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Urban Futures
© Photo by Hardik Pandya on Unsplash

Although mitigation and adaptation must be pursued at a global level, the role of cities as implementers of any agreement resulting from COP21 and drivers of innovative solutions is crucial in reducing both the causes and effects of climate change.

What is the issue?

Cities consume 75% of the world’s natural resources, 80% of the global energy supply and produce approximately 75% of global carbon emissions. These percentages are set to increase as the world becomes more urbanised, with two-thirds of the global population living in cities by 2050. In South Africa, more than 70% of the population are expected to live in cities by 2030.

In sub-Saharan Africa, future urban sprawl will come with significant costs. Those who cannot afford available transport options need to live within cycling or walking distance of employment hubs. People may be forced to build homes in hazardous areas within and around the city, such as floodplains, mangrove swamps and unstable hillsides. Residents of these areas have higher levels of exposure to environmental risks such as storm surges and sea level rise, which are likely to be exacerbated by climate change and at the same time, they are less likely to have access to basic services and infrastructure that can reduce risk.

Rapid urban land expansion also produces risks from the city to surrounding populations caused by major losses of farmland at the border of the peri-urban fringes. This increases economic pressure on small-scale farmers who then face land expropriations and then impacts on food security.

What are we doing?

WWF takes a collaborative approach, working with cities and other stakeholders to develop and implement innovative solutions that support cities in becoming low carbon, equitable and inclusive.

How do we do this?

We build city level resilience through the development and integration of best practice across sectors – particularly energy, water, waste and transport - to address the impacts of climate change.

Through research, we generate new knowledge and tools to deepen strategic capacity within cities in key cross-cutting areas such as policy, procurement and spatial planning.

Current research is aimed at better understanding the role of renewable energy in urban settings to address climate change, energy security and access as well as the long-term resilience of cities and towns. The ability of municipalities to respond strategically and effectively to the inherent challenges of increased renewable use is a crucial aspect.

At the same time, we drive innovation through the development of pilot projects and identify new business models to support cities to become more financially sustainable.

Who do we work with?

Over and above our other WWF offices across the world, the cross-cutting nature of our city programme requires collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders such as city officials, academic institutions and think tanks, incubation hubs and international organisations.

How did it start?

WWF South Africa joined the One Planet City Challenge (OPCC) in 2012, an international WWF Programme that supports and recognises cities that develop and implement strategies and projects to address their carbon emissions and, in so doing, climate change.

Building on the OPCC, and recognising the importance of cities reducing their carbon emissions from electricity and transport, WWF South Africa developed a transport programme with a particular focus on clean and equitable transport in African cities.

In addition, we began to work closely with South African Municipalities to assist them in developing a better understanding of the future of embedded renewable energy generation within cities and the impacts, both positive and negative, that this poses to their existing financial sustainability. The end objective of the project is to co-create new approaches and strategies for the future.

Included in our new and exciting areas of work is a focus on urban food systems that have a critical role in ensuring all urban dwellers have access to affordable and nutritious food that have been grown sustainably.

Aligned to this is emerging work focussed on assisting cities in managing their waste better, not only food waste that contributes about 8% to cities’ carbon emissions but other waste streams. In this context the adoption of the Plastic Smart Cities Framework is planned with the aim to improve the management of plastic post use via diversion to other applications. This recycling and repurposing is a critical cog in reducing plastic pollution and supporting urban circular economies.

What are the big wins?
  1. The success and growth of the One Planet City Challenge in encouraging cities to proactively address carbon emission reduction through increased investment in renewable energy, clean public transport and waste management.

  2. Developed a knowledge network of sub-Saharan cities to support capacity building and reciprocal learning on the role of cities to address and reduce the impacts of climate change.

  3. Invented and ran a low-carbon challenge in four South African metros – Cape Town, Tshwane and Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni, where the winning team is the team that uses the lowest carbon transport footprint.