The establishment of green cities has numerous benefits including reducing pollution, less traffic congestion and better health outcomes.

A recent Financial Mail Green Economy Dialogue in partnership with the Gautrain Management Agency, Fibon Energy, JLL and NCPC put the spotlight on how to build a greener urban environment.

The transport sector, which is responsible for 18% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, needs to be a key part of any efforts to establish green cities.

The Gautrain Management Agency has long been committed to sustainable development, calling for an integrated approach which considers the inter-dependant relationship between transport, the environment the economy and society as a whole.

William Dachs, CEO of the Gautrain Management Agency, pointed out the impact that individual choices have on the environment. Taking the Gautrain instead of a car saves carbon, money and time. Since 2010 the Gautrain has transported 175 million commuters, in the process not only saving carbon but also creating jobs through the supply chain, including “last mile” minibuses at Gautrain stations which are owned and operated by the taxi federation, but branded with the Gautrain logo and committed to punctuality.

Dachs criticized the spatial design of South African cities for continuing to house workers far from jobs and called for integrated planning and a makeover of how cities work. “Cities need to be liveable spaces,” he said, adding that public-private partnerships (PPP) are crucial to make this a reality.

Avesh Padayachee, CEO of Finbon Energy explained that green cities are those that are designed around renewable energy solutions. A good example of this would be installing solar systems at a companies’ business premises and selling the clean energy back to businesses.

Pointing out that each stage of loadshedding costs the South African economy R250 million, he said solar energy, while not a perfect solution, is the most cost-effective way to face this crisis.

The liberalisation of the energy policy, he added, will enable businesses to solve this disaster themselves by means of “wheeling”. Wheeling involves the trading of electric energy between systems and allows entities with excess solar power to get a credit on their account to sell to another company.

In its efforts to shift towards a more sustainable future, SA needs to move away from its reliance on coal-fired power stations. This will require reskilling labour. It will also require the private sector to get involved.

Louise Collins, regional director of energy and engineering UAE, representing JLL said that greening cities is an opportunity for investors. While sustainability can be seen as “a privilege of the rich”, cheap financing, including green loans and bonds, is available for green energy. She revealed that costs will decrease as governments commit to green solutions and clients choose green developments over other prime real estate.

One of the biggest challenge to making progress in sustainability, said Collins, is transparency. There are currently no benchmarks for efficiency and no feedback on how well green policies are working. While large corporates are committed to investing in green cities, little has been achieved to date due to a lack of feedback. “The focus should be on transparency and data sharing,” she said.

Ultimately, however, SA will struggle to achieve green cities until it is able to access reliable and affordable electricity which is why regulation needs to be amended to allow for wheeling.

To watch the full discussion, click here