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Picture: 123RF
Picture: 123RF

Establishing green cities is highly beneficial, as it reduces pollution and traffic congestion and promotes better health outcomes. 

A recent Financial Mail Green Economy Dialogue in partnership with the Gautrain Management Agency (GMA), Fibon Energy, JLL and the National Cleaner Production Centre SA (NCPC-SA) put the spotlight on how to build a greener urban environment. 

Speakers agreed the transport sector, which is responsible for 18% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, is a key role player in efforts towards green cities.  

The GMA has been committed to sustainable development, calling for an integrated approach that considers the interdependent relationship between transport, the environment, the economy and society.  

GMA CEO William Dachs said people’s commuting choices had an impact on the environment. Taking the Gautrain instead of a car saves carbon, money and time.

Since 2010, the Gautrain has transported 175 million commuters and in the process saved carbon and created jobs through the supply chain — including last-mile minibuses at Gautrain stations. These are owned and operated by the taxi federation, but branded with the Gautrain logo and committed to punctuality. 

Dachs criticised the spatial design of SA cities for housing workers far from jobs and called for integrated planning and a makeover of how cities work. “Cities need to be liveable spaces,” he said, adding that public-private partnerships are crucial to making this a reality.

Avesh Padayachee, CEO of Fibon Energy, said green cities are designed around renewable-energy solutions. A good example of this would be installing solar systems at a company’s business premises and selling the clean energy back to businesses. 

Each stage of load-shedding costs the SA economy R250m and he said solar energy, while not a perfect solution, is the most cost-effective way to face this crisis. 

Padayachee said the liberalisation of the energy policy will enable businesses to solve this disaster themselves by means of wheeling. Wheeling involves the trading of electric energy between systems and allows entities with excess solar power to get a credit on their account to sell to another company.

In its efforts to shift towards a sustainable future, SA needs to move away from its reliance on coal-fired power stations. This will require reskilling labour and the private sector to get involved, he said.  

Louise Collins, regional director of energy and engineering UAE, representing JLL, said greening cities was an opportunity for investors. While sustainability can be seen as “a privilege of the rich”, cheap financing, including green loans and bonds, is available for green energy.

She said costs will decrease as governments commit to green solutions and clients choose green developments over other prime real estate.

Collins said one of the biggest challenges to making progress in sustainability was transparency. There are no benchmarks for efficiency and no feedback on how well green policies are working.

While large corporations are committed to investing in green cities, little has been achieved to date due to a lack of feedback. “The focus should be on transparency and data sharing,” she said.

SA will struggle to achieve green cities until it is able to access reliable and affordable electricity, which is why regulation needs to be amended to allow for wheeling.

Watch the full discussion below: 

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