Africities, 2063, and Time

This is a joint blog by Simon Batchelor from Gamos and Sumaya Mahomed, Professional Officer in Renewable and Energy Efficiency in the Cape Town Municipality.

At the recent Africities conference, some of the SAMSET researchers had a conversation with municipal partners, and this article tries to capture its essence.  Their subject – timescales.

In the development sector, donors, civil society, NGOs, researchers, all tend to speak in terms of 1 to 3 years projects. While the planning processes of logical frameworks and business cases allows for an impact after the project end, there are few agencies willing to commit to more than 3 years. SAMSET is actually a four year project and in that sense quite rare.  Most of the other USES projects were 1 to 3 years. Yet within SAMSET is the aspiration to assist our partner municipalities to gather data, create a state of energy report, to model the future (based on that data), to take decisions and create a strategy for ‘energy transitions’. And, within the timeframe of the project, to take some first steps in that strategy, some actions.

In a slight contrast to this, Africities has as its slogan – “SHAPING THE FUTURE OF AFRICA WITH THE PEOPLE: THE CONTRIBUTION OF AFRICAN LOCAL AUTHORITIES TO AGENDA 2063 OF THE AFRICAN UNION.”. It is looking at 2063!  That is (nearly) a fifty year horizon. Africities knows that municipal planning, changes in infrastructure, raising the finance for those changes, takes decades not years.

SAMSET is funded by UK donors and some of the researchers come from the UK, so lets take the London Cross rail link as an example. First of all, lets remember that the essence of London Underground – the transport system that effectively keeps London working – that the essence was established in 1863 (The Metropolitan Railway, using gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives!). That’s nearly one hundred and fifty years ago. The cross link is a new tunnel that will join east London (the banking and business hub) to west London, and beyond. This tunnel has to go ‘in a straight line’ while at the same time missing existing underground tunnels, water mains, etc. At times it will be created just 1 metre from an existing underground structure.

So its perhaps surprising that it was apparently first mentioned in 1941, was written on a plan in 1943, serious consultations in the seventies, serious proposals in the nineties, commercial proposal in 2001, and decided on in 2005 (10 years ago) and construction started 2009. Despite the huge advances in tunnelling, it will still take another 5 years to complete.

And of course it is only one part of an ongoing dynamic change in infrastructure of one of the worlds leading cities.

So imagine now trying to raise funding for a Bus Rapid Transport system in Polokwane. The changes will require that roads be changed, new lanes created, negotiations with landowners of key areas, procurement of the equipment. It is not surprising that it has taken over 9 years since serious planning started (2006), and that it will take until 2020 before it is fully implemented, with all the associated traffic disruption of road works etc. Infrastructure in cities takes time to change.

SAMSET modelling shows what the energy consumption of a partner city might look like in 2030. It starts with a ‘business as usual’ model and then explores possible changes, assisting the partners to identify a key change that will make a good (low carbon) longer term change. In the case of Cape Town, the municipality asked for projections to 2040, as the felt 2030 was too close. The timescales in municipality minds are of 10 year, 20 year projects, not 1 to 3 year disconnected projects.

gamos.capetown blog growth

Figure 1 Cape Town Growth in energy consumption per sector for ‘business as usual’ scenario.

And consider the energy impact of a building. A building will last 40 years or more, so if planning permission is given to an energy inefficient glass tower, the air-con commitment is there until 2063.

So municipal planning has a very long term view. Of course in a counter flow to this long view of the municipal civil servants are the politicians who have a very short term view. Politicians are often concerned with short term benefits and easy wins, so they or their party gets re-elected.  For city planners it is a difficult balance.

So when we think of energy transitions what is the right timescale? Well in a complex world we have to think of all the actors, their different needs and juggle all of them together. We do need to find early easy wins so that donors to research projects and politicians are happy enough to fund a phase two.  We do need to build capacity so that despite the movement of people from job to job, a municipality gradually gains the required skills to consult, plan and implement longer term energy transitions.  And we do need to have a long term view. Building infrastructure, even building buildings, commits a city to a particular energy path for decades not just years, and so those long term implications need to be taken into account.

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