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Can cities lead in climate Action? Let’s ask Cape Town

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Cape Town - Global Earth Hour Capital 2014 - has been a pioneer in the area of energy and climate change. It was the first African city to complete a State of Energy report (2003) and adopt an Energy and Climate Change Strategy (2006). A second and third State of Energy Report were produced in 2007 and 2010, the latter leading to the first city Energy Futures Study to guide the realization of an Optimum Energy Future. The City actively engages in international platforms including the Mexico City Pact, Carbonn, Carbon Disclosure Project, ICLEI and C40 Cities.

In 2010, Council adopted a comprehensive Energy and Climate Action Plan, which is a pioneering programme that links energy and climate to Cape Town’s development strategy. Forty programme areas made up of over 120 projects are coordinated through the Plan. The City’s commitments include 10% GHG reductions off business as usual by 2014; 10% reduction of municipal electricity consumption by 2012; 10% city-wide electricity consumption reduction by 2012, and 10% renewable and cleaner energy share by 2020. The municipal and citywide consumption reduction targets have not only been achieved, but exceeded.

With the establishment of a dedicated Energy Portfolio Committee (political) and a Green Economy Working Group (administrative), Cape Town has been a leader in establishing institutional structures to coordinate energy and climate responses across the municipality. It has undertaken a comprehensive Sea Level Rise Risk Assessment, is establishing a Coastal Protection Zone and Setback Strategy, and developed a comprehensive Climate Adaptation Plan of Action.

It also runs a very successful Electricity Saving Campaign for the residential and commercial sectors. The residential campaign provides guidance for behaviour change through many media channels and the City has developed an innovative Solar Water Heater Programme that provides a range of services to encourage uptake of solar water heaters. The City also runs a thriving Energy Efficiency Forum for the commercial sector.

The City has been steadily retrofitting its own buildings, fleet, street and traffic lights to “lead by example”. By June 2012 all traffic lights were retrofitted with LEDs. It has retrofitted many large Council buildings, installed solar water heaters in clinics and nature reserves, and is busy installing smart meters and solar PV in key buildings. It is committed to becoming more resource-efficient with a sustainable transport system. An Integrated Rapid Transit Programme includes Bus Rapid Transit and Non-motorized Transit. Steps have also been taken to reduce emissions of its vehicle fleet, including a Smart Driver Campaign and procuring more efficient vehicles.

In meeting its clean energy target, the City has had a power purchase agreement with an independent power producer (Darling Wind-farm) since 2009. The City is in the process of establishing systems to support distributed generation through an appropriate feed-in tariff and is pursuing micro-hydro, solar PV and waste-to-energy options in its own operations.

It is also committed to improving living conditions through provision of energy services to low-income households. The City has an extensive electrification programme which includes informal settlements, a project to retrofit ceilings to subsidy houses, and provides Smart Living education, solar lights and hotboxes to low-income households.

Jenny Clover of the Global Cities network ICLEI says; “This outstanding win demonstrates the primary role of local governments in driving and facilitating a low-carbon transition in emerging economies.” Cape Town, as a city in the global South, is a testament to the possibility of balancing climate action and development goals. Garreth Bloor, Cape Town Mayoral Committee Member, reinforces this sentiment: “Cape Town will continue to further reduce emissions while showing that it is possible to have a thriving, dynamic economy at the same time.”