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South African Cities Focus on Emissions Reduction to Fuel Economic Growth and Development

New report highlights trend of decoupling economic growth from energy consumption in South African cities

A new research report, “The Contribution of Low-Carbon Cities to South Africa’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions Goals,” released today explores South African cities’ commitments to urban GHG emissions reduction efforts and how these actions can boost economic activity, lower the environmental effects of sprawl and help cities overcome historical spatial distortions that impact impoverished communities.  The report found a substantial decoupling of urban economic growth from energy and carbon intensity.

There is a focus among South African cities on moving their citizens out of poverty and continuing to grow their economies, which can often be perceived as at odds with emissions reduction. The report, however, finds that low-carbon development in urban areas has enabled 4.2% economic growth with only 1.8%  growth in energy consumption.  The economy has continued to grow in urban centers, yet there has been a decline in energy intensity.  This data highlights that well-considered urban development planning has the ability to boost economic activity, lower the environmental consequences of sprawl and overcome the historical spatial distortions that marginalize poor communities. These trends are significant and will likely resonate throughout the broader African continent.

The report, written by Sustainable Energy Africa with the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Stockholm Environment Institute, examines the unique position of South Africa—which is currently ranked 12th among the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitters, largely due to its heavy dependence on coal—to display low-carbon development leadership.

South African cities are responsible for approximately one-third (32 percent) of energy-related GHG emissions, with lower emissions per capita than South Africa as a whole, due to the fact that most large industries—mines, smelters, steel—are located outside city boundaries. The urban sectors with the highest rates of emissions are transport (31 percent), industrial (25 percent) and residential (20 percent).

These cities are leading efforts to pursue climate action. Throughout the past decade, municipalities have been leveraging energy data, helping to build the South African Local Government Association’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Strategy, which provides guidance to municipalities to develop their own policies relating to energy and climate change. They have also been developing energy and climate change departments, implementing retrofits of public lighting, building and wastewater pumps, and updating regulations surrounding energy-efficient building construction.

To complement and expedite the progress cities are already making, the report highlights the following opportunities for South African cities to achieve low-carbon urban development:

  • Explore greater coordination between cities and national governments in order to implement action at a greater scale
  • National governments should review the policy that obligates cities to purchase bulk electricity from Eskom, adjust regulations to permit local governments to generate their own electricity, and enable innovation and investment into the energy space.
  • Move the concept of emissions to the center of urban city planning and improve cities’ access to social and economic resources.
  • Promote strong partnerships between business, civil society and all spheres of government.
  • Cultivate skills and talent among employees and groom them to lead energy and climate change units that often sit within cities’ electricity or energy departments.

About Sustainable Energy Africa
Sustainable Energy Africa promotes equitable, low carbon, clean energy development in urban South Africa and Africa. Through our work we promote energy efficiency, the transition to more sustainable energies such as solar and wind power and access to safe and affordable energy services for all. We do this through research, capacity building, policy engagement and information dissemination. For more information, visit:

About Stockholm Environment Institute
SEI is an independent international research institute engaged in environment and development issues at local, national, regional and global policy levels for more than 25 years. SEI was formally established in 1989 by the Swedish government and celebrated its 25th anniversary in October 2014. SEI’s goal is to bring about change for sustainable development by bridging science and policy by providing integrated analysis that supports decision-makers. The institute has built a reputation for rigorous and objective scientific analysis in the field of environment and development. For more information, visit:

About Bloomberg Philanthropies
Bloomberg Philanthropies’ mission is to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: public health, environment, education, government innovation and the arts. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s charitable activities, including his foundation and his personal giving. In 2014, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $462 million. For more information, please visit or follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @BloombergDotOrg.

Media Contacts:
Bloomberg Philanthropies/Havas PR: Samantha Wolf,, +1 646-515-3574