developing policies aimed at urgently dealing with ­climate change.

It paints a picture of a city faced with immense challenges created by massive industrial pollution, ­urban sprawl forcing residents to commute unnecessarily, and poor regulation and enforcement.However, the bleak vision is tempered by positive steps already taken by the city over the past decade.

At present, Durban generates 7% of South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions. Of these, 45% are generated by industry, 25% by transport, 17% by residents, 8% by the commercial sector and 5% by the municipality itself.

The report argues that the city can make a serious impact on ­climate change by changing the way its residents live and the way its industries do business.

The report reads: “Because cities contain the highest population densities and most of the activities that produce greenhouse gases, they present the greatest opportunities for ­mitigation and adaptation.

“Cities have authority over ­sectors such as water, waste and transport, in which most interventions are likely to introduce policies and financial incentives to initiate ­climate-change action.”

It also lays out 12 key steps the city – the greenest in the country – needs to take to cut greenhouse gas emissions, conserve its water supply and reduce its carbon ­footprint.

Among the existing initiatives introduced by the city are landfill gas to electricity projects, electricity turbines in water aqueducts, ­extensive green-lung areas across the city and an energy office to ­coordinate green initiatives.

According to the report, the city’s low-density, sprawling ­nature makes it among the most ­inefficient in the world in terms of carbon consumption.

Poor planning has resulted in new neighbourhoods springing up far from the city and resources, creating “inefficient movement”, with the situation being worsened by the move northwards by private developers.

As a result, residents have to travel long distances to and from work, adding to the city’s ­carbon footprint.“The role of planning in transforming the city into a low carbon city is critical.

Planning tools have thus far failed to contain the ­demands and pressures of the market.

Developers have driven new growth to the periphery of the city in their search for greenfield sites,” the report adds.

At the same time, the role of ­industry as a polluter is far higher than in any other city in the country, with high-carbon industries concentrated in the city’s south.

The report suggests several ways of dealing with this, including: tougher environmental ­by-laws and enforcement to hit polluters, focusing city spending on supporting low-carbon industries, changing city procurement so that environmental concerns are ­factored in, and providing tax ­incentives to cleaner industries.

While the study has been ­attacked by environmental activists as downplaying the role of ­industry and ignoring the environmental impact of the new dug-out port ­expansion, city manager Mike ­Sutcliffe believes it is the basis of an effective policy framework for ensuring that the city survives ­climate change.

“We will look at the various ­proposals and put them before committee by the end of the year.

We have to change the way we work and plan. Industry is a reality of the city and we have to look at how best we can ensure that our city remains sustainable,’’ he said.

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