4 - 6 September 2023 marked the inaugural Africa Climate Summit, with leaders around the world gathering in Nairobi to express their support for putting Africa at the forefront in addressing climate change and calling for more attention to be paid to Africa’s priorities and resources.
Climate change action must increasingly focus on the urban scale as cities are both significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and highly vulnerable to its impacts. With most of the global population now residing in cities, initiatives aimed at reducing emissions and building resilience at the urban level can have a substantial impact on overall climate goals. Sustainable urban planning, investments in clean energy and public transportation, and the development of climate-resilient infrastructure are crucial steps in mitigating climate change and safeguarding the well-being of urban populations. As cities continue to grow, it becomes imperative to prioritize sustainable urban development to ensure a more sustainable and climate-resilient future for all.
The rationale of having cities play an increased role in addressing climate change was realized through the Connective Cities side event on “Flood Risk Management, the essential role of cities and importance of municipal preparedness”. The side event aimed to underline the importance of the role which cities played in combatting climate change, and the benefits of peer learning and exchange in finding localized solutions for climate resilient development. The session was organized into a keynote delivered by Dr. Johanes Belle from the University of the Freestate in Bloemfontein, South Africa, followed by a panel discussion that included Dr. Abdourrahmane Maikanti, Mayor of Garoua lll council (CM); H.E. Benjamin Chesire Cheboi, Governor of Baringo County (KE); Andreas Wolter, Deputy Mayor of Cologne (DE) and; Enock Tumbo, Environmental Management Officer, Dar es Salaam (TZ).
In his opening keynote, Dr. Belle spoke about floods being the greatest threat to cities across the world. Dr. Belle described went on to explain the concept of multiple risks, through the example of floods and how floods do not occur in isolation, rather are compounded by landslides and storms which further heightens the impact. Drawing on the lessons learnt from the Kwazulu-Natal floods that occurred in April 2022, Dr. Belle explained that continued interference with nature predisposes the world brining especially severe consequences to urban areas which continue to grow rapidly.
Deputy mayor Andreas Wolter shared the lessons learnt by Cologne from the Western European floods that took place in 2021. A major takeaway from the flooding disasters was the increasing the efforts into preparedness measures, as he detailed the implementation of early warning information systems to track weather patterns. In addition to receiving information on weather patterns, the early warning system also ensures that citizens receive timely information on disaster response. Furthermore, Mr. Wolter also brought to light the investments made by the city in improving urban green spaces as a two-fold measure to not only act as the first line of defense against floods, but also as a measure to address the urban heat island effect and reducing local surface temperatures.
The rates of rural urban migration have been largely influenced by climate change degrading rural environments, which further amounts the pressure faced by urban centers who are not adequately able to provide for rapidly growing populations and proliferation of informal settlements. In his reflection on the current state of climate action in urban centers, H.E Benjamin Cheboi called for increased funds and support towards cities to plan and prepare for disasters such as flooding.
Mayor Dr. Maikanti from the City of Garoua III echoed H.E Benjamin Cheboi’s sentiment on the need for cities to receive more support in their climate actions. Mayor Dr. Maikanti described the city’s difficulties in the development and implementation of the city’s climate plan because of limited financial resources. Garoua III and cities across the world must depend on funds and aid from financial institutions such as the African Development Fund and other international actors to finance climate action in their respective constituencies.
Mr. Enock Tumbo shared his experiences in taking part in international cooperation such as Connective Cities learning process on Flood Management for Risk-informed Urban Development. Mr. Tumbo through the learning process was able to share the experiences and good practices that have been implemented in his city of Dar-es-Salaam, with other cities across Southern and Sub-Saharan Africa through the connective cities’ platform. This exercise of peer-exchange he described as beneficial as it promotes the sharing of knowledge and technical expertise amongst cities, allowing for the development of bottom-up and localized solutions to deal with flood management and other issues with sustainable urban development more generally.
We are at a critical point of time in human history, as efforts made in the coming years to address climate change, especially climate action at an urban level is becoming increasingly urgent. Cities are the space of people, finance, infrastructure and importantly vulnerability. The global effort in addressing climate change must be one that places increasing recognition of both the challenges faced by cities, but also the untapped potential for climate action in cities. The lessons and experiences shared by the panelists from this side event were very-much mirrored in the Nairobi declaration, which was passed by leaders taking place in this summit, in putting cities at the table during climate negotiations and climate actions.
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