A landmark South African dialogue, ‘Building City Resilience Through a Just and Equitable Transition,’ recently concluded in Johannesburg.

This 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), took place from 25-26 March 2024. It served as a platform for South African cities to share best practices with one another and with international C40 partner cities, to explore collaborative solutions, and accelerate their transition towards a fair and climate-resilient future.

The dialogue brought together representatives from five South African C40 cities—Cape Town, eThekwini, Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, and Tshwane—and included 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 event underscored that city leadership, national support, and collaboration are indispensable for fully realising South Africa’s Just Transition goals. Mayors alone cannot achieve this; they need the support of the national government, working together with cities, unions, businesses, and residents.

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 leading in addressing the intertwined challenges of climate breakdown and social justice, demonstrating that climate action and equitable development go hand-in-hand.

Tebogo Sharon van Rensburg, a C40 Youth Hub member, emphasised 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 event clarified how South Africa’s cities are confronting the complex challenge of combating the climate emergency while building a fairer society. A consensus emerged that, given the rapidly growing urban populations and high unemployment rates, a just urban transition is essential.

South Africa’s cities demonstrate that tackling the climate crisis and striving for a fairer society are interconnected endeavours. Mayors nationwide are implementing plans to make their cities greener and more equitable.

In Johannesburg, the city’s climate action plan focuses on protecting those most at risk from climate breakdown, while Cape Town addresses energy poverty in informal settlements and scales up renewable energy. Ekurhuleni has initiated the first local Just Transition Commission in South Africa, eThekwini is enhancing community resilience against future floods, and Tshwane collaborates with nonprofits on climate initiatives in schools and communities, driving change for vulnerable groups.

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.”

The event highlighted that transitioning to a greener future is not only about shifting to clean energy systems but also 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. Watch the event:

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