Johannesburg – Pulse of Africa_C40 Summit


by Danny Kalombo (AECA)

From the 4th – 6th February 2014, the city of Johannesburg was the proud host of the 5th Biennial C40 Cities Mayor’s Summit on global climate change. The event was a get together of the C40 mayors from the major and smaller cities of the world to address issues of climate change and to exchange ideas.

During his opening message, the former chair of the C40, Michael Bloomberg made the following statement:

“While international negotiations continue to make incremental progress, C40 Cities are forging ahead. Collectively they have taken more than 4,700 actions to tackle climate change, and the will to do more is stronger than ever. As innovators and practitioners, our cities are at the forefront of this issue – arguably the greatest challenge of our time.”

Cities are the major contributors of green house gas emissions and climate risk and therefore have a major impact on global climate change. Cities have a vital role to play in addressing climate change; as a result the C40 was established in 2005 to get cities mayors involved in climate change. C40 is made up of 63 cities, 40 of them are part of the world’s 50 largest metro areas. The cities are committed to implementing meaningful and sustainable climate-related actions locally that will help address climate change globally. C40 has a global government and bank, it is fully funded for 3 years so is therefore on a sound fiscal footing

Johannesburg is said to be a sustainability leader in Africa and is a member of the C40 steering committee alongside Berlin, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Houston, Jakarta, London, Rio De Jainero, Seoul & Tokyo. Johannesburg is also involved in the C40 network in the Sustainable Infrastructure Finance Network and the Sustainable Urban Development Network.

The city has taken meaningful and innovative actions to combat climate change which has led to the reduction of electricity usage by 20% and reduction of electricity demand by 4% over the last 2 years.

The introduction of BRT is about ensuring cheaper and more accessible transportation to transform the communities of South Africa.  Amongst other measures taken, we have also seen the implementing of green building codes, urban farming initiatives, waste minimization, solar water geysers in low-cost housing and public and street lighting as part of climate proofing.

South Africa also face some challenges in matters of climate change. South Africa accounts for only 2% of the global gas emissions. However, its reliance on coal for energy makes it one of the world’s highest carbon emitter. In addition high levels of poverty make South Africa vulnerable to impacts of climate change and the low levels of adaption to climate change can affect food securities and spread disease in informal settlement


C40 emphasizes the role of the use of data and planning in our cities. Data is used to measure and render cities more efficiently. There is yet to be a consistent way of measuring emissions gas from cities, but according to Rio De Jainero Mayor and current chair of C40, Eduardo Paes, C40 cities has 140m tons in annual reduction of green house gas emission. The director of research at C40, Seth Schultz estimates that from the actions that are under way they can save approximately 250 million tons of green house gas emissions by 2020.

An innovative case of the use of data occurred during Michael Bloomberg tenure as Mayor of New York City. The city mapped locations where kids get asthma attacks, that way they know which areas are facing a lot of carbon emissions.

According to a councillor at the Johannesburg Municipality, at the moment there is very little indication of such of data application in the planning of the city.

C40 in Africa

High levels of migration and urbanization has placed a lot of stress on what is already inadequate infrastructure and services. African cities need to respond to climate change by curbing the impact of urbanization.

Other factors that affect human quality of life indicators in Africa are high unemployment rates and informal settlements.

It is said that Africa accounts for only 5% of the modern energy use. 600 million people in Africa have no access to modern energy and 700 million Africans are reliant on bio gas for cooking, which is highly pollutant. Sustainability and energy efficiency should be at the core of economic growth on the continent and Africa is in a good position to shift away from energy intensive economy and reliance on coal based-electricity and shifting towards green economies.

In spite of the fact that Africa is one of the fastest emerging markets and renewable energy in Africa has great potential, only 7 African countries are represented out of the 63 cities that make up C40.

Potential in itself is not enough for African cities to join the network as there are criteria and qualifications for cities to join the C40. To qualify, the cities need to show what actions they have undertaken to combat climate change. China which has a population of 2 billion making it almost 1/6th of the global population has no representation because they do not see the importance of taking actions that are measurable.


What the city of Johannesburg can learn from cities such as Copenhagen and Warsaw is that climate change can be packaged by incorporating liveability and involving climate change in every matter of city life. This will go a long way in impacting human quality of life in human settlements where all citizens have access to infrastructure and services. Cities are far from being walk-able and measures should be taken to make the human being the centre of communities.

The key challenge to sustainability in South Africa is that the majority of South Africans are vulnerable to climate shocks. The city of Johannesburg has implemented the Adaption Plan for the City to develop levels of resilience, adaption and coping. The action plan has identified risks that are categorized in four levels of impact:

–        Prioritize for adaption

–        Review opportunities/ adapt within constraints

–        Surveillance monitor

–        No concern.

Each level has identified risks which helps the city to integrating climate change adoptions into the cities planning mechanism; developing alternative financing options for  funding of adaptions; developing a climate change information management system to support  effective decision making within the City; and to improve stakeholder engagement.

Danny Kalombo is a presenter for AECA (Africa Economics & Current Affairs), on the CNE WORLD online broadcaster, based out of Los Angeles. Danny Kalombo is also involved in architecture, housing development and Africa business development and Investments.

Feature image by Lollie-Pop on Flickr.