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Climate Change (Lessons from the Pandemic Series)

Liteboho Makhele is Programme Manager for Sustainable Cities at South African Cities Network. We explore the current state of climate change interventions, key sustainability projects, the biggest challenge to climate change adaptation, the circular economy, and the main lessons taken from 2020.

Discussion highlights

This episode is brought to you in partnership with South African Cities Network.
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Reflection on the state of cities report of 2016

  • The report showed that cities are still growing in a resources intensive way with inefficiencies across sectors (energy, food, water, waste, transport).
  • The continued siloed approach to planning and service delivery is not conducive to the cost-cutting nature of sustainability.
  • Cities lagging behind in spatial transformation.
  • Cities are struggling to imbed sustainability in day-to-day planning and service delivery.

The current state of climate change interventions

  • There has been progress since the state of cities report of 2016.
  • Many cities have developed climate actions plans in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and The Paris Agreement.
  • We are unlikely to achieve the SDG Goals by 2030 in South Africa (ending poverty, sustainable inclusive cities, etc.) but would have made good progress by then.
  • Implementation does not only rely on cities but also on private sector, civil society organisations and ordinary citisens.
  • Good progress has been made in the energy sector around renewable energy interventions and progress towards making electric vehicles accessible to everyone. Liteboho explains.
  • Cities are still lagging behind in water and waste climate change interventions.

Key sustainability projects in South Africa mentioned

Biggest challenge to climate change adaptation

  • Funding/ Climate Financing. Liteboho explains. [Listen at 09:47].
  • Many cities need assistance with project packaging to make projects bankable.

Who needs to take the lead and how?

  • Some cities are already taking the lead with their Climate Action Plans.
  • It takes a multi stakeholders approach and coordinated collaboration.
  • Private sector can take the lead in the investment and pooling of available resources and assist cities in implementing their Climate Action Plans.
  • Civil society can take the lead in mobilizing communities, raising awareness and making sure people know what they can contribute.
  • It’s a whole of society effort.
  • Liteboho explains what will happen if we don’t act now. [Listen at 12:50].

Limitations that inhibit action from the private sector

  • Procurement regulations in cities (and national government) often only allow for the lowest bid to receive the work. This can have dire consequences.
  • If these regulations are revised especially for critical projects it will go a long way.

How are cities addressing urban food security and what more can be done?

  • These programmes exist in different forms in cities. Some in social development, economic development, environmental units. They provide support.
  • It is very much a citizen driven approach.
  • There are instances where cities heavily fund urban food gardens and give access to areas where this can happen.

Improving water and sanitation services in informal settlements

  • Sustainable provision of services in informal areas is a complex matter, Liteboho explains. [Listen at 16:26].

Financial impacts of the Pandemic on water and sanitation services

  • Estimates of R40 billion in losses for cities this financial year. [Listen at 18:11]
  • City revenue streams declining due to many households not able to pay their bills.
  • The real impacts will only be felt post pandemic.

Circular Economy: Focus on waste sector

  • Cities are looking at how to incorporate circular economy principles in their atse management practice and waste value chain
  • Increase in informal waste reclaimers in cities. Many cities are looking to better involve in the waste value chain them as they play a critical role in waste to landfill.
  • Cities are looking to generate energy from certain waste.
  • Plastics sector playing a big role.

The ‘15 Minute City’ and its relevance in South Africa

  • The concept’s vision is that everyone living in a city should have access to essential urban services within a 15 minute walk or bike.
  • It works well in developed countries.
  • Our inherited spatial form makes it unlikely to achieve this status any time soon.
  • If we really work on our spatial transformation challenges, bring people closer to economic hubs and the services they need and reduce our urban sprawl we can make good strides.

Main lessons taken from 2020 and how to use them going forward

  • When hit with a crisis we can work together. We can collaborated. We can pull resources together. We can act.
  • Climate Change need to be treated as a real emergency.
  • We have to plan for resilient cities and understand what urban resilience really means.


About the Future Cities Africa and South African Cities Network Partnership

2020 has fundamentally changed the context in which South African municipalities govern and provide services. Future Cities Africa has partnered with South African Cities Network on a series of 4 episodes that look at how cities have fared during the pandemic and what fundamental lessons have been learned.  We cover: Economic recovery, Climate Change, Governance & Municipal Finance and Built Environment.

Ask about partnering with us?

About Liteboho Makhele

After honing my research and project management skills, I successfully project managed a national policy-led and donor-funded project in nine provinces. I went on to work in the public sector providing technical assistance to municipalities on urban regeneration and place making projects, directing urban planning and design teams on how to incorporate sustainability principles in their plans.

I now assist cities:

  • develop environmental sustainability strategies and action plans,
  • explore ways of localising the Sustainable Development Goals, and
  • strengthen partnerships and collaboration with diverse groups of stakeholders.

I get energised by planning, coordinating and facilitating peer-to-peer learning events on climate change adaptation, renewable energy, and water resilience in cities. This has been a critical step in my ability to help city officials connect the dots and craft ways of accelerating their cities’ transition to becoming sustainable. My emphasis is currently on the institutional shifts and governance practices that need to change in cities to enable different patterns of infrastructure provision, resource use and consumption to emerge, as the impacts of climate change and inaction will be detrimental.

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About The South African Cities Network (SACN)
The South African Cities Network (SACN) is an established network of South African cities and partners that encourages the exchange of information, experience and best practices on urban development and city management. Since 2002 the SACN’s objectives are to:

  • Promote good governance and management in South African cities
  • Analyse strategic challenges facing South African cities
  • Collect, collate, analyse, assess, disseminate and apply the experience of large city government in a South African context
  • Encourage shared learning partnerships among spheres of government in order to enhance good governance of South African cities.


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