In 2014, the United Nations General Assembly designated 31 October as World Cities Day, by its resolution 68/239. It is part of Urban October, launched by UN-Habitat, to emphasise the world’s urban challenges and engage the international community towards the New Urban Agenda. This year’s theme is “Better Cities, Better Life.”
As we mark World Cities Day, let’s resolve to work together for urban areas that are not only engines of growth, but beacons of sustainability, resilience, and prosperity for all.
– UN Secretary-General António Guterres
“The International World Cities Day’s theme of Better Cities, Better Life excites me because basically, this talks to what we’re trying to achieve with the Sanlam Investments Property Impact Fund,” says Manka Sebastian, Portfolio Manager, Sanlam Investments. She explains: “We actually want to build a city and contribute to the building of a city that puts people first. And what that city looks like for us is a human-centric city where the biggest contributor to GDP is the services provided by the people.”
Manka continues: “How we would to that is to make sure that technology has been leveraged to the point that people can not only communicate, but do business and innovate in the language they dream in. What that then leads to is that it’s a city that understands its environmental context, and as a result, has a built environment that exists symbiotically with nature. A city that gives back to nature in the same magnitude that it takes from it, making sure that the humans and the people within the city are allowed to thrive to the best of their ability.” [Read full interview here.]
The theme of circular economy is never far removed when smart cities are discussed. In fact, UN Habitat is hosting a roundtable on “Waste to Wealth” this week, building on the global attention on the transition to a circular economy, a roundtable on “Waste to Wealth” for a discussion on the strategies national and local governments can adopt to move towards a circular economy through sustainable operational finance to unlock investments and bring decent jobs in the municipal solid waste (MSW) value chain and the shift towards a circular economy.
Waste in Africa expected to triple by 2050
“The solid waste management situation at the global level is very critical,” says Catalina Marulanda, Practice Manager, Resilience and Land, East Africa, at the World Bank. “By 2050, the world will be producing roughly 4 billion tonnes of municipal waste per year. This is an enormous amount of waste! It also represents a 73% increase in the volume generated 30 years earlier, in 2020.”
According to Catalina: “Despite our efforts to curb and to better manage solid waste, we are not going in the right trajectory and the global trend is alarming. Africa, in particular, is not heading in the right direction. Waste generation in Africa is expected to triple by 2050 (when compared to 2020 levels) because of economic growth, population increases and urbanization. Africa will go from under 200 million tonnes of municipal waste generated per year, to an estimated 573 million tonnes of waste per year.”
While, on a per capita basis, waste generation rates in Africa remain among the lowest in the world, but with more than half of the world’s population growth expected to occur in Africa by 2050, the total volumes of waste that will be produced are enormous. Says Catalina: “When you think that less than half of the waste generated in Africa is collected and that roughly 70% of what is generated is openly dumped and burned, then it becomes clear the situation is alarming and that something needs to be done urgently.” [Read full interview here].
Circular economy needs to be facilitated
“Circular economy is a wonderful concept. Academically, it’s also very, very, exciting, but I do think it needs to be facilitated.” So says Jarrod Lyons, responsible for business development and marketing at the Atlantis Special Economic Zone in Cape Town, which is also the only Greentech special economic zone in Africa. “I am going to say something cheeky,” he smiles, “but I think Africans as people understand it way better than most individuals globally, because farmers have been doing this type of thing for millennia. They’ve been taking harvested wheat and taking the husks and reusing it as animal feed or tilling it back into the ground etcetera.”
Circular economy is also something that needs to consistently be thought about and consistently be driven by politicians says Jarrod. “But if you can apply a cost benefit to it, a commercial value, then obviously it’s also something that commerce and industry should perk up to and listen to a bit more.”
“Part of our value proposition at the Atlantis Special Economic Zone is that we’re going to implement industrial symbiosis in the park. So, every tenant that we land, we need to understand the material flow through their businesses: what raw materials are coming in and what waste is being generated at the end of the day, and then we try and find other tenants that match that material profile. This is how we craft our targeting methodology and strategy to build these clusters of renewable excellence.”
Proper way of investing
The African Green Infrastructure Investment Bank (AfGIIB) makes a point to have the right investment projects that are speaking to the national determined contributions (NDCs), but ultimately, also adopt circular economy principles. This is according to Hubert Ruzibiza, senior advisor, climate finance and technical assistance at AfGIIB, an African Union-convened institution and investor-led global investment initiative to catalyse private capital for Africa’s green transition. Nationally determined contributions (NDCs) are at the heart of the Paris Agreement and the achievement of its long-term goals.
Says Hubert: “Circular economy is very important in the sense that it allows continuity, nothing is lost, but actually is reused, which ensures that there’s a full cycle of material equipment. In the development of smart cities, sustainable energy is used in which waste management contributes to the ecosystem and the livelihoods at the city level. So, ultimately, we aim to have a circular economy because that supports the development of our livelihoods in general, instead of increasing our spending into non-circular, which ultimately will create wastages, we believe that circular economy is the proper way of investing. [Read or watch full interview here].
Demand for minerals is huge
The issue of circular economy is also very important in the mining industry for two reasons, says Frank Mugyenyi, executive director and founder of Minerals African Development Institution (MADI). He expands: “As of now, the demand for minerals that go into the green economy is huge and cannot be met by mining, by extracting and by digging up the soil on the continent. Therefore, buying raw materials that we need for the green economy, can be fed by a lot of other minerals that have already been used, but are going to waste. So recycling will be very, very, important. We have a lot of minerals embedded into the products that we’re using that were as a result of mining. [Read full interview here].