October 5, 2022

The climate is changing

Our cities are changing. As home to more than half the world’s population, they are where the fight against climate change will be won or lost.

The warnings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) (August 2021) could not be clearer: climate change is a code red for humanity and system-wide action is needed to limit the irreversible impacts of climate change. Concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) have been increasing and as a result, temperatures have risen leading to climate changes.


The impacts have been evident across the globe, from recent extreme temperatures in Europe, and wildfires in Australia, Greece and California to flooding in Pakistan (covering around a third of the country with water) and across Central Europe, Japan, East and Southern Africa. In early April 2022, heavy rain began to fall in KwaZulu Natal, over the days that followed the South African Weather Service issued increasingly-serious rainfall warnings. Within 48 hours some areas had recorded more than 450mm of rain. Within 10 days 400 people had died, 12,000 homes were destroyed, access to basic services was compromised, roads and infrastructure were damaged, and massive economic costs incurred across the province. The destruction was so severe that the President declared a national disaster. More is to come.

Responding to the challenge

Science stresses the need to halve emissions by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate change. The world is responding. There have been increasing net zero-related commitments from governments, cities and companies. Net zero pledges to date cover around 91% of global GDP and 83% of CO2 emissions. 240 cities around the world have made net zero pledges. 

Cities, which are home to 55% of the world’s population, make up 70% of global emissions. Our cities need to decarbonise but are also at risk of exposure to physical climate impacts and risk being left behind in the transition as markets and technologies evolve.  

Without intervention, climate change will exacerbate inequality. The physical impacts will manifest differently around the globe, due to the nature of the global climate system and varied levels of resilience. Countries, cities and communities have varied capacities to respond and to transition their economies to be competitive in markets that are increasingly shifting away from carbon intensive products.  

South Africa is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and will need significant international support to transition its economy and to decarbonise. As a result, South Africa also faces significant trade risk. The country ranks in the top 20 most carbon intensive global economies on an emissions per Gross Domestic Product (GDP) basis, and in the top five amongst countries with GDP in excess of USD 100 billion per annum. The South African economy will face mounting trade pressure, as trade partners implement their low-carbon commitments

Efforts should be prioritised based on an appropriate decarbonisation pathway considering least cost and just transition outcomes. The extent of mitigation, but also the pace and manner in which options are deployed, must ensure that no-one is left behind and that the country is set onto a more equitable, sustainable, resilient and globally competitive pathway. South African decarbonisation levers, in order of priority, include circular economy (reduce, reuse and recycle); electrification and fuel / mode shifting; fuel greening and green hydrogen; and then offsetting. 

Demand management (reducing demand for goods and services) is the most impactful lever for a just net zero transition of South Africa’s cities and should be exhausted before any other investments in decarbonisation. In the transport sector, this includes reducing demand for transport. Smart spatial planning, designing cities that efficiently use space to enable sustainable development, can play the most significant role on the viable transport systems in a city. This is needed to redress historical inequalities, improve access to services and economic opportunities and to reduce transport needs and costs, particularly for the poorest South Africans. 

Food is among the largest drivers of global environmental change contributing to climate change, biodiversity loss, freshwater use, interference with the global nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, and land-system change. Reducing food loss and waste, reducing consumption and shifting to lower carbon alternatives (e.g. from animal-based to plant based products) offer significant decarbonisation potential whilst delivering additional benefits such as improved food security.

Buildings are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for over half of total city emissions on average, and are a significant source of air pollution. The heavy lifting in a net-zero pathway will need to be done by the power sector. It is key to decarbonization both on the supply side and by enabling end use sectors to decarbonize through electrification. Renewable energy should be leveraged to fully decarbonise power. In our favour, South Africa’s wind and solar resources are among the best renewable energy resources in the world. 

We need to change

We need to change. We need to fundamentally transform how we consume and live in this world. Life is going to be tough. As individuals we need to adjust our expectations around what we think we need to be happy. We need to rebuild our sense of community. We need to focus on self-help but also on helping others. Cities need to build resilience, to decarbonise quickly and to position to be on the right side of the transition. The private sector, and the insurance sector specifically, needs to help build resilience and to leverage influence to transform our societies. We need to change and we need to do it quickly.  

Each year, World Habitat Day focuses attention on the state of human settlements. This year’s theme – ‘Mind the Gap. Leave No One and No Place Behind’ – puts the spotlight on widening inequalities in living conditions across the world.

Anthony Dane, Founder, Change Pathways

Anthony founded Change Pathways in 2015 to create a climate research and advisory services model that can facilitate bringing together transdisciplinary teams to tackle complex climate change and development challenges. He has since conducted research and facilitated programmes for multilateral organisations, governments, donors and NGOs covering a broad spectrum of areas including industrial decarbonisation, low carbon and net zero carbon technologies (such as renewable energy, green hydrogen and electric vehicles), innovation, digitalisation, climate research capacity strengthening in Africa, and socio-economic impact assessment. He has also supported corporate clients, to respond to evolving climate change regulations and expectations, including facilitating processes to respond to the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures’ Recommendations. An entrepreneur exploring projects and ventures in the just transition, renewable energy and low-carbon technology space. Anthony holds a MCom in Applied Economics (applications in development) from the University of Cape Town and a BEcon in Environmental Science and Economics from Rhodes University. He previously worked for Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the Energy Research Centre at the University of Cape Town, Incite Sustainability (a small consultancy based in Cape Town) and Anglo American.

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