Moving mountains : Cape Town changes course

Cape Town (South Africa)


Fonds mondial pour le développement des villes (FMDV)

Cape Town is endowed with both ocean and mountains. It covers an area of 2,500 km² and is home to 3.8 million people. The city enjoys an internationally recognised environmental wealth of exceptional biodiversity, which would appear to be impossible to reconcile with its many social and economic challenges.

Rapid urban sprawl, a disproportionately high carbon footprint and the difficulties of poor communities in accessing energy are combined with a low level of energy security, natural resources under threat and increased vulnerability to climate change.

The municipality has taken action by deciding to continuously integrate the environment into its policy. Its proactive approach seeks synergies between sustained economic growth and providing high-level, equitable services for its community. A commitment for the long haul.

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Seeking a compromise between development and regional resilience

Cape Town is South Africa’s second largest economic centre with 10.6% of national GDP (after Johannesburg, 16%) and has a municipal budget of about EUR 2.58bn for the fiscal year 2011/121. One of its main challenges is to eradicate economic and social inequalities which put a strain on local relationships between citizens (21% unemployment rate, 400% increase in electricity prices by 2016 – 2006 baseline) and between communities and their environment (carbon footprint of 7.82 tonnes per capita per year)2.

The city is seeking to address the twofold need for economic and social development on the one hand, and environmental preservation on the other hand. It has thus been working for over ten years to integrate an environmental strategy into its development policy. Consequently, several documents have been produced, which aim to implement and promote the sustainability of its territory (Integrated Metropolitan Environmental Policy in 2001, Energy and Climate Change Strategy in 2006).

In 2011, an Energy and Climate Change Action Plan set out a series of environmental targets. This action plan will form the backbone of the decision-making process for developing urban projects that have a social and economic impact at the local level. Under the umbrella of climate change mitigation, this Action Plan constitutes the optimal phase in building regional resilience for all.

Action through influence: placing the environmental strategy at the highest level of governance across all sectors

In order to come up with a series of 40 programmes comprising 120 projects combining economic, social and environmental issues, the city first and foremost defined a political and administrative framework. This framework establishes environmental issues as a guide for the political and administrative decision-making process.

The Environmental Resource Management Department, a central entity, disseminates the environmental strategy across all the sectoral departments. It is made up of a qualified technical team able to spread strong messages to decision-making arenas.

Efficient institutional architecture, dedicated instruments

Several instruments are used for this purpose, including discussion forums between technical departments and a series of committees which meet to discuss issues related to sustainable urban development.

A dedicated political body, the Energy and Climate Change Committee, was set up in 2009. It gathers together the Deputy Mayor and the City Councillors of each relevant department about 6 times a year to discuss the priorities of the city’s political agenda. It is completed by an administrative subcommittee made up of the executive directors of the departments.

These committees make it possible for the City to integrate environmental considerations into the political definition of urban strategies and encourages cross-sectoral implementation in each of the relevant departments and programmes.

Thanks to this enhanced process, a chapter devoted to climate change adaptation has now been included in the Integrated Development Plan, a document setting guidelines for municipal budget priorities.

Along the same lines, the Spatial Development Framework, an urban development instrument par excellence, restores balance to a city previously prone to segregation, promotes a denser urban fabric, and will now be supported by Environmental Management Frameworks defined for each of the city’s 8 District Plans.

A pilot phase for this initiative has been launched in the most sensitive townships of Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha in order to define which areas to urbanise as a priority and which ones to preserve.

This process to integrate the environment into the urban planning system would not be possible without the presence of political leaders who are responsive to technical expertise and proactive in local innovation. Indeed, the implementation of sustainable urban projects can only be made legal, and thus binding, following the City Council’s approval of these integrated environmental strategies.

Taking action: projects which permanently combine environmental policy and social and economic benefits

The strength of this sustainability strategy also lies in continuously negotiated compromises for urban projects between the long-term impacts on the environmental sustainability of the area, and the direct benefits for the city’s immediate social and economic development needs.

Two programmes, the Integrated Rapid Transit (IRT) system and Solar Water Heater (SWH) programme, are good examples of how communities’ resilience is gradually being strengthened over the long term, along with an improvement in their living conditions in the short term. Following a resolute but long process of institutionally rooting environmental sustainability, they symbolise the municipality’s desire to activate the hinge pin of its resilience for all policy.

IRT and SWH: the “initials” of change

In a first case, in its drive to promote a compact, energy-efficient and accessible city, the municipality has designed a sustainable transport system combined with a policy increasing the density of the urban fabric focussed on transport axes and nodes. The IRT project, which was launched in 2010, was initiated for the Football World Cup. Phase I of the MyCiTi network involved adding 310 buses (8, 12 and 18 m) linking up the airport and other key satellite nodes in the north with the city centre, and phase II plans to serve outlying neighbourhoods in the south of the city.

In addition to a decrease in CO2 emissions from a reduction in the massive use of private cars, this project will reduce the spatial inequality suffered by township residents by bringing poor residential areas (notably Cape Flats) closer to dynamic economic centres. Moreover, the strengthening of transport axes will boost the economy by creating new economic clusters along the lines.

