By Hastings Chikoko, Managing Director of Regions and Mayoral Engagement and Regional Director for Africa at C40 Cities

African cities are growing rapidly due to massive demographic shifts, as people migrate from rural to urban locations in search of work and better opportunities. Most of those migrating into cities live on the margins of society, in unstable structures and areas prone to flooding, heat waves and mudslides, among other climate-related risks. These poor and low-income communities are among the most susceptible to the impacts of climate change.

And while African cities are some of the most vulnerable to the climate crisis, they are also centres of commerce, education, investment, innovation, vibrance and diversity. As such, they also have a key part to play in delivering sustainable economic growth, development and prosperity, while tackling the most pressing 21st-century challenges, such as climate change, inequality, unemployment and poverty.

The African region currently contributes to only 3% of total global emissions, but this is projected to grow on the back of a booming population, increased urbanisation, electrification, industrialisation and land-use change. If no action is taken, greenhouse gas emissions in many African cities will quadruple by 2050. Africa is home to some of the fastest-growing cities in the world. Five of the 50 biggest cities worldwide are currently on the African continent, which is set to rise to ten by 2050. To ensure this vertiginous growth contributes to halting, not accelerating, climate change, smart urban planning and ambitious and equitable climate action are urgently needed in African cities.

Through a one-of-a-kind Cities Matter: Climate Action Planning (CAP) programme anchored around C40’s Business Plan, C40 has provided an extensive and holistic package including technical assistance support, tools, guides and resources. The programme, funded by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), supported nine African cities throughout 2018-21 to deliver ambitious climate action plans that align with the goal of staying within the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement. The CAPs focus on high-impact, practical mitigation and adaptation actions that can significantly reduce emissions from the waste, energy, buildings, industry and transport sectors, and build resilience in water, spatial planning and other key sectors. This focus on practical and high-impact measures has helped African cities in various ways, from integrating climate risks into their planning processes and developing a coordinated approach to climate finance, to strengthening climate governance models, improving data gathering and developing more holistic climate solutions.

Two African men install solar panels neatly on a residential roof of a house near the ocean. Sustainable living.
Technicians install solar panels on a roof. © nattrass / Getty Images

The CAP programme demonstrates the potential for African cities to take bold and ambitious action on climate change, as well as illustrating what is needed to transform these cities to protect residents’ wellbeing, provide good quality jobs and ensure that any development is low or net-zero carbon. But cities cannot do this alone. Extensive partnerships and engagements are needed to ensure these plans are implemented in a way that creates economies of scale and achieves tangible and transformational change in the longer term.

Under C40’s overarching 2021-24 Business Plan and more specifically, the 2022-24 Africa Regional Business Plan, cities that have already developed their climate actions plans are embarking on a journey to implementation. Implementation will put these cities on track to deliver climate action, contribute to increased resilience and equity, and halve overall emissions by 2030. This step represents an encouraging starting point to showcase positive African leadership to the rest of the world, demonstrating how to forego a more carbon-intensive development path in favour one that is in line with planetary boundaries.

COP27, which will be held in Egypt in November 2022, represents an opportunity for African countries, and particularly cities in the region, to showcase their leadership roles in the fight against climate change. It also represents a momentous opportunity to boost and drive much-needed support to tackle climate change across Africa, particularly in the areas of climate finance, adaptation, loss and damage, and technology transfer.

Slashing emissions is not the only element of effective climate action in cities. Fostering a green and just transition, which puts equity and inclusion at the core of all decision-making, and delivers bespoke socio-economic, environmental and health benefits, is also crucial.

In order to build and maintain momentum in addressing climate change in line with a just transition, cities must actively engage with residents and other relevant stakeholders. So too, preventing catastrophic climate breakdown and realising system-wide transformation will mean rethinking how cities are designed and function, requiring quick and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, water and infrastructure use, as well as changes to policy and implementation. But as the CAP programme shows, with the right development model in place, African cities that prioritise ambitious and equitable climate action will be on a more prosperous and sustainable path for future growth.

Watch below to learn more about African city climate action plans:

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