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Finding a common language for climate action in South Africa

6 April 2020, 9:14 UTC 4 min read

Hurry up - the new strategy

Khawuleza means “Hurry up!” in isiXhosa, and it was the title chosen for South Africa’s recently-published district-based governance model. This model allows the country to approach development at a much more nuanced level across its 44 municipal districts and 8 Metros (metropolitan districts). The updated framework was instated to improve consistency of government service delivery, to complement rural and urban development, and to accelerate development of the local economy.

But why ‘hurry up?’ Well, this new governance model works towards South Africa’s Vision 2030. Based around several priorities focusing on communities, economic transformation and local government, the Vision has had a rocky start to life. Now there is only a decade to go until 2030, a real sense of urgency has been introduced. All parties are now sharpening their focus on the Vision's ultimate aims of eliminating poverty and reducing inequality by focusing on education, employment, hunger, crime, and economic growth. With over 30 million South Africans living in poverty, this haste and determination makes sense.

A greater understanding – One province, 11 districts

KwaZulu-Natal is a province that hugs the north-eastern coast of South Africa, known for its beaches, savannah safaris, and the city of Durban. It has been working with The Climate Group since 2013, before joining the Under2 Coalition in 2017. In 2019, it also became a part of The Climate Footprint Project, which supports state and regional governments' efforts in tracking and reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As a participant in this project KwaZulu-Natal has joined other regional governments from Brazil, India, and Mexico.

With the aim of creating a space for sharing information and building understanding between representatives from the three levels of government (municipal, provincial, and national), the project includes a series of dialogues to improve GHG monitoring and tracking systems and arrangements across South Africa. In November 2019, the province held the first of these three dialogues in Durban, with over 20 participants attending from across these three government levels and the private sector. 

The dialogue helped states and regions to unpack the current status of GHG monitoring at different levels of government, while identifying opportunities for sharing data sources and information and finding ways to tackle obstacles and challenges together. The second dialogue scheduled for this month (but currently postponed due to COVID-19), will build on the findings of the first and look at systems to track and monitor climate mitigation actions. Together, the outcomes of the three dialogues will be used to develop a set of practical recommendations across all levels of government.

“The first multi-level governance (MLG) dialogue hosted by ICLEI provided an opportunity to highlight the necessity of a concerted approach by all relevant stakeholders in developing strategies for responding to climate change. The dialogue further advanced the collaborative approach which includes different stakeholders in the implementation of such strategies as well as in the monitoring and reporting progress.” 


The KwaZulu-Natal department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA) (Core-Team for the Climate Footprint Project)

Both the technical workshops and dialogues conducted through this project are designed to ensure that national government, provinces, and districts work together, rather than simply cascading information or policies from one level to the next. They are about building a genuine dialogue on climate issues to promote a common language and facilitate genuine collaboration.

“KwaZulu-Natal takes cooperative governance very seriously and hence coordination between national, province and municipal levels forms a part of the planning. The provincial approach involves alignment of the local level Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) and Provincial Growth and Development Strategy (PGDS) with the National Development Plan (NDP).”

The KwaZulu-Natal department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA) (Core-Team for the Climate Footprint Project)

KwaZulu-Natal is one province, but it incorporates 10 districts and one Metro. All districts of KwaZulu-Natal were invited to the dialogue, with AmaJuba District, King Cetshwayo District, eThekwini Metropolitan, iLembe District, Ugu DistrictuMgungundlovu District, KwaDukuza Local Municipality and uMhlathuze Local Municipality in attendance. Such districts cover a diverse area from possibly the busiest port of Africa, to sub-tropical forests, steel and rubber industries, and UNESCO World Heritage Site national parks. Taking into account all of their perspectives and needs is a vital part of the work.

What’s next?

KwaZulu-Natal is in the early stages of compiling its first province-level GHG inventory, focusing on the Energy, Waste and AFOLU (Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use) sectors. As part of this, colleagues from the Province’s Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs are learning from inventories developed previously by eThekwini and KwaDukuza Municipalities and taking on board the provincial considerations of the national GHG inventory from the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries.

With opportunities like this for collaboration, alignment, and scaling, the Climate Footprint Project can continue to find the best fit of solutions for all regional partners: solutions that are workable, meet the needs and demands of government and, ultimately, work towards identifying and implementing actions for the climate.

At present, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not possible to travel to the different municipalities physically in order to plan and work together. Instead, as is the case for many others across the world, a higher emphasis is now being placed on virtual ways of working. This brings its own connectivity and technology challenges, but importantly allows us to continue connecting and collaborating across vast distances and making progress on the project's goals. With these adjustments, and a healthy dose of patience and understanding, our work across the province continues.