Climate change: German and South African cities to tackle threat together

Development expert surveys the Riverhouse Valley wetland right next to the uMhlangane river in Durban, South Africa. [Freie Hansestadt Bremen/GIZ Landesbüro Bremen]

This article is part of our special report Towns’ and regions’ cooperation on climate and development.

SPECIAL REPORT / In the fight against climate change, local communities are of crucial importance. The cities of Bremen and Durban have teamed up to share expertise and technical know-how in a project that is beneficial for all involved. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In Germany, there are already 50 so-called municipal climate partnerships and the number is rising. A quick glance at the South African coast shows that industrial nations and the countries of the Global South can both benefit from such schemes.

The Umlangane river in Durban is a symbol of the climate problem facing the African nation’s coastal cities. Due to the increasingly frequent instances of extreme weather, the river system has been adversely affected, with biodiversity decreasing dramatically and the local population struggling with poverty and unemployment. The city wants to the give the river basin a new lease on life and to guard against the threat of rising sea levels and flooding.

>>Read: Live: #COP21

“The local population live in primitive accommodation and have only limited access to the health system. Heatwaves and floods, exacerbated by climate change, hit them particularly hard. They face homelessness and deadly diseases. A functioning wetland that stores water and cools down the air temperature can go a long way towards saving lives in the long-term,” said Joanne Douwes from the city of Durban.

Durban’s partner in this humanitarian and environmental venture is not an NGO or aid organisation, but the German city of Bremen. As part of an initiative funded by the Federal Development Ministry (BMZ), Bremen has been providing technical expertise and helping Durban use its urban resources more effectively for about a year, after establishing a town-twinning more than a decade ago.

Bremen is a member of RGRE (German association of CEMR), member of PLATFORMA, the European network of local and regional authorities for development.

>>Read: ‘Environmental emergency’ in Spanish river

Experts from the Northern German city have advised their South African colleagues about what equipment is best to analyse water quality, how to improve its quality sustainably and how to determine the origin of harmful substances that pollute the river.

“When it comes to technical know-how, we can learn a lot from Bremen. The exchange also helps us examine our own work critically and to find new solutions,” Douwes added.

Local engagement

Sustainable development cooperation is something that Durban has learned from Bremen, said Douwes. They have included local industries in the scheme from the beginning, as in the long term this is the best way to safeguard the river, especially since the development project ends in 2016. Additionally, local residents are involved in dredging the river and getting rid of foreign plants that have choked the waterway. “We try and avoid the use of machinery the best we can, using more man-power. This is the best way to maximise participation in the project,” she concluded.

>>Read: COP21 could trigger a cleantech arms race

The measures being carried out on the river is complemented by training that helps citizens tackle climate change, through improved water and greenhouse gas management. “The people of Durban are obviously more affected by the effects of climate change than we are in Bremen. We, therefore, want to support the implementation of measures that combat those effects and protect the climate,” said Ulrike Hiller, one of Bremen’s representatives.

The city of Bremen has committed itself to fulfilling the development targets laid out by the United Nations and to carrying out ‘climate justice’, said Hiller.

Learning from Durban

As it is a climate partnership, the German city hopes to learn something themselves. “In terms of adaptation to climate change, Durban is at the forefront in South Africa of implementing projects. Adaptation has only recently become an issue for us, as we have been more concerned with climate change itself and not adapting to it,” Hiller said in regard to what Durban can offer Bremen.

Durban has in fact promoted itself as a city in the vanguard of climate change adaptation, ever since it hosted the COP17 climate conference back in 2011. Bremen has long feared rising sea levels, increasing rainfall and increased temperatures in the city centre in the summer: issues with which Durban is all-too familiar. The partnership is a win-win situation for the two cities’ inhabitants, as well as being beneficial from a global climate standpoint.

Increase municipal development aid

The basic idea matches the viewpoint of the Federal Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development, Gerd Müller. He has spoken about “our one world” and highlighted that industrial nations and developing countries share the same responsibility in the fight against climate change, poverty and hunger.

In terms of cities and regions forming partnerships and sharing practical know-how, the minister said at a conference back in June that, “we need this kind of engagement in Germany. Municipalities have the knowledge, the skills and the man-power”.

>>Read: NGOs call upon Germany to create national development agenda

The Bremen/Durban partnership falls under the “50 municipal climate partnerships by 2015” project, launched under Müller’s predecessor, Dirk Niebel, and has received around €125,000 in funding. This target has been achieved: by the end of the year there will be 50 partnerships between German cities and counterparts in the global South, working together against climate change.

But Müller is hungry for more success and wants to build on the good work that has already been carried out: “There are already 400 development projects and 50 climate partnerships. That is too few. We want to increase from 400 to at least 1,000 in the coming year and I am certain that we can achieve this.”

>>Read: Smart cities and urban laboratories

Jessica Bayer, of Engagement Global, the organisation that coordinates the climate partnerships, believes that the municipalities are the most important cog in the development cooperation machine, at least when it comes to the climate. In the cities and regions, energy-efficient buildings and renewable-energy policies can be promoted which are often more ambitious than the energy policies of the government itself. Bayer added that “the climate conference in Paris shows how important cities have become. They are the pioneers now”.

Local and regional government play a big part in not only raising awareness among citizens of the importance of development cooperation, but also helping share knowledge to make aid more efficient and effective.

Since its inception in 2008 PLATFORMA has been the voice of European local and regional governments active in decentralised cooperation - the town-to-town, region-to-region development cooperation.

PLATFORMA’s role is to increase recognition of the work of local and regional governments in international cooperation, deepen the dialogue with European institutions and promote effective decentralised cooperation for the development of partner countries.

Its 34 members include associations of local and regional governments at the national, European or world levels as well as individual cities, provinces and regions. Based in Brussels, its secretariat is hosted by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR).

  • 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Durban: 28 November - December 11, 2011
  • 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Paris: 30 November - December 11, 2015


This stakeholder supports EURACTIV's coverage of Cities and regions. This support enables EURACTIV to devote additional editorial resources to cover the topic more widely and deeply. EURACTIV's editorial content is independent from the views of its supporters.


PLATFORMA is the pan-European coalition of cities and regions – and their associations – active in city-to-city and region-to-region development cooperation. Its 30 partners are all engaged in international cooperation for sustainable development. PLATFORMA is co-funded by the European Union and its secretariat is hosted by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR).


Join us at EDD21!

Subscribe to our newsletters