Strengthening South African local government capacity for climate change mitigation


In February 2017, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) in partnership with Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA) under the V-LED project and GIZ held a Climate Change Mitigation capacity building and good practice exchange workshop for DEA’s Local Government Support Programme.

The objectives of the workshop were: 1) to train the DEA Local Government Support (LGS) officials on issues of climate change mitigation to enable them to support district municipalities in implementing climate mitigation action; 2) to develop a high level DEA work plan to support local government with climate mitigation action and 3) provide a platform for effective learning exchange between key local level players.

South Africa has national and international commitments to reduce its carbon emissions in response to climate change. It is a signatory to the Paris Agreement in April 2016 and the implementation of its National Climate Change Response Strategy developed in 2011, is well underway. Local government plays a crucial role in helping the country meets its national carbon reduction targets, and is therefore an important element of DEAs overall climate change mitigation action plan.

The good practice exchange took place in Johannesburg at a historically meaningful site known as Liliesleaf Farm. It was at this farm that the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) movement that fought for democracy and freedom of the country, were arrested in 1963 and subsequently tried under the famous Rivonia Trial. The historical significance of the venue added to the essence of the workshop; it allowed participants time for reflection on the history of the country, encouraging transformation, change, networking and dialogue.

The nature of the training was focused on dialogue, networking, reflections, and learning. The first day presented an overview of South Africa’s climate change adaptation and mitigation response, followed by a facilitated panel discussion of two municipalities and one province that shared their experiences of mainstreaming climate change mitigation into their daily planning and operations.

The second day was based on interactive discussions amongst participants clustered within three groups namely:

  1. Ready group – municipalities and metros that have strong climate response plans in place and have demonstrated progress in implementation.

  2.  Ready in 2 years group – these are secondary or growing municipalities still in the development stages with some mitigation plans in place.

  3. Ready in 5 years group – These are smaller municipalities that are just emerging with respect to climate change mitigation and have little institutional and financial capacity and few climate responsive programmes in place. They require much support with respect to capacity and resources to develop plans to undertake implementation.

The municipal clustering process was informed by a comprehensive piece of work undertaken by DEA in 2016, when the department embarked on a countrywide assessment of local government climate change mitigation response. This work illustrated clearly that whilst some municipalities are pioneers in the implementation of climate change programmes contributing to meeting South Africa’s national climate change targets; many have been lagging behind in integrating climate change considerations in their planning processes and implementation.  The cluster groups worked together in developing a work plan and outlining their challenges and next steps.

To assist in the discussions and development of the work plan, three parallel sessions addressing the enablers of climate change mitigation implementation at the local level were held, notably communication and awareness, capacity building and institutional support and access to financial support. These sessions included inputs from experts in the respective areas. These sessions helped guide participants on how to navigate through the challenges experienced with implementation.

Key issues that were addressed included:

  • How to access climate finance? What are the funding possibilities?  How can municipalities develop bankable projects and what support is needed? This was an important area and it was clear that participants required more information – climate action needs funding.

  • How do municipalities build human and institutional support? What are the capacity challenges? How to establish a climate change peer to peer learning platform.

  • How to develop and package key climate response messages?  How to communicate climate change and its impacts and the need for an urgent response from all?

Constructive and productive discussions emerged from the cluster group and parallel sessions. Challenges facing municipalities that emerged strongly from the discussions, were lack of capacity and sharing, M & E reporting tools, accessing funding and the need for political endorsement for climate change response at the municipal level.

This was a productive and interactive good practice exchange which achieved its objectives – a DEA-led Local Government Climate Change Mitigation Support Work Plan was developed and finalized with the participants on the last day. The workshop provided an optimal platform for participants to share ideas, challenges and success stories. It marked an example of an all-inclusive decision making process, coordination with all levels of government, all of which are vital towards transitioning to climate-resilient future.