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Africa’s quest for a sustainable future will ride on the back of resiliency, financing and planning mechanisms


This year’s UN Climate Summit (COP24) has come and gone. For the over 20,000 partiticpants who made the journey to Katowice, Poland for the summit, COP24 was mostly about getting global attention for the climate change issues in their respective jurisdictions. For delegates from Africa, the summit was more than a show-shop: COP24 was an opportunity for the continent to recalibrate its climate change aspirations and credentials.

The central role that transport and cities play in the continent’s movement towards low carbon development was the theme of several events hosted by the African Development Bank in Katowice. The discussions highlighted and explored important issues and avenues for collaboration between public, private and civil society organisations to mainstream resilience in the continent’s urban development. 

Africa’s is becoming increasingly urbanized. Already with the highest urbanization rate on the planet, the continent urbanization rate is projected to accelerate in the coming decades, with the current 1.1 billion population doubling over the next 30 years. More than 80% of the increase will occur in cities. These projections have dire implications for already vulnerable populations impacted by lack of access to safe drinking water, healthy and hygienic living conditions and climate hazards. Adequate mechanisms therefore need to be put in place to mitigate the negative fallouts of urban growth. 

Giving the opening remarks at the session held in the African Development Bank Pavilion and themed “Resilient pathways for sustainable urban development in Africa”, Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, Senior Director for Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice at the World Bank observed that some of the largest cities in Africa grow as fast as 4 percent annually, and that these cities face diverse challenges.

Inadequate city planning, inefficient land use, and poor regulatory systems have created an unsustainable model of urban growth that has resulted in unmanaged sprawling, fragmented and hyper-informal cities and all forms of pollution. This scenario usually takes a toll on forests and other natural ecosystems.

He further remarked that Africa’s rapid urbanization was placing increasing pressure on urban populations, natural resources and the environment, hence “many African cities have realized the importance of sustainable development, economic prosperity, and quality of life for their urban populations. That’s really why we are here to share experiences and learn from each other…”

Ijjasz-Vasquez reckons that alliances and collaboration will help tackle and resolve these challenges. 

One key example of an initiative established through collaborative effort and which also became operational in 2017 is the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities (GPSC), launched by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to bring global environmental benefits to cities. The GPSC promotes sustainable urban development through three pillars, namely, sustainability indicators and tools; integrated urban planning solutions; and municipal finance. These objectives are achieved through knowledge sharing, capacity development, and connecting partners, and supporting the 28 cities in 11 countries are a range of implementing agencies, knowledge partners, and investment partners.

Anthony Nyong, Director of Climate Change and Green Growth at the African Development Bank remarked that, “The potential consequences of climate change such as the rise in sea levels and unpredictable weather patterns will increasingly strain the capacities of Africa’s urban systems and heighten their vulnerability.”

Africa’s foremost development finance institution is in the driving seat of the national, regional and continental efforts to stem the effect of climate change on the continent, ensuring a developmental path that is sustainable and resilient to various shocks while ensuring the highest possible quality of life for current and future citizens in Africa.

“Urban environments are expanding rapidly across Africa, for example in places like Egypt and along the coast of West Africa. Placing our attention on resilient urban planning, we can ensure we will reach the UN 2030 [development] goals, we can ensure an inclusive, resilient and sustainable urban environment. And we can improve our resilience to climate changes,” Nyong said.

The session also explored possible avenues for collaboration between various development and private sector partners to mainstream resilience in urban development on the continent. With an estimated 13 African cities that will surpass New York City in population over the next 80 years, it is critical for the continent to identify and implement sustainable models of urban growth.

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