With investor action, African cities can lead our global sustainability fight

By Herman Mashaba, Executive Mayor of the City of Johannesburg

Last month, the City of Johannesburg was proud to host the C40 Financing Sustainable African Cities Forum, which took place in Africa for the first time. The event brought together over 50 African city officials with investors, government representatives and not-for-profit organisations to showcase the transformational potential of African cities in our global fight for sustainability.

This event came at an opportune moment; the United Nations has warned us that we have just 12 years to limit climate change in order to avoid a global environmental catastrophe far beyond any we have seen before. The fact of the matter is simple: we are running out of time.

When the world faces a crisis such as this, it is inevitable for us to ask why we have reached this point. We hear leaders arguing about whether the devastating consequences of climate change are a direct result of years of neglect by developed countries — and lamenting the injustice of still-developing countries being forced to bear the brunt of the effects.

But we must not waste time on the past. Instead of arguing and apportioning blame, African cities must invest our energies in putting sustainable development front and centre in all our work in the here and now. We must not delude ourselves into thinking we are exempt from taking responsibility in the climate mission. This is a collective fight that will determine the collective destiny of humankind. And it is a dangerous and urgent fight that needs immediate global action — across communities, industries and nations.

As a leader of an African city, I believe that my community has the potential to play a decisive and positive role. Cities like ours are where this fight will be won; we are champions of innovation, leadership, and ambition. However, in order to make our ideas a reality, we face a major obstacle: financing.

We need the finance community to better align with our transformational potential and invest in bringing sustainable solutions onto African cities sooner. Sustainable development will require financial inputs equal to, if not greater, than the GDPs of our respective countries and cities. Although this sounds like a significant ask, it is the only way we can offer long-term security for the livelihoods of the millions of citizens who call our cities home.

Investment in resilient, sustainable solutions underpins every key item on our social and economic agenda. As still-developing nations, we face challenges of economic growth, rapid urbanisation, and keeping pace with a rising population in need of electricity, water and adequate healthcare. At times, it can seem like sustainability is at risk of dropping to the bottom of our agenda — but it intersects directly with all of these issues. Resilient, sustainable infrastructure helps us to reduce the number of climate disasters. It helps our cities to rebound faster when these disasters do occur. It helps us to safeguard economic, health and social justice, and it ultimately helps us to reduce loss of life. We need only look to our neighbours in Mozambique and Zimbabwe to see the urgency of the situation first-hand.

This is why we partnered with the C40 Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative (FSCI), funded by Citi Foundation. In recent years, it has put the spotlight on cities and grown investor awareness of our impact and innovation, bringing together our city officials with government and investment leaders around the world.

The FSCI Forum last month brought fruitful deliberations, passionate discussions and inspiring exchanges of knowledge. It prepared us for decisive action and it brought delegates and financial experts to our city with the power to create a future where the more than one billion African citizens will live sustainable, safe and healthy lives. With further partnership, we look forward to pioneering the next chapter in our sustainability story.


NOTE: The C40 Cities’ Financing Sustainable African Cities Forum in Johannesburg, held on 12th June, convened delegates and speakers including Executive Mayor Herman Mashaba, City of Johannesburg; Executive Mayor Stevens Mokgalapa, City of Tshwane; Honourable Mohammed Adjei Sowah, Mayor of Accra & C40 Vice Chair for Africa; Val Smith, Managing Director and Global Head, Corporate Sustainability, Citi; James Alexander, Director, City Finance Programme, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group; Jerrod Moodley, Rand Merchant Bank, and Rose Molokoane, SDI & FEDUP.