Our Burning Planet


‘A city of hope and potential’ — Nelson Mandela Bay launches climate-resilient strategy

‘A city of hope and potential’ — Nelson Mandela Bay launches climate-resilient strategy
Executive director of the Presidential Climate Commission Dr Crispian Olver signs the metro’s process pledge to build a climate-resilient Nelson Mandela Bay. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

The Nelson Mandela Bay metro on Wednesday began the process of designing a climate-resilient strategy for the city which, because of its reliance on the automotive industry, is likely to be hard-hit by the effects of climate change and efforts to mitigate against it.

‘I see the city as a city of hope and potential. Seize the moment and take agency. Don’t wait for Pretoria or Bhisho.”

This was the encouragement from the executive director of the Presidential Climate Commission, Dr Crispian Olver, at the launch of Nelson Mandela Bay’s collaborative project to design a climate-resilient strategy in one year. 

nelson mandela bay climate resilience

Children from Motherwell performed a short drama piece at the launch to underscore the importance of looking after the earth. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

nelson mandela bay climate resilience

Artwork created for the launch by children from New Brighton. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Olver said a successful climate-resilient strategy would need the help of business and a “rich fabric of society”.

“All these sectors must show leadership. I want to say we are all in charge. Driving this will need equal partnerships.”

He said Nelson Mandela Bay had the potential to become SA’s renewable energy capital as it could provide wave, solar and wind power. 

“This is a revolution akin to the big economic revolutions,” Olver said.

He said some sectors would grow dramatically and others would decline. 

nelson mandela bay climate resilience

Nelson Mandela Bay poet Poetic Soul delivers her piece on climate change. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

He was doubtful that coal would remain viable. “Fossil fuels will go first and then liquid fuels. Gas will fade eventually.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Crooked coal, corruption and politics — experts flag the barriers to SA’s energy transition

He said these changes would have a massive impact and the workers in the value chain were most at risk.

“One of the things that keeps me awake at night is the auto industry,” Olver said. Nelson Mandela Bay is heavily reliant on the motor industry, with the sector providing between 30,000 and 40,000 jobs in the metro. 

“The auto industry must move,” he said. “They must make decisions now. If we are not careful, these investments will be made elsewhere.”

Electric vehicles

He said several factors negatively affected the automotive industry, including a lack of energy and water security, the “parlous state” of SA’s ports and its declining security situation.  

There was “naked competition” for supply chains for electric vehicles. 

“We must actively help people to transition and train people,” he said. “We must help communities and workers to navigate this.”

Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber’s climate change lead, Dr Gary Koekemoer, said the multi-stakeholder sign-up made this development unique as the climate-resilient strategy would not be driven only by the municipality.

The World Bank’s senior adviser and climate adaptation lead on the South African Presidential Climate Commission, Dhesigen Naidoo, said there were several reasons the strategy was launched in Nelson Mandela Bay. 

nelson mandela bay climate resilience

Senior adviser and climate adaptation lead on the South African Presidential Climate Commission, Dhesigen Naidoo, addresses the event. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

He said the metro, which is heavily reliant on the motor industry and components manufacturing, was likely to face a “double whammy” as it would feel the impacts of climate change and be economically affected by the global response to climate change. 

“But another reason is also its people,” he said. “There is an enthusiasm, a level of organisation and activism.”

Naidoo said Nelson Mandela Bay faced the possibility of going the same way as the US city of Detroit, which went into a steep decline when its automotive industry failed.

However, he said, “On the back of a resilience strategy, it can become a Tokyo”, referring to the Japanese city that is a global force in the automotive industry and a hub of technological innovation.

“You must be really successful, really quickly,” Naidoo said. “We want to show that a development and climate-resilience strategy that can address inequality can make a difference. The level of difference it makes will depend on what you do.

“We need to change the world and we need to change it our way.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: World at war worsening global carbon footprints with little scope for critical climate change action

nelson mandela bay climate resilience

Chairperson of the Nelson Mandela Bay Climate Coalition and the CEO of the Wilderness Foundation Africa, Dr Andrew Muir. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

The chairperson of the Nelson Mandela Bay Climate Coalition and the CEO of the Wilderness Foundation Africa, Dr Andrew Muir, said Nelson Mandela Bay was used to natural disasters. “It has always been part of life in the Bay.”

He said climate change was not bad weather. 

“The metro is getting hotter at an unnatural rate. It requires urgent intervention.”

nelson mandela bay climate resilience

Guests each received a spekboom, an indigenous Eastern Cape plant that is known for its ability to sequester carbon. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Muir said future weather scenarios for Nelson Mandela Bay included a 2.2 to 2.5 ℃ increase in temperature, the sea temperature increasing by 2℃ and the sea level rising by between 0.75m and 1m, with significant changes in rainfall including “rain bomb” events where between 200mm and 400mm would fall within a day. 

“We will have variable weather on steroids,” he said. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Call to action after devastating ‘best-case scenario’ for Nelson Mandela Bay

“There is a threat and an opportunity,” he said. Muir pointed out that Nelson Mandela Bay was the only place in South Africa where five biomes converged. He said there were enough skills and know-how in the manufacturing, scientific, education and social sectors to fight climate change.

“We also know how to work together,” Muir said.

Key principles

He said the deadlines they had set would see the production of a final climate-resilience report for the metro by February 2025. The key principles to be addressed by this report are understanding the ecosystem, sustainable development, “think local, act global”, a just transition, collective stewardship and accountability.

“Nobody can be left behind,” Muir said. 

nelson mandela bay climate resilience

Climate champion for Nelson Mandela Bay Lusanda Msebi with artwork created especially for the event by the children of New Brighton. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

The climate champion for Nelson Mandela Bay, Lusanda Msebi, said she hoped that there would be more than just listening. “Our youth is behind. We need skills development,” she said. 

Monga Peter from the Nelson Mandela Bay Civil Society Coalition said they supported the strategy as long as “everyone is taken on board” and there was engagement.

“It is an all-hands-on-deck situation,” he said. “This city doesn’t have a deficit of plans, but what is missing is action.” DM

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