Understanding climate change in Cape Town

Carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) are significant components of the atmosphere that help it to moderate the earth’s temperature by retaining heat. Life on earth is dependent on these gases, but once these levels become too high in the atmosphere it becomes problematic. Having a high concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere causes climate change, a result of the greenhouse effect.

Human activities that release carbon emissions are identified as being the leading cause of climate change. Climate change is increasingly becoming more evident, causing globally and locally rising sea-levels, hotter annual temperatures, decreased rainfall and an increasing number of extreme weather events. These changes to our climate have caused significant social, economic, and environmental impacts and are projected by climate models to become worse over time. 

Globally, cities are increasingly taking action in reducing their CO2 emissions in order to increase efficiency and resilience, and contribute to global climate change mitigation efforts. Climate-change mitigation activities focus on both reducing carbon emissions, as well as improving the ability of carbon sinks to function and sequester carbon. Many everyday activities, such as driving and using electricity, emit carbon due to reliance on energy from the burning of fossil fuels. It is important that businesses and residents reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and help the city transition towards a low-carbon economy.

Alongside mitigation measures, cities in South Africa and around the world are working to implement climate change adaptation measures. Climate change adaptation measures aim to increase the resilience of these cities to climate-change impacts and ensure they are prepared for the anticipated changes in climate. These adaptation measures include, but are not limited to, transport, water, wastewater and other infrastructure upgrading and maintenance; protection against and response to extreme weather events; and integrated responses to the projected effects on health, food systems, livelihoods, development, biodiversity, coastal management and the economy. 

Both mitigation and adaptation projects fundamentally seek to develop a more sustainable and resilient urban system. As such, potential positive interaction between mitigation and adaptation actions should be actively promoted and maximised. 

The City has recently approved a Climate Change Policy, which addresses issues of climate change adaptation and mitigation. The policy aims to consolidate an integrated approach to climate change through a principle-based focus on adaptation and mitigation.  It  provides an updated framework for addressing and responding to climate change in Cape Town. The policy supports integrated and comprehensive action plans to address climate change adaptation and mitigation.  The City’s efforts towards more climate-friendly development are also informed by the Energy2040 Goal that sets a target of reducing city-wide carbon emissions by 37% off a projected business-as-usual path by 2040.