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Highlights from Day 4 at SRI2022

Climate action to address extreme weather in Africa and crafting sustainable cities

As extreme weather events continue to have an increasing and intense impact across Africa and the world, governments along with the private sector will have to join hands in planning for the “cities of tomorrow” that allow for healthy environments with access to clean power, air and water.

The fourth day of the Sustainability, Research and Innovation Congress (SRI) 2022, saw engaging sessions that addressed these broad yet interconnected issues and crucially, what sustainable strategies and solutions could be implemented.

Academic researchers and research fellows specializing in climate change and hydrological models converged in the session, Challenges and solutions to the climate crisis in Africa with a focus on water resources, raising sobering issues affecting African communities in relation to climate change.

The session was one of the 40 insightful and engaging meetings held over the course of the day at the world’s largest transdisciplinary gathering for the global sustainability community

“Water is the source of life, essential for good health and wellbeing and central to multiple sectors of the economy. Yet 2 billion people (across the world) are currently suffering from water stress, with numbers set to drastically increase in a warmer world (as global temperatures have increased by 1.1°C degrees since pre-industrial times),” researcher Dr. Rakhee Lakhraj-Govender said.

She added that the number of floods across Africa had increased five-fold since the 1990’s with the International Database on Natural Disasters (EM-DAT) reporting more than 1,000 hydrological extreme weather events, and more than 200 droughts from 1991 to 2022. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) AR6 projects increased frequency and severity of floods and coastal erosion due to projected sea-level rise around Africa, and increases in ecological and agricultural droughts that impact water resources and threaten food security across the continent. 

“The biggest near-term climate risk is the increased frequency and intensity of “Day Zero” drought events in African cities. There are projections of one or more “Day Zero” drought events for SA’s economic hub, the Gauteng Province, which will have severe implications for the economy,” Lakhraj-Govender continued.

“We are in urgent need of rapid transformations to build a climate resilient Africa. 

This includes a combination of mitigation and adaptation strategies, to address climate action, Sustainable Development Goal 13.”

Kingsley Nnaemeka Ogbu, researcher at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University and Center for Development Research, spoke on Nigeria’s perennial flooding, his involvement in hydrological model research to simplify water processes, and the need for sustainable local solutions.

He noted, “One of the problems we face is that many hydrological models developed in Western countries don’t truly represent the heterogeneity of the African landscape. Some have very huge uncertainty attached to them. So the problem that exists today is, ‘how can you adapt these tools to solve local challenges.’”

The importance of private/public synergies in crafting sustainable cities came out as a key take-out in the plenary session titled, Sustainable Cities: Navigating the Urban Nexus.

The rate of urbanization across the world is increasing rapidly, with more than half the global population currently living in urban populations.

D.r Ayodele Odusola, Resident Representative of the UN Development Programme, spoke on the nexus between cities and climate change, saying cities contributed immensely to what was driving the climate crisis.

“High population density leads to crowding, that’s a major challenge in many communities. We need to transform to a low-carbon economy. It is mandatory for us to do this. That is why the concept of a just energy transition is so important,” he said.

Jeff Merritt, Head of Urban Transformation and Member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum said: “We’re on a trajectory for failure unless we can recognize that addressing issues like climate change are not the responsibility of the government, they’re the responsibility of cities. Private sector, universities, NGOs – all sectors of our community. The only way we’ll ultimately be able to make progress is if we’re able to do strategic planning that’s not led by governments but also takes into account what the private sector is doing.” 

On what mitigation efforts in cities entailed, Siir Kilkis, advisor to the President and Senior Researcher at The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey listed electrification, and enhancing carbon uptake through creating urban trees and forests as some solutions.

“These are the visions we can start implementing right now so we can have reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”