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Johannesburg Sustainability sample essay

The purpose of this report is to advise the Johannesburg City Government on ways to reduce carbon emissions within the city of Johannesburg, South Africa. Johannesburg City (Joburg) is listed as a participant with the C40 Cities initiative, in an effort to tackle the environmental issues of global warming and climate change. This initiative was established as a leadership programme from representatives from major cities around the world, and aims to be at the forefront in encouraging sustainable practices in our urban areas (c40cities online, 2011). It is important then to clearly define what sustainability is. From information provided in the Open University course material, a sustainable city is an urban environment in which it’s inhabitants lead fulfilling lives and are able to meet their material and social needs without damaging the environment it co-exists with (The Open University, Block 6, 2010. p 22-23).

Further to this a sustainable city should have a long-term perspective which allows it to produce it’s own resources. With this being said, Joburg finds itself faced with many, unnecessarily high, carbon producing activities such as a high volume of personal cars users and obtaining energy from older technologies and non-renewable sources just to name a few. These practices are typical of major cities across the planet and represent the unsustainable development of human activities without regard for the environment we live in.

Taking action to promote sustainability, like the C40 Cities initiative, is the reason why this report has been drafted for Joburg. In particular this report will focus on carbon emissions, their sources within the Joburg boundaries and effect on global warming, and then present ways in which to combat the currently inadequate carbon producing activities that Joburg is experiencing. Finally the report will conclude with a summary of the key points discussed in the making the case and the proposal sections. Recommendations on the information presented will be put forward which is in alignment with the purpose of this report: sustainability through reducing carbon emissions.

Making The Case:

Joburg has an important role in making itself a sustainable city because of it’s influence, not only on the surrounding environment, but as a leading city in gold production in South Africa. The large population of nearly 3.9 million inhabitants means the carbon footprint that Joburg produces will have a significant value and hence add to the issues of global warming and climate change. In a report published by a South African company, Metorex Ltd., the CO2 equivalent

will not only minimise the effect of Joburg’s carbon footprint on a global scale, but also act as a role model for other cities in Southern Africa. Cities like Joburg facilitate enormous flows of both people and material within them. These flows of people and material contribute to the character of the city and it’s ability to adapt to change. It is this ability to adapt to change which will be the greatest obstacle in combating global warming and climate change, as reluctance to take the necessary steps in securing our future will lead to devastating consequences. Consequences, as suggested by Block 6 could involve heat waves, flooding, and rising sea level. Creating cities which are flexible, as sustainable cities are, and which can cope with these environmental scenarios will undoubtedly go along way to sustaining quality of life in not only Joburg, but around the planet too.

What better place to encourage change than to start with the economic institutions which pull people from across the country in search of better earning opportunity. In South Africa Joburg is such a city and is seen as the economic hub of South Africa, contributing to over a third of the countries Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 11% of Africa’s GDP ( South Africa Online, 2011). According to Block 6 Open University course material, encouraging activities which would lead to sustainability in Joburg could lead to the following results: Improved energy efficiency leading to lower bills and lower demand for power; Development of new a new market in the midst of a lively economic market; Better quality of life for inhabitants owing to reductions in pollution (air, water and waste) and finally more efficient production of goods and services for domestic consumption as a result of innovative technologies. These are just a few of the more obvious advantages of creating a city with sustainable practices.

So where does one start when implementing eco-friendly strategies? Why not with the authority in which the inhabitants of the city put their trust – the Johannesburg City Government. As the leading authority in making decisions which directly affect the daily running of the city, Joburg will be following other leading cities, like London, in gaining the political support it needs to back the changes it wishes to make. It’s no surprise that political support will be needed in gaining momentum to implement and manage Eco-legislature.

When the City Government puts it’s political weight behind notions like sustainable building designs, renewable energy sources, heavier car tax for large motor vehicles and more efficient waste management, then the mind-set of the consumer, business man, company, conglomerate, institution or society as a whole changes and realises that these regulations will come into affect and it’s best to get onboard, or suffer the consequential penalties. Therefore as a leading decision-maker, the Johannesburg City Government should be best placed to initiate schemes and programs that effectively lead to gaining momentum needed in providing the tools for “greener living”.

The proposal addresses 4 key areas which I believe are fundamental starting blocks to creating a sustainable Joburg. There are many more concepts or ideas which would further decrease CO2 emissions, hence contributing to sustainability, however I will be submitting just 4 key concepts that in my opinion should be put into action immediately. Firstly, the City Transport commuter system needs development. Currently Joburg offers it’s inhabitants transportation in the form of busses and city trains. In a statement by Flora Mokgohloa, the Executive Director of Environment in the City, she says that the Bus Rapid Transit (BRP) scheme introduced in 2008, was introduced in an effort to reduce carbon emissions by up to 1.6million tons by 2020 (Flora Mokgohloa, 2010). The fact that commuters are only offered this form of transport within the city, apart from the trains which take it passengers to scattered stations, based too far away from each other to be an effective commuter transport system, forces commuters to seek other forms of more efficient transport – like using multi people carrier taxis.

