Andreas Späth

How green are SA cities?

2013-10-07 11:51

Andreas Wilson-Späth

How eco-friendly is your hometown? Is it doing enough to remain sustainable in the face of 21st Century environmental challenges?

Of course it’s not a simple thing to compare one city’s green credentials with another’s, and it certainly shouldn’t be looked at as a competition over bragging rights, but some of the results from two international surveys that included South African cities make for interesting reading.

The Carbon Disclosure Project, an international non-profit organisation that encourages cities and companies to measure and share their environmental footprints, has recently published a report to illustrate “how climate change action is giving us wealthier, healthier cities”. Drawn from self-reported data in questionnaires completed by 110 global cities home to a total population of over 296 million people, it includes information for four SA cities: Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pietermaritzburg.

Cape Town is lauded in the report for having just secured more than $1 million for energy efficiency retrofits in municipal buildings to be undertaken over the next three years. Similar measures, including replacing traffic light and streetlamp light bulbs with energy efficient LED lights, are shown to offer significant financial savings to municipal budgets. Los Angeles, for instance, has achieved a $13 million a year saving in this fashion.

A whopping 91% of the participating cities believe that working to combat climate change will result in economic opportunities as a result of increased efficiency, the development of new industries, improved energy security, increased infrastructure investments and more. According to the response from Pietermaritzburg, “a city that is not paying attention to climate change will not be able to attract investors because the business environment is not conducive for sustainability”.

While all four of the participating SA cities have a climate change resilience plan in place, only two report city-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions:

- Cape Town: 20 550 175 tonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2e), based on 2007 measurements.

- Durban: 21 496 010 tonnes of CO2e, based on 2011 measurements.

The same two cities have committed themselves to city-wide reduction targets for GHG emissions:

- Cape Town: 10%.

- Durban: 25% (aims to be carbon neutral by 2050).

The African Green City Index, published at the end of 2011, independently evaluated the environmental performance of 15 major cities in 11 countries, including Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria. Here are some of the results in different categories:

Waste generated (kilograms per person per year):

- Cape Town: 573
- Durban: 519
- Johannesburg: 401
- Pretoria: 1070
- Average of all 15 cities evaluated: 408

Population living in informal settlements:

- Cape Town: 17%
- Durban: 22%
- Johannesburg: 19%
- Pretoria: 27%
- Average of all 15 cities evaluated: 38%

Water consumption (litres person per day):

- Cape Town: 225
- Durban: 253
- Johannesburg: 349
- Pretoria: 320
- Average of all 15 cities evaluated: 187

Electricity consumption (Gigajoules per person per year):

- Cape Town: 13.9
- Durban: 11.3
- Johannesburg: 5.6
- Pretoria: 12
- Average of all 15 cities evaluated: 6.4

Because of our reliance on coal-fired power stations, CO2 emissions as a result of electricity consumption were extremely high for the SA cities evaluated (on average, 3 tonnes per person per year) – more than five times higher than for their North African counterparts and over 60 times higher than for the remaining sub-Saharan cities.

The overall rating for the African Green City Index looks as follows:

- Above average: Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban (together with Accra, Casablanca and Tunis). None of the cities analysed were considered to be “well above average”.

- Average: Pretoria (together with Addis Ababa, Alexandria, Lagos and Cairo).

And in case you’re wondering, here are highest ranking cities elsewhere in the world when evaluated according to the same criteria:

- Europe: Copenhagen

- Latin America: Curitiba

- Asia: Singapore

- USA & Canada: San Francisco.

- Andreas is a freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath
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