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Monday Nov 21, 2011

Cape Town politicians blamed for not being eco-wise

Cape Town falls short as an environmentally-friendly city, and is ill-prepared for climate change - and most of the problem can be laid at the door of politicking.

That was the view expressed yesterday by Sarah Ward, head of the City of Cape Town's energy and climate change unit, who pulled no punches when she said there was a dearth of vision, leadership and "a longer-term city development strategy".

Ward was speaking at the Inspiring Change Gathering, a two-day conference aimed at "exploring creative ways to take on climate change in Cape Town". It is hosted by various partners, including the City of Cape Town, the UCT- based African Centre for Cities and the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

Ward said: "We have a new political environment. There are a lot of changes that have happened. It is not very comfortable."

Adding that there was currently "lots of uncertainty", she said they were unsure of "what direction many of the city politicians are going to be taking".

It was vital, Ward said, that Cape Town work quickly to counter its "very high carbon footprint" if it wanted to remain economically competitive alongside other cities.

A carbon footprint reflects the amount of poisonous carbon dioxide and methane emissions within a defined area. It is viewed as undesirable as it impacts negatively on the environment.

"We exceed more powerful economies (with our carbon footprint). Who wants to invest in a carbon heavy economy? If we don't pursue a low carbon future which is more resilient to climate change, we won't have much of a future," she warned.

Ward also hinted that political commitment to tackling climate change was minimal in the city's administration.

When she asked whether any city politicians were present at the meeting, there was none.

The only city officials were from her environmental department.

"There are very difficult fundamental things that have to change," Ward said, arguing that high-income earners who consumed more energy also had to step up to the plate.

"The desperation of how to save electricity is expressed most by poor people. And that's not because they want to save electricity."

They wanted rather to save money.

Kobus Carstens, director of Freepower, said "80 percent of Cape Town does not know what climate change means".

"The only way that we will succeed (in addressing climate change) is to involve the 80 percent," he said.

Rob Small, co- director of urban agriculture and environmental action association Abalimi Bezekhaya, encouraged conference delegates to "buy local and reduce your carbon footprint by 50 percent".

He was among speakers who talked about local initiatives aimed at alleviating the impacts of climate change.

Small said his organisation worked with 3 000 women who grew vegetables to ensure food security.

"You should buy local food. Buy from people who are producing it next door. That will mean that you have to undertake some inconvenience. But if you are not doing that then you're an armchair activist," he said.

Cape Argus


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