Climate change and Cape Town

Editor(s) Anton Cartwright, Susan Parnell, Greg Oelofse and Sarah Ward
Publisher Routledge
Year 2012

Climate Change at the City Scale – Impacts, mitigation and adaptation in Cape Town is a welcome addition to the climate change literature. This is especially so since the city scale is so often overlooked and the book provides an important addition to the gap in city scale climate change academic literature. It is the culmination of the work of the “Cape Town Climate Change Think Tank”, a forty-strong group of well-respected academic, business and NGO individuals, who have focused on problems and knowledge gaps identified by City officials. This has resulted in the collective effort of the 14 research chapter pieces presented in the book. These chapters cover a range of topics, from urban governance through to impacts, adaptation and mitigation. These are all issues the City of Cape Town needs to engage with and hence the book is both relevant and topical -– and long overdue. It also provides an informative text on how cities utilise knowledge in their planning and decision making. While Cape Town cannot be simply seen as a case study for other cities, the book will provide guidance beneficial to cities elsewhere in the South.

Chapters are varied in terms of content, subject matter and technical detail. This is to be expected, given the broad expertise and interests of the “Think Tank” participants, and the editors have been careful to point out that their intention is to provide a ‘’source for urban professionals and a legitimate resource for global processes such as IPCC reporting’’. In producing this book, their intentions have been met.

The first chapter sets the scene for the rest of the book, offering a useful background to the “Think Tank” process and city level climate change. The second chapter offers a necessary basis for understanding Cape Town’s climate and should prove useful to undergraduate students as well as professionals, since literature on Cape Town’s climate and climate change is generally limited. The next chapters provide further food for thought, giving the reader a clear picture of the risks of sea-level rise (Chapter 3), coastal flooding (Chapter 4), energy scenarios (Chapter 5), and challenges for establishing a low-carbon zone (Chapter 6). These are all issues the city will need to understand and be mindful of in terms of present and future urban planning. It is helpful to have these themes presented succinctly and clearly, and chapters 3 to 6 are likely to be a beneficial first-level source of information at the fingertips of City officials.

The book then shifts to consider legal aspects of climate and climate change.  Chapter 7 explores the sometimes complex legal impediments in City partnerships and also looks at the constitutional mandate of local governments surrounding their dealings or involvements with climate change projects. The author considers the misconception that municipalities have a very limited mandate in terms of climate change, highlighting the distinction between adaptation and mitigation in terms of government action. The case for green procurement opportunities is also made.

Chapter 8 explores legal liability implications for the City of Cape Town in the face of climate change. It provides a clear picture of who can and cannot sue for climate change damages and explains, amongst other things, the law of delict and the associated five requirements for delictual liability.  The chapter also explains the importance of statute and its role in liability establishment and limitation. This is all particularly helpful for urban professionals without a legal background, or for whom the relevant legal jargon is unfamiliar (yet often necessary) territory.

Chapter 9 then considers what can be done to adapt to climate change and how a low-carbon economy can be realized. It focuses on planning law framework adaptation opportunities for the City.

The problems of trying to protect the coastline against risk provide the basis for Chapter 10. This chapter also proposes the development of the City of Cape Town’s Coastal Protection Zone, which, the authors argue, is integral to the city’s climate change adaptation strategies.

Chapter 11 looks at some decision-making frameworks and tools available to the City of Cape Town. It also focuses on how questions related to climate change should be designed for best decision-making outcomes, in the face of cognitive and perceptive biases.

The book then moves to the pertinent issue of governance response to climate change adaptation (Chapter 12) and considers governance experiences in five South African coastal cities: Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Richards Bay and East London. The cities of Durban (eThekwini municipality) and Cape Town are described as leaders in the establishment of adaptation policies and plans, and these two cities provide the focus for the second half of the chapter.

Chapter 13 makes for an interesting read, and deals with the issue of implementation, in the context of the City of Cape Town’s solar water heater by-law. If effectively implemented, such a by-law would reduce costs as well as carbon emissions, of benefit to all, and the authors ask the important question as to why there have been time delay obstacles in implementing it. They provide some insight into the institutional role players’ different cultures, and the effect this has had on implementation.

The book concludes with a chapter focusing on emerging lessons from the Climate Change Think Tank. The presentation would have been enhanced by use of colour here, since the monochrome makes it difficult to read some of figures and tables – but the added costs of colour printing were presumably not an option. In terms of presentation, the book cover is appealing and draws the reader in, perhaps largely due to the appealing and unusual aerial photograph of the city. Whilst the “Climate Change Think Tank” publication reflects the interests of the parties involved, it may be interesting to include academic and city officials involved in the area of climate change and health in future discussions and interactions. It is hoped that continued engagement between “Climate Change Think Tank” members may result in further publications to fill the gap in much needed city-scale climate change academic literature.

Dr Debbie Sparks is a Senior Researcher at the Energy Research Centre at the University of Cape Town. She convenes a master’s course in Energy and Climate Change, and co-convenes a master’s course in Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation. She is currently working on WRC-funded water-energy nexus project, which looks at renewable energy technologies and their water requirements in South Africa.

Book available from Routledge

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