Community Ecosystem-Based Adaptation Durban strives to set an example for the COP negotiators

Well, here I am in Johannesburg International airport on a long layover before I return to London.  It is unclear how this last COP negotiation day will proceed.  When I left Copenhagen (COP 15) two years ago at the same point in the negotiations I felt hopeless.  But something happened these past 9 or so days; I saw that a country that still has many developing areas has really taken steps in small scale projects that both engage local communities and take advantage of funding on the international scale.

something happened these past 9 or so days

The last two years have been busy for Durban, South Africa, on the world stage: World Cup 2010 and the UN COP negotiations in 2011. These two events have a bit more in common than one may assume at first glance.  Environment and climate were central themes for both events; behind the scenes for the World Cup and in your face for the COP.  Durban proposed the first carbon-neutral FIFA World Cup (including construction of the stadium) when they bid to host the event.  And now they are working hard to keep this commitment.

The demands of the world stage can be a lot for this archetypal African port city.  As with the majority of cities in the Global South, Durban is faced with both large developmental and environmental challenges; this fact is apparent during my visit.  But, I am heartened to find out that the climate protection work undertaken by the eThekwini Municipality, which governs Durban, is part of a broader drive to achieve sustainability and greater financial equity, titled Community Ecosystem-Based Adaptation (CEBA).  I am a firm believer in addressing the issues of climate change and development in tandem in order to make any headway that is truly sustainable.

I got to see some CEBA projects in action over the last days and want to share two that caught my attention.

The first project is nothing much more than a green building in the middle of not the best neighbourhood in central Durban.  The Priority Zone facilities Management program serves as a pilot aimed to develop a proficient and integrated urban management model that can be replicated across eThekwini.  With 34 million Rand to date, the Priority Zone project offers a large self-sustaining warehouse style building.  There is a rooftop garden providing food for the local community and rainwater recycling for all uses.  Additionally, the space provides a meeting place for local entrepreneurs to sell and make almost everything. (For example I met one guy building lamps of recycled milk bottles and another lady offering manicures.)  It has been a retrofit project, but one that is creating zero-net energy use, but also bringing together the community in literally a safe green zone.

Slum above the landfill energy generation project.

Slum above the landfill energy generation project.


Priority Zone rooftop garden


The second project took me to Bisasar Road Landfill on the outskirts of town.  Man, that place literally stinks!!  But, the work there exemplifies a sweet cooperation between the landfill, the municipality, and international finance mechanisms.  Bisasar Road is a place where many of the poorest set up squatter dwellings on the side of a steep hill, prone to landslides.  There is nowhere for them to go and once evicted, these unfortunate people always return.  Thus, the municipality decided to use the garbage generated by the slum to start a gas to electricity generation project.  It is now financed under the UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and is one of the very few accredited CDM projects in South Africa.  The garbage is collected from the slum, processed (it is an interesting process, but not interesting enough to go into detail here), and put onto the local municipality grid as green energy.  Though it is illegal to provide electricity up the mountain to the slum area, a percentage of the electricity proceeds go to the community.  Of course a small start and not the answer to poverty…but, something.  And exemplary in terms of engaging the often confusing and complicated CDM funding mechanism.

These projects have made the human face of climate change much more apparent

In short, I can’t capture the feeling I got standing at these places and other CEBA sites.  Yet, somehow it was powerful, even above the stink from the landfill garbage.  These projects have made the human face of climate change much more apparent.

And to be honest, Durban can do much better, e.g. local recycling.  But they are making commitments and striving to keep them.  The Stadium is an architectural masterpiece, and if it helped motivate these CEBA projects and others, I guess it was worth it.

So now we wait and see if the Heads of State get it and come together to agree later today on a real deal to close COP 17.  Who knows, but at least there is local action and I think it will continue, in Durban and elsewhere.

Not to be too didactic, but I do look around this airport as I drink my tea; I look at families, especially at the children.  I see the love between parent and child in so many ways.  And then I consider how very disconnected and unaware they are of what is coming and that today is a pivotal day in so many ways.  I can only hope that they realise the complex web between climate change risks and health issues and human security more widely; that they get a sense of reality sooner than later.  And that they take some step to act within their own lives on any scale, but to choose to be engaged and set an example…


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