What do you get when you bring some 150 African mayors and city officials, urban researchers, and World Bank South African Country Director Ruth Kagia together to talk about climate change and African cities? In a word: Concern. All city officials and those who work with them are concerned about climate change.
Earlier this months, in partnership with France’s AFD and the Development Bank of South Africa, met to follow up the Fifth Urban Research Symposium held in Marseille last year (Cities and Climate Change: Responding to an Urgent Agenda). This local dissemination workshop held in South Africa focused on climate change in African cities. When you look at climate change through the lens of African cities, impacts appear closer, and more dire–climate variability is expected to be severe and the ability to respond often weak. With Africa’s current pace of urbanization, the number of people already living in informal communities, and the infrastructure backlog (e.g. the per capita installed electricity supply in Nigeria is less than 1% of the average OECD country), all participants agreed that climate change will only add to the problems and that an urgent response is needed.
But the participants also pointed out that dealing with climate change often takes a backseat as these countries are too busy with day-to-day challenges ─ issues like poverty reduction, and HIV-AIDs. During the three days of discussion, workshop participants saw potential opportunities that might stem from all this attention on climate change: (i) municipal associations, like the South African Local Government Association, are increasingly important as cities respond to climate change (ii) communication and partnerships between development organizations and city representative agencies are even more important than before.
What came through loud and clear in this workshop was that cities are pushing back on artificial distinctions like mitigation vs adaptation; secondary vs primary cities; ‘Part 1’ vs ‘Part 2’; C40 vs non-C40. For maximum effect in cities, climate change needs to mainstreamed and integrated into all municipal departments. Cities also want faster and better access to academic research on climate change ─ more consistent and regular information on what’s happening ‘on the ground’ in cities.
What struck me most and probably inspired those attending was the powerful sense of camaraderie at the workshop. Cities are indeed concerned about climate change, but they are not throwing up their hands in despair. Rather they are meeting, talking, planning, scheming, but above all they are acting. Workshops like these reinforce the belief that cities are emerging as the true leaders on climate change.