A climate change conference in the city this week looked at how funding could be used to mitigate the impact of climate change in developing countries. One session focused on how public transport and emphasising non-motorised transport in city planning could address social issues while also reducing carbon emissions from cars.

Given that the focus was finding pro-poor interventions, and that presentations from other developing countries focused on solutions they were implementing, a presentation by our city representatives was pretty nauseating starting as it did with a long touristy presentation of Cape Town’s beauty and with the official saying: “We’re very proud of our city. It’s a safe, secure, walkable, human city,”  and added, “we’re also proud of our use of bicycles.” Tell that to the vast majority of Cape Town residents who don’t share Mr Stephen Granger’s parallel universe.  

No wonder the conference moderator expressed surprise at the idea that there are 3.8 million inhabitants of our city. In Cape Town, Mr Tumiwa, we keep citizens out of the city and like to pretend that it’s clean, green and pristine for everyone.

Here’s a blog post I did for the conference.

GREENING GROWING CITIES: DELIVERING CLIMATE SMART MOBILITY

“Cities are the future” – a growing cry from urbanists and planners globally as projections suggest that by 2050 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas; most in burgeoning, unserviced informal settlements. Connecting urban populations to economic and education opportunities and goods and services is a critical consideration for the future. So the panel on transport at the Climate Investment Fund conference with its Delivering Climate Smart Mobility  theme was an interesting prospect.

The panel focused on how to balance the expanding demand for transport and increase in freight volumes, with its high carbon emissions.

The transport sector is already the highest generator of carbon emissions. So the fact that the the sector has not traditionally been included in negotiations around climate change, as panel moderator Samuel Tumiwa‘s points out, indicates a rather dangerous omission.

Jamie Leather, Principal Transport Specialist, of the Asia Development Bank (ADB) says that poor transport systems impact badly on economic development, equitable access and quality of life.  Sound familiar?

His solutions come in the form of a mantra: Avoid, Shift, Improve.

By understanding the direct relationship between land use and the need to travel, and by improving access to goods and services, travel can be avoided, he says. Shifting to more non-motorised transport and public transport  will  have a radical effect on carbon emissions while also having substantial social and economic spinoffs, provided social issues like safety and security for pedestrians are also addressed. Advances in fuel and technology can help improve vehicles themselves with direct environmental impact.

Given that these concerns relate directly to cities in the developing world, they should resonate deeply in Cape Town, especially at a time when the municipality is taking a beating for not prioritising the eastern metro where the majority of Capetonians live, in the roll-out of its integrated rapid transport system. A pity then that Cape Town’s new mayor couldn’t be here to lend weight, or at least explain, Cape Town’s vision – if it has one – for ensuring that the IRT is a pro-poor intervention that will link the city’s residents relegated to the urban periphery, to economic opportunities and social services,

Instead a city environmental official began by showing a raft of slides of Cape Town’s natural beauty – no people here to distract from our urban reality then,  and invited delegates to enjoy the safe, secure, walkable city. “We’re very proud of our city,” he said. “It’s a walkable, human city,”  and added, “we’re also proud of our use of bicycles.” Tell that to the vast majority of Cape Town residents who don’t share Mr Granger’s parallel universe. It was left to the director of transport for the City of Cape Town who nodded vigorously at a question about the City’s Mayoral Committee putting densification and urban fringe development policy proposals on the backburner despite their impact on sustainability and implications for transport  – but alas offered no answers. Instead she claimed for Cape Town the coup of putting transport on the local, provincial and national agenda and acknowledged that in spite of our new IRT system, car ownership is growing.

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