The natural environment in the City of Cape Town

A healthy natural environment is a requirement for all life, including humans. Natural systems are responsible for ensuring that we have clean air, clean water, and soils, which are the basis of life. These three primary services of natural systems allow us to grow food and fuel to sustain our needs. Additionally, a healthy environment provides cultural, aesthetic, and recreational benefits to all residents of and visitors to the city. 

The natural environment has been negatively affected by urban development and impacted by various threats associated with urbanisation. These threats have the ability to impact water and air quality through pollution and the disruption of ecological functions, disturbing the delicate balance in biological diversity. Human development has also increased the demand for water, solid waste management, and electricity. It is essential for local governments, such as Cape Town, to actively work towards conserving and promoting a healthy environment, while ensuring that economic and social development continues in a sustainable manner. 

Climate change presents a further challenge, with changing and somewhat unpredictable climatic conditions becoming more evident over time.  These changes affect the ability of the environment to provide its essential goods and services, impacting negatively on development and, most notably, human health. 

Environmental sustainability is an essential component of ensuring healthy social and economic growth in Cape Town. The City of Cape Town is committed to adopting and implementing the principles and approaches needed to reach this goal. 

The Integrated Metropolitan Environmental Policy (IMEP) adopted in 2001, followed by the Environmental Agenda 2009 – 2014 and a new Environmental Strategy, brings the City’s environmental policy approach into line with more contemporary thinking on the matter. The new Environmental Strategy was approved in 2017. Additionally, environmental concerns have been integrated into strategic City planning documents, such as the Integrated Development Plan and the Cape Town Spatial Development Framework.  

The State of Environment Report

The State of Environment Report is an essential monitoring and evaluation tool that is used to identify and report on changes to the city’s natural environment and the goods and services it provides. Recording and reporting such changes is a critical step in working towards ensuring appropriate action is taken to reduce risks to the environment and address environmental degradation. This report provides a snapshot of the state of the environment at a particular moment in time, but more importantly, shows trends in the state of the environment over time. This supports informed environmental decision-making.

Goods and services of the natural environment

Five environmental benefits are used as themes throughout this report to highlight the overarching goods and services that the environment provides, enhancing our ability to acknowledge the value of environmental systems and their connection to the way we live our lives.

These themes are:

Targets and policy linkages

The Five-Year Review of the City’s first Integrated Metropolitan Environmental Policy (IMEP), adopted in 2001, identified the need for the City and its communities to actively shift from a business-as-usual approach towards a driven and targeted sustainability agenda. As such, IMEP was reviewed to include key measurable environmental commitments for the five-year period 2009 – 2014. These environmental commitments to a sustainable future were formalised as the City’s Environmental Agenda 2009 – 2014.

The Environmental Agenda 2009 – 2014 was adopted to uphold the City of Cape Town’s commitment to increasing levels of ecosystem and heritage protection, while reducing overall resource consumption. This commitment took place with the recognition that quality environments and resource-use patterns are significantly skewed and aligned with the wealth gap. Resource-use targets and strategies were therefore aimed at reducing current over-consumption patterns in middle and upper classes while increasing appropriate resource use in impoverished and disadvantaged communities so as to extend quality living environments and basic services. 

This report uses the Environmental Agenda 2009 – 2014 targets as a baseline target for most chapters. Where there are updated targets set for specific City functions, these are used. The future State of Environment Reports will use the Environmental Strategy adopted in 2017 as a basis for measuring progress.


This report is based on the 2016 calendar year – January 2016 to December 2016 – unless stated otherwise. The data in the report is used in accordance with indicators. Indicators set measurement in order to be able to track environmental changes over time. The selected indicators are aligned with the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) and the Strategic Environmental Policy for the City of Cape Town.  The selection of indicators was also guided by international and local experience in this field, scientific research and consultation with key stakeholders. 

The data has been provided from the different City departments and their relevant branches in order to provide up-to-date, coherent and correct information. Data on each indicator is assessed and analysed to determine whether a positive or negative trend can be seen. Each indicator in the report is associated with an icon depicting the overall outcome of the analysis as follows:

It is important to note that the indicators provide only a glimpse of a situation at a particular point in time and do not necessarily tell the whole story. However, monitoring indicators over time allows one to draw fair conclusions about trends, while working towards ensuring that necessary action is taken in a timely fashion.