Register to comment and receive news in your inboxRegister or Log in

South African Cities Showcase Leadership in Building Resilience through a Just and Equitable Transition

A landmark South African Dialogue, ‘Building City Resilience Through a Just and Equitable Transition’ recently concluded in Johannesburg. The event, co-hosted by C40 Cities, the City of Johannesburg, the South African Presidential Climate Commission (PCC), and the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), ran from 25-26 March 2024. It served as a platform for South African cities to share best practices, both with one another and international C40 partner cities, explore collaborative solutions, and accelerate their shift towards a fair and climate-resilient future.

The dialogue united representatives from five South African C40 cities – Cape Town, eThekwini, Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, and Tshwane, including other non-C40 municipalities committed to action on a just transition, as well as national government and civil society representatives.

“Johannesburg is excited to exchange best practices and learn from other cities and experts on how, through the transition to a green economy and implementation of climate action plans, our cities can accelerate a transition, create green jobs that improve livelihoods, and build resilient cities where everyone can thrive,” said Kabelo Gwamanda, Executive Mayor of Johannesburg.

The Dialogue made it clear: city leadership, national support, and collaboration are indispensable for fully realising South Africa’s Just Transition goals. Mayors can’t do this alone. They need the national government on board, working hand-in-hand with cities, unions, businesses, and residents.

Mr Dhesigen Naidoo, Head of Adaptation at the Presidential Climate Commission, said: “Collaboration between the national government, cities, and other urban development social partners is essential. A successful just urban transition would help cities build resilience, allowing them to better adapt to climate change and protect their most vulnerable residents from its devastating effects.”

South African cities are at the forefront of tackling the intertwined challenges of climate change and social justice. They’re demonstrating that climate action and equitable development go hand-in-hand.

Tebogo Sharon van Rensburg, C40 Youth Hub Member, highlighted the crucial role of youth in the transition: “Youth unemployment is a challenge that demands urgent attention. Across South African cities and municipalities, we have a responsibility to ensure that every young person has access to meaningful employment opportunities. By investing in education, skills development, and job creation programs tailored to the green economy, we can empower our youth.”

“Cities are at the forefront of the climate crisis, but also hold the key to solutions,” explained Dorah Modise, Regional Director for Africa, C40 Cities, adding: “A just transition in South Africa begins with its cities.”

The Dialogue unpacked how South Africa’s cities face a complex challenge – fighting the climate emergency while building a fairer society. A consensus was reached that with rapidly growing urban populations and high unemployment, a just urban transition is essential.

South Africa’s cities are proving that tackling the climate crisis and fighting for a fairer society aren’t separate battles. Across the country, mayors are rolling out plans that aim to make their cities greener while looking out for those who need it most.

In Johannesburg, the city’s climate action plan focuses on protecting those who are most at risk from the changing climate, while Cape Town is addressing energy poverty in informal settlements and scaling up renewable energy. Ekurhuleni has initiated the process for the first local Just Transition Commission in South Africa and eThekwini is working on building community resilience against future floods. Finally, Tshwane is collaborating with non-profits to implement climate change initiatives in schools and communities, fostering impactful change for vulnerable populations.

Dorah Marema, Head of Municipal Sustainability at SALGA, said: “South African cities are ready to lead the way; we believe that a just and equitable transition is essential for building city resilience. By addressing the needs of marginalised communities and promoting equal access to good, green jobs, skills opportunities, and services, we can strengthen the resilience of our cities and ensure no one is left behind.”

This Dialogue highlighted the shift to a greener future isn’t just about transitioning to clean energy systems it is about improving lives,  reducing inequalities, and driving inclusive climate action through projects that build resilience and engage businesses, unions, workers, young people, and civil society.