The Time For Air Pollution Action In Cape Town Is Now

The effects of climate change and specifically air pollution are very real and are being harshly felt across the world. Cape Town, South Africa, and many other leading cities around the world have risen to the task of tackling the problem head-on. A key action is our efforts to clamp down on air pollution.

In Cape Town, we are experiencing what scientists call the worst drought in a hundred years due to the effects of climate change.

For this reason, the city of Cape Town is overlaying all the decisions we make on a daily basis by taking the effects of climate change into consideration. It has the ability to compound existing challenges in urban environments.

We cannot plan anything without factoring in climate change.

This is also true in our efforts to ensure generations of Capetonians have access to clean air and other natural resources.

Cities such as Cape Town cannot wait for national governments and large corporations to act. We are responsible for addressing urbanization and ensuring the well-being of our local economies and our residents.

We therefore need to see the opportunities presented by climate change and in specific air pollution and factor it into all the work we do so we can build more resilient cities.

Cape Town is overlaying all the decisions it makes on a daily basis by taking the effects of climate change into conside
Cape Town is overlaying all the decisions it makes on a daily basis by taking the effects of climate change into consideration.

Cape Town’s work to drive down air pollution in our city includes:

  • Reducing the city’s reliance on coal as a source of energy and favoring renewable energy,

  • Supporting the installation of grid-tied small-scale embedded generation, particularly in the form of rooftop PV panels,

  • Investing in monitoring and enforcing air polluters,

  • Making government buildings more green,

  • Working with communities to install thermal insulated ceilings and green infrastructure to reduce reliance on open fires and other energy

  • Educating the next generation about climate change and air pollution,

  • Working to influence motor vehicle driver behavior to reduce the time cars spend on the road and contribute to air pollution.

Cape Town’s 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 Cities 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 annually. In 2016, Cape Town was named one of the top five reporting cities out of the 533 participating cities globally.

Also that year, I was invited to become a member of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

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.

A key part of our climate change action is our energy goals, which model a more resilient, resource-efficient and equitable future for Cape Town and commit the city to diversifying its 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 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 national 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 photovoltaic 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.

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.

Our education and awareness projects focus on our next generation of clean air warriors with young preschool and primary school students learning and advocating for clean air.

All 1,500 traffic lights now have efficient LED bulbs and more than 25,000 streetlights 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.

Our dedicated Air Quality Practitioners conduct regular inspections to assess and hold industries accountable for their atmospheric emissions.

Cape Town also promotes a tall stack policy for industrial emission sources to reduce the ground level concentration of air pollutants.

The city has a network of 13 ambient air quality monitoring stations to measure ambient air quality. We are building a new air quality monitoring laboratory for our scientific services.

The city has introduced flexi-time and encourages all sectors to enable staff to work from home when possible, to start lift clubs or 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 for our public transport system.

Cape Town is drawing advice and best practices from like-minded cities and partners from around the world, Africa and locally to provide the best future for its residents.

We also firmly support American cities for their action in effectively addressing climate change despite President Donald Trump’s stance on this global challenge.

We remain resolute in our commitment to tackle climate change and take bold actions to protect our planet for future generations.