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Informal settlements and climate change: An opportunity and challenge for cities of emerging economies

By Mayor Mpho Parks Tau of Johannesburg

The unprecedented growth of cities in emerging economies, coupled with the legacy of apartheid in South Africa has, since the early 1990s, led to a rapid increase in informal settlements, or slums, in Johannesburg.

As the economic heartland of South Africa, it is estimated that Johannesburg receives more than 10,000 new citizens each month. Inadequate provision of shelter, distorted land and housing policies, have led to the growth in informal settlements where these migrants from within and outside the borders of South Africa come to settle.

The residents of these informal settlements face many challenges, as they are situated far from the city’s economic opportunities, with no access to basic services such as water, sanitation and electricity. In addition the location of these slums expose the migrants to the threat from the worst effects of climate change, such as flooding. These risks are only likely to increase in the years ahead.

Johannesburg is committed to responding to climate change and creating a resilient city that is safe for all of our citizens. As part of our membership of C40 and participation with the Compact of Mayors, the city has conducted a greenhouse gas inventory, which guides the prioritization of climate actions in sectors such as transport and urban development.

Through the Corridors of Freedom project, the focus is on transit-oriented developments, which will contribute to re-stitching the spatial distortion created by apartheid.  The shape of the future city will consist of well-planned transport arteries – the Corridors of Freedom – linked to interchanges where the focus will be on mixed-use development. Joburgers will then not have to use private motorised transport but can opt for the alternative means, which include cycling, bus lanes and pedestrian walkways.

Parallel to this process, the informal settlements of Johannesburg are being prioritised for regularisation in order to provide basic services. Rudimentary housing structures are being replaced with solid structures, roof top solar water heaters are being installed, roads and storm water drainage are improved. We continue to invest in low carbon building technologies for low-income households.

Cities stand at key moment in global development following the adoption of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, recently signed by more than 175 countries and the emergent New Urban Agenda process that is expected to be adopted at Habitat III in October 2016.

Cities have long demonstrated that they can offer solutions for many global problems because they are centres of innovation. In Paris, mayors demonstrated their commitment to increase their actions at the Climate Summit for Local Leaders and shared this within the Lima Paris Action Agenda.

The Compact of Mayors, a collaborative tool between local government coalitions, is the most effective mechanism for mayors to demonstrate their collective effort and contribute to the Paris agreement and to achieve a 1.5-degree world.

As a city embracing the Paris outcomes, Johannesburg acknowledged that the pace and scale of action need to increase dramatically by 2020 to deliver on commitments, particularly in sectors most critical to mitigation and adaptation: buildings, transport, energy, land use, waste and hazards.

As a pioneer city in Africa for bus rapid system, the network coverage is being increased to provide reliable, affordable and safe public transport to the people of Johannesburg. Transport has the highest energy demand of 67% and contributes 34% to the total greenhouse gas emissions. Studies undertaken in 2009 indicate that if only 15% of people within the full 330 km of Rea Vaya transit, were to move into busses, the city will cut emissions by 1, 6 million tons in 2020. By using the latest Euro V technology for Rea Vaya busses, green busses for Metrobus and hybrid cars, a significant reduction in emissions is being realized.

Furthermore, to deliver the scale, cities will require support to overcome barriers, such financing for development through innovative financing mechanisms. In June 2014, Johannesburg listed the first even Green Bond at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange to raise capital for financing low carbon infrastructure. As the first-ever listed green bond in South Africa and within the C40 network, the issue of this Bond has raised $150 million for green projects that did not have any funding and could not be implemented. Using this fund, to date, 42,000 smart meters have been installed to manage energy demand, 22.4 GW/hr of installed capacity of rooftop solar is being generated and 150 dual fuel busses have been purchased. A further $10 million is being spent on a biogas plant to provide alternative energy source and $7 million has been spent on flood control.

Johannesburg also acknowledges that by acting alone, it will not be able to scale up actions to meet its climate change goals. Therefore, the Green Challenge Fund has been set up to encourage innovations in green technology. Aspiring entrepreneurs will develop technology solutions to enhance service delivery in an environmentally sustainable manner whilst reducing emissions.

It is only by working in partnership with businesses, national governments, civil society and other partners in action-oriented coalitions, that we can achieve the necessary action on climate change.

Cities therefore need the support of all their citizens, including those who live in informal settlements, to create sustainable, equitable and transformative change. To achieve this, mayors are demonstrating how climate action results in more livable, inclusive, prosperous and resilient cities and delivers a range of benefits, from health improvements to job creation.

As we work in collaboration with partners and alliances, advancing towards 2030, we can build cities without slums that are resilient, safe, sustainable and liveable.