South Africa's drought-stricken coastal city of Cape Town is forging ahead with a plan to tackle the effects of climate change, which could provide a blueprint for other urban centres.
The Cape Town municipality, at the southern tip of the country, has been identified by the government's Department of Water Affairs and Forestry as the first major urban area where the demand for water is expected to exceed supply, and for the past few summers has already experienced rationing.
A South African Country Study on Climate Change, carried out in the late 1990's, projected that the Western Cape Province was at high risk of changing rainfall patterns, and was likely to become warmer and drier.
Cape Town, the provincial capital, aims to mitigate those effects through a Municipal Adaptation Plan (MAP) for climate change, a framework which has already been endorsed by local government.
The plan suggests steps that most residents could live with. Pierre Mukheibir and Gina Ziervogel, both researchers at the University of Cape Town who authored the MAP, have recommended the municipality should provide incentives in the form of rebates to taxpayers and businesses to install rainwater tanks, re-use their grey water and install low-flush toilets.
"We hope that the framework will serve as a blueprint for other municipalities," said Mukheibir.
Photo: Madeleine Wackernagel/IRIN
A suburb of Cape Town, with the Table Mountain in the background
Like California in the United States, the Cape Town municipality has been pioneering green policies in South Africa. Last year it launched a 10-point energy plan, which intends to ensure that 10 percent of the city's households install solar water heaters by 2020.
Power is a sore point in the city, where increased demand on the conventional grid has triggered a number of outages in the past three years, reportedly costing Cape Town businesses at least US $81 million in lost revenue
The city has already started buying some of its electricity from a wind farm on the Cape West Coast, said Shirene Rosenberg, manager of resource conservation at the municipality. The city is also contemplating the introduction of cleaner fossil fuels such as natural gas.
Cape Town already conserves water by re-using nine percent of its treated effluent, according to the MAP researchers. "There should be incentives to encourage industries and other wet-processing systems to recycle their wastewater," noted the framework plan, which urges the installation of rainwater tanks in homes and commercial buildings for use in gardens, swimming pools, and for sewerage.
But the city's grand schemes have hit a speed bump. Municipalities do not have a constitutional mandate to put such plans into practice, making it difficult for them to establish legal grounds to source funding either from its taxpayers or the national government, explained Rosenberg. "This is bound to affect other municipalities who consider similar plans".
South Africa is expected to get drier and hotter, according to various climate change predictions
However, while the municipality seeks clarity, it will press ahead with MAP, she added. The city is already investigating the feasibility of offering water conservation-linked tax rebates.
South Africa's carbon footprint is the largest on the continent and the country features among the top 15 greenhouse gas emitters in the world.
South Africa has made a commitment to reduce the percentage of coal in its energy mix by 10 percent by 2012, but more than 91 percent of the country's electricity is currently generated by coal-fired plants, according to the University of Cape Town-based Energy Research Centre. The government has argued that most of its coal power stations still have a life span of 20 years or more.