20/04/2018 06:00 SAST | Updated 20/04/2018 06:01 SAST

De Lille: Time For Climate-Change Action Is Now

The impact of climate change has the ability to compound existing challenges in urban environments.

Charles Platiau / Reuters

The impacts of climate change are very real and are being harshly felt across the world. Cities like Cape Town and many others worldwide have risen to the task of tackling climate change head-on. From the devastating mudslides we saw in California, to the "bomb cyclone" on the U.S. east coast, the reality is these extreme weather events are occurring more frequently.

In Cape Town we are experiencing what scientists call the worst drought in a hundred years. This is due to the impacts of climate change – causing reduced annual average rainfall, as we have seen in Cape Town for the past three winter seasons. In this unprecedented drought we, the residents, have slashed our water consumption in half – from a collective consumption of 1.1-billion litres of water per day before January 2016, to just below 600-million litres a day currently.

Cape Town has always been aware of the great need to conserve water, and these efforts have been recognised globally. Our water-demand management and conservation programme won the C40 adaptation award in Paris in 2015. But beyond this achievement and the successes of this plan over more than 15 years, the severe impacts of climate change need even greater action.

The drought in Cape Town has meant that we have had to adapt to a scenario called the new normal –– in which we no longer rely on only rainwater to fill our dams and supply our water needs. We are now having to conserve more water while building resilience and augmenting our water supplies from alternative sources – tapping into sources such as aquifers, water recycling and desalination.

The impact of climate change has the ability to compound existing challenges in urban environments. For this reason, the city of Cape Town is overlaying all the decisions that we make on a daily basis by taking the impacts of climate change into consideration. We cannot plan anything without factoring in the impact of climate change. Climate change is a challenge increasingly being tackled by mayors around the world.

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I agree with former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who says we can mitigate climate change not by slowing down economies, but by speeding them up; not by depending on national governments, but by empowering cities, businesses and residents; not by scaring people about the future, but by showing them the immediate benefits of taking action.

We are not waiting for national governments and large corporations to act. We are responsible for the growth and wellbeing of our local economies and our residents. We therefore need to see the opportunities presented by climate change, and factor in our response to climate change in all the work we do, so that we can build more resilient cities.

Cape Town has adopted a new climate-change policy. Previously, consideration of climate-change issues fell under a more general environmental policy. However, it has been recognised that climate change is such an important, cross-cutting and consequential issue that it requires its own dedicated policy approach.

This policy highlights the importance of recognising the economic and social dimensions of climate change, in addition to the environmental consequences, and working towards implementing responses to climate change that address these economic and social issues. The climate change policy focuses on both climate-change mitigation and adaptation and aims to address these both in an integrated and innovative way.

Cape Town is a member of the C40 Climate Leadership Group and the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. As such, the city is committed to reporting its energy and climate data to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) annually. In 2016, Cape Town was named one of the top five reporting cities out of the 533 participating cities globally.

In 2016, I was invited to become a member of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

Charles Platiau / Reuters
From L to R: Mauricio Rodas, mayor of Quito, Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, former New York City mayor and founder of Bloomberg L.P. Michael Bloomberg, Barcelona's mayor Ada Colau and Milan's mayor Giuseppe Sala pose together during a two-day summit of the C40 Cities initiative, a network of cities making plans to cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions along levels agreed upon in Paris two years ago, in Paris, France. October 23, 2017.

Among other things, this initiative has a strong emphasis on encouraging compact, connected and coordinated development, which aligns well with the new strategic priority of the city of working to achieve dense and transit-oriented growth and development.

Key to our climate-change action are our energy goals, which model a more resilient, resource-efficient and equitable future for Cape Town, and commit the city to diversifying Cape Town's energy supply and reducing carbon emissions. Central to this will be the ability to source 20 percent of Cape Town's energy from renewable sources by 2020. This requires a significant shift in the city's approach to and control over energy-supply sources.

We will no longer merely just be distributors of electricity, but we will also generate our own clean energy. We want Capetonians to have a greater choice over how they consume energy and the price they pay for it. We have taken South Africa's minister of energy to court to fight for our right to purchase renewable energy directly from independent power producers, as we are currently not allowed to do this.

We are promoting the responsible installation of grid-tied small-scale embedded generation, particularly in the form of rooftop PV panels. Cape Town has also made substantial gains in energy efficiency and now, relative to other South African cities, uses significantly less electricity per unit of production and per person.

All of this is driving down air pollution in our city.

Brendan McDermid / Reuters
Mexico City's mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera, speaks as Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille looks on during the C40 Cities Women4Climate event in New York City, U.S. March 15, 2017.

But it is not just about big plans; the city is taking the lead on the ground.

We have retrofitted thousands of ceilings in poorer households with thermal insulation to improve the air quality and temperatures in these homes, which were built by national government without proper ceilings and insulation – giving rise to damp conditions and poor air quality.

Due to the city's retrofitting project, these residents also spend significantly less on electricity to heat or cool their homes, which also assists in reducing emissions. All 1,500 traffic lights now have efficient LED bulbs, and more than 25,000 street lights have been retrofitted.

Our Air Quality Management Unit is doing crucial work to ensure residents and visitors to Cape Town enjoy the right to clean air. In the past 12 months, the city tested nearly 8,000 diesel vehicles for dark-smoke emissions, with only 68 failures. The city has introduced flexitime and encourages all sectors to enable staff to work from home where possible, to start lift clubs, or to commute outside peak hours.

Through this, we are reducing congestion and the number of private cars on our roads and cutting down on air pollution. We are also investing in clean transport – with the procurement of our first fleet of electric buses for our bus rapid transit system, making us the first city in Africa to use electric vehicles in our public transport system.

Cape Town is drawing advice and best practice from like-minded cities and partners around the world, Africa and locally, to provide the best future for its residents. We also firmly support the U.S. cities in their actions to effectively address climate change, despite U.S. president Donald Trump's stance on this global challenge. We remain resolute in our commitment to tackling climate change and taking bold actions to protect our planet for future generations.

Henry Romero / Reuters
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo poses with Caracas mayor Helen Fernandez, Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, French environment minister Segolene Royal, Washington mayor Muriel Bowser, Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore and Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, pose with a placard after a news conference at the C40 Mayors Summit at a hotel in Mexico City, Mexico. December 2, 2016.