Written by: Theresa Smith
When speaking about urban sustainability and the green economy, one cannot hide from the fact that Africa’s urban population more than doubled between 2000 and 2020 and is expected to double again between 2020 and 2050.
Speaking at Africa’s Green Economic Summit (AGES), Hastings Chikoko, regional director for Africa of the C40 Climate Leadership Group, SA said: “It can be either an opportunity, or a crash, depending on what we do in our cities.
“If we don’t do the right things, this urbanisation could just mean a multiplication of poverty and inequality and an increase in the informality of cities. But, I we do the right things, urbanisation plus the youth bulge plus technology will offer opportunities for Africa to achieve a green economy,” said Chikoko.
He believes it is time to recognise that the narrative around Africa is changing. The continent has some of the world’s fastest growing economies, vast natural resources, a demographic typified by a youth bulge, expanding urbanisation and many more opportunities than challenges.
“[However] We cannot talk about Africa right now, without talking about energy access and the energy transition on this continent. We have the statistics around potential, but at the same time we have challenges in this sector, in the region. So, the question is, how is energy distribution laying the groundwork for sustainable cities, for energy access and the transition and the green economy in Africa?” he asked.
At AGES Chikoko asked a panel of city officials from across Africa to explain what each of their regions is doing to rethink urbanisation and the green economy.
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Putting cities at the centre of climate action in Africa
Urban sustainability through development of infrastructure
Ole Stubdrup, project manager with the AfDB’s Urban and Municipal Development Fund Secretariat said the African Development Bank created the fund to address the issue of urban sustainability.
“It’s clear to us that cities are the drivers for growth, livelihoods, and jobs. We can support through the Fund, the visions of the cities, turning strategy into investment,” said Stubdrup.
The Fund provides technical assistance and support and helps to prepare solid pipelines. It also helps to establish what the cities must do to fulfil their visions. “People are migrating to cities and we are challenged by the lack of services,” said Stubdrup.
The Fund helps cities/municipalities to prepare urban development projects and get them ready for public and private financing from local and international sources.
The changing face of mobility
Thami Manyathi, head of eThekwini Transport Authority, eThekwini Municipality said, going forward, transformation in cities will be about more than just infrastructure development as “more work needs to be done in transforming how operations actually work in cities.”
“In cities and metros, there’s good experience in terms of financing infrastructure projects, but there’s less experience on how to finance the rolling stock. Now, with e-mobility, there’ll be a new question around how to finance the charging infrastructure,” said Manyathi.
He questioned how the just energy transition will influence e-mobility, and especially change the ways financial institutions look at the minibus taxi industry in South Africa.
“At the end of the day, for the city to transform, we cannot leave the minibus taxis behind. Even if, traditionally, this country, it’s a difficult sector to finance,” said Manyathi.
He reminded that owners of minibus taxis in South Africa often face up to three times the bank charges and interest regular citizens have to pay. “Cities need to create a new way for how they play their role in reducing the risks to the sector so that financial institutions would be comfortable with extending lending at an affordable rate to the minibus taxi industry. Else, the just energy transition will be but a dream and not translate beyond wishful thinking,” warned Manyathi.
Costs associated with the deployment of new technologies requires a change or rules and regulations, according to Manyathi, who thinks financial institutions will have to be the leaders in this regard going forward. “Charging infrastructure and rolling stock is where the work needs to be done,” he explained.
Energy efficiency means thinking beyond electrons
Mary Haw of the City of Cape Town’s Renewable Energy & Efficiency: Sustainable Energy Markets department, said from the city’s perspective, energy is the crucial link that will make sustainable cities a reality. “E-mobility and the energy interface is interesting. It’s not just about individual vehicles, but grid access and empowering people to make better decisions around energy and transport.
“As cities, we’re often on the backfoot when it comes to trust. A lot of customers and citizens distrust all levels of government. Those of us in municipalities have to work to gain that trust. A priority programme for us is energy security of economic development. It’s about keeping jobs, making jobs. Having energy for industry to have a vibrant economy is the most important way to include everyone and create a space where they can be economically active,” explained Haw.
The City of Cape Town is placing a premium on creating programmes that will alleviate loadshedding and also address energy access.
Mass urbanisation does create energy poverty because people simply cannot afford electricity, and “there is a gender inequality to energy poverty. So, hopefully through strategy and work around alleviating energy poverty, we can address systemic inequality,” said Haw.
The city is also actively driving the concept of net-zero carbon buildings. “The built environment is where most of energy is being used, so how do we build low-carbon developments and drive efficient energy use?” she asked.
Haw believes collaboration is very important: “We can show leadership, but it cannot be done without customer engagement.”
Policy development has a place
Jacob Byamukama, acting Director of Engineering & Technical Services, Kampala Capital City Authority, Uganda reiterated Haw’s emphasis on collaboration, but said policy development is just as important.
“You have to have a policy in place that allows you to use the energy you have. The other thing is to make sure you have the capability to attract finance,” said Byamukama.
He said partnerships are necessary too. While their forays into electrifying their public transport system are being led by the private sector to a certain extent, the Ministry responsible for transport still has to step in to regulate things like transport routes.
Byamukama said they cannot wait however for regulation to show the way. “The technology is moving fast. We have to work together, start implementing and correct mistakes as we go along. We have to ensure an infrastructure that is fair for everyone to use,” he said.
When it comes to urban sustainability, what comes first, policy or action?
Tshepo Kgobe, COO, Gautrain Management Agency said they followed that same principle when they created the Gautrain almost 15 years ago. At the time South Africa did not have any urban sustainability policies or strategies, so the Agency created its own one. “When you talk sustainable urban mobility, everyone thinks about the vehicles. But, everyone leaves out the stations – the buildings. Can you build off-grid? Can you use the real estate to produce your own solar power?
“The biggest challenge is everyone is waiting for government to create the strategy. We don’t work like that. We drive the policy. When you’re at the cutting edge of technology, you have to always reinvest in yourself. What do you become next?
“One has to drive policy, instead of wait for policy to be developed. It’s an important mindshift,” explained Kgobe. ESI