13 November 2017
Cllr Solly Msimanga’s address to COP23 Africa Day delegation
Fellow Excellences, Mayors of African Capital Cities
Fellow Mayors of Local Authorities
Climate Change Leaders
Members of the media
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is an honour to be on this podium addressing this distinguished audience on a subject close to my heart. I am an African from Africa and my continent is hurting. However, I am not standing here today seeking charity or sympathy but rather coming with a story of agency and hope. My message is simply that African Cities are willing and able to be part of the solution – that we need to be part of the conversation, more so we need to drive the conversation and if we are not doing this, the proposed solutions have little hope of achieving their intended outcomes.
African cities hold the key to sustainable development in the face of climate change.
With Africa’s economic growth, its cities are increasingly becoming hubs for both economic and socio-cultural development – with increased industrial production and urban population. Cities are increasingly consuming lots of energy and producing more waste that requires complex waste management systems.
At the same time, cities are at the forefront of experiencing a host of climate impacts, including coastal and inland flooding, heat waves, droughts, and wildfires. As a result, there is a widespread need for municipal agencies to understand and mitigate climate risks to urban infrastructure and services – and the communities they serve.
More often than not, Africa’s cities are building high carbon, unsafe infrastructure for the minority with cars, not the majority who need or want excellent mass transit and healthy and affordable options like cycling and walking. Lack of funding and capacity for climate change mitigation remain problematic. But despite these barriers, cities globally – including in Africa – are taking action as best they can.
Who best to lead the charge than African Capital Cities – the mere concept of being a capital city means one has a duty to lead by the example. It is this simple realization that led to the City of Tshwane establishing the African Capital Cities Sustainability Forum in 2015. As a forum, it is a time to meet, gain insight, exchange best practices, and make resolutions for the future – resolutions that will impact the future of every African citizen.
Uniting African mayors around sustainability
Since 2015, when it was first hosted by the City of Tshwane, the African Capital Cities Sustainability Forum has created exposure for participating African Capital Cities to deliberate on the concept of sustainability in an urban context and leadership context.
The inaugural forum was held on from 23 June 2015 at the CSIR International Convention Centre followed by a further two days of multi-lateral engagements and tours, as the City of Tshwane hosted 15 African capital cities. A key outcome of the launch was the signing of the Tshwane Declaration – a comprehensive programme of action for African capital cities committed to a sustainable capital development.
In 2016, the forum was convened from 31 May to 2 June; the main focus was on understanding the status and focus of sustainability programmes in 18 African capital cities. It revealed a diversity of initiatives, ranging from programmes to tackle HIV/AIDS to the installation of solar-powered lighting systems.
In 2017, the forum attracted delegations from 32 African capital cities, more than half of African Capital Cities and representative of the different regions. This year, the focus was on sustainability leadership, exploring political leadership as a key agent in promoting the role of decentralised government in addressing sustainability challenges in Africa, particularly around infrastructure, and how African capital cities are leading the way.
Mayors and mayoral representatives from visiting cities shared their unique situations as well as recent histories, ranging from stable and internationally connected cities such as Rabat to Monrovia and Juba, the world’s newest capital city. What emerged most starkly, however, was not how different their challenges were but rather how similar. In many cases speakers presented on current and recent sustainability related projects, which, while they differed greatly in terms of scale, sophistication, and objective, all carried the same message: placed at the centre of a changing world, African cities urgently need to share and learn from each other.
A key outcome was the unanimous expression that from an international, African and South African perspective, the African Capital Cities Sustainability Forum has merit, locus and purpose. This purpose is to advance the sustainable development of African cities by capital cities assuming a leadership position in this regard. Practically, this will happen through the roll-out of multiple related projects in capital cities, and through the ongoing sharing of lessons and best practice across this network, and to record and revisit these actions annually through the Forum, which will be staged in different cities across the network into the future.
The time to act is now
The next four years are crucial in determining if the worst effects of climate change can be avoided. Yet, even if every nation on earth stopped generating greenhouse gas emissions today, our cities and citizens would still feel the impacts of climate change for decades to come. With the health and wellbeing of our people and economies at stake, the risks of inaction are too great to ignore.
Cities and their mayors have greater flexibility than their parent nations. They can facilitate the transfer and application of best practice in ways that nations cannot, by engaging with other cities, obtaining finance and entering into a wide range of partnerships.
This is why African mayors of capital cities are determined to create resilient cities, prepared for whatever the future climate will be – and the path they take is being determined at the African Capital Cities Sustainability Forum.
The fourth iteration of the forum is being held in June 2018 and the City of Tshwane will continue to host the forum on an annual basis whilst it serves a purpose. This is that Mayors of significant political centres can ensure that climate change and sustainable urban development become and remain central concerns so that Africans can control their continent’s destiny and development solutions that make sense in an African context. As long as the forum is empowering its Mayors to be meaningful role-players in local, domestic and international climate response spaces, the City of Tshwane will continue to embrace its role as the host of the African Capital Cities Sustainability Forum – a platform that acknowledges diversity but has unity in purpose.