How Green is Johannesburg?

Johannesburg has a reputation for being the world’s biggest manmade forest, boasting more than 10 million trees.

But with mine-dump dust whirling around on a windy day, the constant threat of acid mine drainage and the bleak landscapes for which the City of Gold has become famous, at first glance Jozi is not an ideal contender for South Africa’s greenest city.

And then there are the traffic jams.

Yet a new study on the greenest cities in Africa found that Johannesburg had much to offer. The city leads the pack in cutting down on electricity and planting trees, although its citizens still use an excessive amount of water and few bother to recycle.

Siemens commissioned the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) to compile the African Green City Index to help understand urban sustainability.

The study compared 15 cities in Africa on environmental performance and policies across categories such as energy, carbon footprint, land use, transport, waste, water, sanitation, air quality and environmental governance.

The cities examined were Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban, Casablanca (Morocco), Tunis (Tunisia), Alexandria and Cairo (Egypt), Accra (Ghana), Lagos (Nigeria), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Nairobi (Kenya) and Maputo (Mozambique).

Though the results of all 15 cities are only due to be released during the climate change summit in Durban at the beginning of next month, Dr Paul Kielstra, contributing editor of the EIU, gave City Press a preview of how well Johannesburg scores.

Commute terrible

“The City of Johannesburg is one of the greenest cities in the index and ranks above average overall,” he said. “Its environmental performance is bolstered by having the second highest amount of green space among the 15 index cities and an extensive bus network, as well as generally robust environmental policies, especially for clean energy and congestion reduction.”

Parks Tau, mayor of Johannesburg, said the city would build a green economy into its growth plan. “We have launched the biggest project on converting landfill gas to energy,” he said.

But the study revealed that the city’s transport battle hampered its green rating. Johannesburg’s traffic and daily commutes have been rated as some of the worst in the world. And there is little alternative public transport.

The Rea Vaya transport system was described as a beacon of light in tackling greenhouse gases and Tau said the city was in the process of transforming its transport sector to improve air quality in the city.

The study described Johannesburg’s green spaces as impressive. The city has more than 2 000 developed parks and each person has about 230m² of green space, compared with the average 74m² per person in African cities.

Last year, before the soccer World Cup, the city “greened” Soweto by planting 200 000 trees.

A dark patch remains Jozi’s reliance on coal. Just about 90% of the city’s energy is generated by coal. Yet the city has become quite energy efficient and has the lowest electricity consumption among South African cities – 5.6 gigajoule per person as opposed to the average of 6.4 gigajoule.

Johannesburg citizens also love water. The city had the second highest water consumption of all African cities, using 349 litres of water per person per day. The average is 187 litres.

The city was also criticised for its poor recycling record.

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