This densification policy, combined with the creation of a more efficient transport system, is expected to generate savings of nearly EUR 1bn by 2030 (roughly 40% of the municipal budget). EUR 175m of investments have already been planned for this project for 2013 (phase II).

In the second example, the Action Plan for Energy and Climate Change intends to reduce the city’s energy consumption by 10% by 2015, including 6% of savings from scaling up the Solar Water Heater (SWH) system technology in 400,000 medium-to-high income households which have an electric water heater. The aim is to eventually equip all medium-to-high income households and thus create 10,200 year-round jobs (related to the installation of the water heaters and the development of the solar sector) over the next 10 years. The cost of the programme is estimated at EUR 298m.

Several initiatives have been launched to provide this technology to the most vulnerable communities. A first project was launched in Kuyasa in 2006 (a neighbourhood in the township of Khayelitsha southeast of Cape Town) thanks to a partnership between the NGO SouthSouthNorth, the City of Cape Town’s Department of Environmental Affairs, the Provincial Housing Department, the National Department of Public Works, and the South African Export Development Fund.

The objectives were to reduce economic and energy poverty in the community by decreasing fossil fuel consumption, and therefore CO2 emissions, thanks to the improvement in thermal performance in low-cost housing and the promotion of energy-saving lighting, and solar water heating for low-income households. The equipment of 2,309 houses has made water and electricity savings estimated at EUR 62 per household per year (for an average monthly income of between EUR 95 and EUR 285); there has been a reduction in respiratory illnesses in 81% of households and local professionals have been trained in these new technologies (65,000 work days have been created in the community for the project).

While each new housing construction for the medium-to-high income categories today integrates the SWH technology, the Kuyasa project is an encouraging start to eventually replicating this integration in 3 million low-cost houses, to be built by 2025: given the figures that have been provided, this scale-up will have significant macroeconomic effects. However, the SWH project is difficult to implement on a widespread scale due to the long process required to integrate this technology (cost and legal amendment) into the policies of the national government, which subsidises these low-cost houses.

Working towards applied environmental integration: creating opportunities for partnerships, investments and visibility

The implementation of the City of Cape Town’s strategy requires significant institutional changes, strong technical expertise, a substantial investment capacity, effective management, and an alignment with high spheres of government.

It is by developing new instruments that the municipality has managed to integrate environmental considerations into its institutional system, beyond changes in government. Practical mechanisms to establish a position on the environment (forums, strategy, training of technicians), measure these resources (environmental report, environmental management system) and include the environment in urban planning tools (environmental management frameworks) have brought technical teams together for a common project. The city’s aim is to fully integrate these tools into the daily practices of sectoral technical teams in order to bring multi-faceted urban projects to fruition.

The municipality’s capacity building also relies on a number of partnerships with NGOs (Sustainable Energy Africa, ICLEI), academic institutions (universities, research institutes), the public electricity company, and the Climate Change Think Tank.

The sectoral development agency Green Cape was set up in 2010 via a partnership between the Cape Town Municipality and the Western Cape province in order to remove the existing barriers to the potential of developing a green energy economy and creating the related employment opportunities (for example, by establishing a competitiveness hub based on green technologies located in Atlantis, a town north of Cape Town, and promoting the development of the SWH technology on a larger scale).

This partnership culture provides essential technical expertise to meet environmental challenges and attracts a committed network of stakeholders from beyond the municipal sector.

Projects which include the environmental dimension require heavy public investment by local authorities. The multiplier effect of these projects on economic and social development must be visible. In the future, environmental projects may offer new opportunities for the creation of a market for green technology production and other related services, such as photovoltaic solar panels (today imported), which meet the need to both integrate the environmental dimension into the building sector and develop new manufacturing methods. If a “green economy” emerges, it will create an economic market able to make the municipality’s investments in the environment viable. Along the same lines, the reduction in CO2 emissions (stabilisation at 20M tonnes in 2025 instead of 28 in 2010) will increase the green attractiveness to investors.

Challenges ahead

Although projects combining the reduction of environmental impacts and the social and economic benefit for communities have today proved their value, access to funding continues to be a major challenge for their implementation. Consequently, the municipality has strongly engaged in a search for funding.

The Kuyasa project, for example, has started trading on the carbon market via the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism, an opportunity which should be replicated for phase 2 of the IRT project. Other sources of financing may in the future come from the UN Green Climate Fund, as well as from identified national and international development banks and from sustainable investment funds.

Moreover, these projects point to the question of the need to amend the legal framework concerning the municipality’s powers and its capacity to control its urban planning. The ambitious projects, which today allow the municipality (which has been in the opposition since 2006) to build its resilience, all too often come up against the power of upper regional levels. Consequently, all projects are at one point dependent on funding or legal empowerment from central government, which seriously hinders environmental integration at the local level. Be it for the more sustainable construction of low-cost housing (national subsidies and mechanisms) or incentives to produce renewable energy locally (national competence), the municipality continues, meanwhile, to hold to a vision of a more long-term operation addressing vulnerable households, which will ensure it stays the course for its new sustainable directions.

from FMDV, 2012

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1 By comparison: Johannesburg has a budget of EUR 2.9bn in 2012 for 1,644km2 and 4 million inhabitants.

2 The ideal (equitable) value of the carbon footprint (1.3 teqCO2/per cap./year) is the result of the research of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).