This in effect, fore-gos the CO2 emissions saved because of the excess taxi emissions caused in response to the search for an affordable transport service. A solution to this could be an incorporation of the the “City Bike” scheme that major cities such as Amsterdam, Paris and London have taken on. With specific stations positioned in the central business district within of Sandton, Alexandra and Randburg this could cut down congestion of traffic and therefore also make it more efficient. Not to mention the reductions in CO2 emissions will also lead to a healthier, cleaner environment. Joburg’s physical landscape is flat, thus use of a central City Bike scheme combined with “Car-Free” Zones or Zero-CO2 emissions zones could booster a walking, riding or electric personal transport commuter system within the city itself. Laying infrastructure such as bike pathways or electric motorised vehicle lanes would not be too much of a hassle as the reduction in traffic would lead to the the use of one of the numerous multi-lanes available from the current transport infrastructure. City Structure is another important key development area.

As suggested in Block 6 by the Mayor of London, Mr Boris Johnson, all new building greater than a certain size needs to obtain it’s right to be built after scrutiny by the Mayor himself (Course DVD Mayor’s Speech, 2008). In his scrutiny, the building should pass a number of prerequisites before being given the thumbs up to advance. Among these requirements are the ability of the building to produce 10% of it’s energy from a renewable source above others.

If introduced in Joburg, this could lead to further development of renewable resource suppliers who look to supply the demand for energy from a renewable source. Alternatively the new building could use it’s own form of energy creation through Solar or wind power. These are 2 greatly abundant sources of energy not yet fully tapped by the South African market. The technology exists, is in use in Joburg already in the form of the “Cosmo City” scheme, essentially a solar water heater system however the demand has lacked and thus not supported further development (Joburg Online, 2011). With the enforcement of more rigid building requirements and energy management supply and manage-

Further to this, Joburg’s current city structure is the dictionary definition of urban crawl. Put simply, the city has stretched out horizontally and not utilized it’s potential space in the 3D arena. By this I refer to the large area it occupies (it is the largest city in South Africa) and with this lateral extension come greater energy consumption, as suggested by Richard Register in Block 6 (Block 6, 2010. p 129). By setting a required height limit that guarantees a building height and minimalises developments which simply occupies horizontal space. Adding to this could be “green” incentives like vertical farms for example. Also by narrowing the spaces between building structures, less distance is travelled by commuters, more shade is provided and the opportunity for wind to be tunneled throughout the city arises, leading to even less energy consumption by use of air conditioner on hot summer days. This also answers to the logic of access by proximity.

Thus in using the natural landscape the city itself can be evolved, as likened to a living Eco-system in Block 6, to produce natural ways to regulate Joburg’s temperature. Joburg gets it’s power from the only energy producer in South Africa, Eskom. This company as the only supplier with a national grid, controls the energy market as a monopoly. However there are renewable energy opportunities in available in South Africa. Firstly, sitting just outside the tropics, South Africa sees enough sunshine a year to promote the efficient use of solar power. Combined with this the terrain of the country itself is conducive to use of wind-turbine farms. The problem lies with the fact that these are relatively new technologies which are more expensive and which have little demand in South Africa. Cities like Joburg do not have the need for a more expensive energy supplier when there is a cheaper form through Eskom.

Government subsidies, as used in the UK with Natural Gas Installations (Course DVD Mayor’s Speech, 2008), and more rigid requirements for use of renewable sources of energy, could as stated above promote growth in a clean energy supplier market. Initially this is expensive, as subsidies provided by the government will mean cuts elsewhere to eco-projects, however in the long-run (as stated, with the intention of a long-term prospect) the cost of supplying renewable energy will decrease as new technologies become available. In the mean time, using decentralised combined heat and power plants will offset the extra CO2 emissions caused by unnecessary heating in nearby establishments when heat can be harvested and distributed locally from the production of power (Block 6, 2010. p 80).

Finally the Education of city dwellers/businesses and role of the media is an important factor in the regulation and management of all “green” initiatives. This is because it helps build the momentum needed to gather support from the state, market and society spheres. Local inhabitants want to feel like what they have to say matters and is taken into consideration when plans for green-initiatives are implemented, and rather a part of the solution. Educating the inhabitants, by holding regular conferences, exhibitions, information evenings in low-income household areas will go a long way to gaining support and ease the process of implementing larger scale initiatives. The role of the media in the development of London shows that even laws can be influence when enough support is gathered and represented (Block 6, 2010.p 54).


In summary, the Johannesburg City Government has been presented with information on why Joburg needs to be a sustainable city. Adding to this, what it means to be a sustainable city and hence it’s importance for Joburg as an economic hub was highlighted. Following this, 4 key concepts to the future initial development of Joburg were discussed. Each highlighted the need for a commanding authority who: has weight with legislation, a decent budget to throw towards greeninitiatives and the governing and management power to regulate and these initiatives. When an educated society gathers momentum, with the help of the Joburg market and the endorsement of Local Government (the state), it is then that Joburg will start to realise it’s “green” potential.


The Open University (2009) U116 Environment: journeys through a changing world, Block 6, ʻCities and sustainabilityʼ, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

U116 DVD; Block 6, Part 2; Role of political leadership: Mayor’s Speech

c40cities Online, 2011. “About the c40 ”,, [Accessed: 05/06/2011]. Metorex Ltd Online, 2011. “Metorex Carbon Footprint Report”,
sis.pdf , [Accessed: 07/06/2011] , [Accessed: 05/06/2011] Naidoo, R. 2010. “Plan to cut gas emissions”, 20&Itemid=201 , [Accessed: 06/06/2011] Khalianyane, L. 2011. “Energy Effiency in Spotlight”, 8&Itemid=266 , [Accessed: 06/06/2011]

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