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Wednesday Sep 21, 2011

Joburg to tackle green issues posing risks

Weather-related deaths, severe flood risks, increased energy demands, climate-driven refugees and risk to electricity and telecommunications are just some of the problems facing the City of Joburg.

This is the theme of the City of Joburg's Growth and Development Strategy 2040 environmental week being held at the Botanical Gardens in Emmarentia this week.

Member of the mayoral committee responsible for the environment Ros Greeff said that as the city's population increased, so did the demand for water, energy and food resources.

"These pressures are exacerbated by natural disasters, extreme poverty and resource deprivation, as well as humaninduced climate change. These trends, as evidenced by the sobering daily newspaper reports about looming environmental disasters, escalating food and oil prices and human tragedy, all place new demands on the way we manage the environment," she said.

While the constitution spelt out environmental rights in terms of the health and the well-being of society, it also covered the need for the protection and management of the environment.

The current trends in environmental sustainability put enormous pressure on cities that served as incubators for economic and human development, Greeff said.

"The aim of the environmental week is to build continuity amid uncertainty, while fine-tuning the relationship between the built environment, human well-being and the ability of the ecosystem to provide vital services to all. Natural resource scarcity is a critical factor affecting both human and economic development."

She said cities could not sustain human and economic development without securing natural resources. Cities needed to seek new ways of overcoming critical natural resource constraints and reframing economic and human development within the context of sustainability.

Some of the difficulties in managing the city ecosystem's goods and services included:

A significant increase in land-use changes as a result of urban expansion. Parks and open spaces seem to be under constant threat by development pressures.

The impacts of climate change are already changing habitats and the distribution of species. Scientists warn that even a one-degree increase in the average global temperature, if it comes rapidly, will push many species over the brink.

It is often the communities living in poverty and other vulnerable groups that are likely to experience the significant impacts of climate change.

Joburg's aquatic ecosystems are highly degraded due to bacteriological, chemical and heavy metal pollutants, which results in the loss of plants, fish, frogs and invertebrates. A large part of the ground water reserves has also become contaminated with highly acidic water, polluted with heavy metals and other pollutants due to mining activity.

This is just to mention a few of the environmental challenges faced by the city.

"The week will be spent understanding environmental sustainability, focusing on climate change and discussions on biodiversity, and how the city can bridge the green divide between our communities and how to involve the youth."

Executive director for the environment Flora Mokgohloa said there was international pressure to reduce our carbon footprint, particularly in Joburg, which is considered a leading producer of greenhouse gases.

Other issues due to be discussed are how and where building and development occurs; how cities can affect energy use; travel behaviour; air quality; waste generation and resource use; and the natural resource management function of local government.

The Star


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