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Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille on a more ambitious climate change agenda

Climate change is one of the most significant challenges facing our planet.

At the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris in December, I was invited to participate in a number of events that dealt with the role cities can play in pushing national governments to commit to and achieve more ambitious climate change agendas.

I have come away from those deliberations more convinced than ever that cities have a pivotal role to play in both mitigating climate change and in adapting to the impacts of climate change.

It was inspiring to share a platform with other mayors, where the language we spoke was about implementation and doing, rather than just talking. What’s more, we had the opportunity to network with each other, sharing our best sustainable urban solutions and – as London Mayor Boris Johnson put it – stealing good ideas from each other.

In fact, this idea of city collaboration was a recurring theme throughout my time in Paris. C40 continues to play a key role in connecting the world’s finest and pioneering cities and providing invaluable opportunities to learn from one another.

I came away inspired by mayors like Karin Wanngård of Stockholm, whose city is utilising sewage to generate bio gas for their bus fleet. Similarly, in Cape Town, we are comprehensively looking at ways in which we can use all of our waste streams in the city far more effectively as a resource. While we have already initiated pilot projects to look at how we can use waste as an energy generation resource, Mayor Wanngård’s solution is a thoughtful one we may consider.

While we have come away from Paris with the sense that the world is finally taking climate change seriously, what still remains is a major emissions gap between national commitments and where we must be to limit global climate change to 1.5 degrees.

The good news is that cities are taking action.

Cape Town has already started this journey, and our approach to climate change is to give specific priority to those projects that deliver co-benefits, or simultaneously reduce poverty and create much-needed jobs.

Examples of these projects include our large-scale ceilings retrofit project, which has health, social, and environmental benefits: the first phase alone will not only create around 800 job opportunities, but it will also improve energy efficiency through a reduction in carbon emissions and electricity consumption.

Cape Town is the lead city of the C40 Municipal Building Efficiency Network, which recently produced the Municipal Building Efficiency Good Practice Guide for cities.  It offers mayors and urban policymakers roadmaps for making their buildings more efficient, ranging from advice on target-setting through to robust energy performance contracting. The guide featured a case study on Cape Town’s behaviour change strategy for municipal building managers, who are critical in driving energy savings for the city.

On the energy security and diversification fronts, Cape Town is procuring renewable energy from independent power producers and has an initiative for households and businesses to feed excess electricity from rooftop photovoltaic panels back into the City’s grid. All of this will help with the goal of sourcing between 10 – 20% of our energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Finally, our successful Water Conservation and Water Demand Management Programme (WCWDM) has been an instrumental adaptation measure and was announced as the winner in the Adaptation Implementation Category at the 2015 C40 Cities Awards in Paris.

Through effective resource management and a shared responsibility with residents over a 15-year period, the WCWDM programme has resulted in a reduction in demand or water savings of more than 30%, making Cape Town a national leader in reducing water demand and losses. The programme also involved the training of “community plumbers” for household leak repair programmes, most of who were previously unemployed from disadvantaged communities and given the opportunity to develop marketable skills and experience.

These initiatives affirm our commitment to the Compact of Mayors and the Paris Pledge for Action at COP21, both of which strengthen our abilities to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions and enhance resilience to climate change.

If we are going to be more ambitious, the City will not be able to do it alone. Partnerships with citizens, businesses and various stakeholders will help us tackle climate change effectively.

I trust that we all have a renewed sense of urgency to address climate change and protect our planet and economy while improving the lives of our residents.