Durban, South Africa’s most proactive city in how it is responding to the actual and potential threats and impact of climate change, is the only World Cup host city that has set a goal of carbon neutrality for 2010. (Read about the greening of Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium – Part 1 of this story.)
Overseeing many of the city’s green projects is Debra Roberts, head of eThekwini Municipality and Durban’s Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department.
When we spoke last week, Roberts was just back — with Durban’s mayor Obed Mlaba — from Bonn, Germany where they represented the city at the First World Congress on Cities and Adaptation to Climate Change.
That event came into being because cities — where half the world population lives and where two-thirds of humanity will live in the decades to come — are severely affected by the impacts of climate change. And urban adaptation is crucial.
In dealing with climate change, says Roberts, “there’s mitigation, which is about the reduction of greenhouse gases; and then there’s adaptation, which is about responding to climate change that has and will continue to happen because of the amount of greenhouse gases already produced.
“Even if we’re successful with mitigation, we’ll still need to deal with ongoing climate change through adaptation.”
South Africa occupies only 2 percent of the world’s surface area but is home to nearly 10 percent of the world’s plants (approximately 24 000 species), around 7 percent of the world’s vertebrate species, and 5.5 percent of the world’s known insect species.
South Africa, in fact, is the third most biodiverse country in the world after Brazil and Indonesia, Roberts points out.
And Durban is located in an internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot.
Biodiversity refers to the variety of living organisms; “the most fundamental building blocks of the eco-system.” And a hotspot is where this biodiversity is under threat from development, habitat loss and so on.
In terms of sustainability, Durban is known as an early adapter, says Roberts.
The balcony outside her city office overlooks one of many adaptation projects currently being researched, tested and implemented.
As a result of climate change, Durban and KwaZulu-Natal temperatures — both mean and extreme — are set to rise by 2 to 3 degrees celsius by the end of the century. (Yes, Durban is getting warmer.)
“We identify climate change as the worst threat to biodiversity,” says Roberts.
Green Roof Pilot Project
Roberts department is experimenting with the green roof concept, popular in Europe. Indigenous plants, collected within a 50 km (32 mile) radius of the city, and some vegetables, have been planted on the flat roof of an adjoining building. Water for them comes from the condensation from the building’s air conditioning units.
“We’re working with the green roof concept as, if things are going to get hotter, we don’t want to see more air conditioners, powered by coal-fired plants. A green roof can provide sustainable cooling.”
Read more about greening Durban here.
Getting to Durban from the United States
- See more about Durban as a FIFA World Cup destination here.
- Visit Durban’s official tourism site here.
- Fly to South Africa with South African Airways, the national carrier. SAA flies to South Africa from Washington and New York. SAA recently formed an alliance with Jet Blue for flights from the West Coast. Read about the SAA-Jet Blue link here.
- Visit Tourism KwaZulu-Natal here.