With a population of 2.5 million, the Durban Metropolitan Area (DMA) is the largest port on the east coast of Africa. While it is a typical South African city in terms of the legacy left from racial planning and institutions, it is distinctive in terms of language, ethnic and racial mix, and political make-up. As a metropolitan area that juxtaposes the extremes of wealth and poverty, the lessons learned here about sustainable development planning have relevance to many parts of the world faced with economic polarities and growing threats to natural and human environments. Key development, environment and growth concerns include the destruction of natural ecosystems (Durban is located within a region of high biodiversity); the spread of unserviced informal settlements; a rise in unemployment, social division, conflict, crime and domestic abuse; an increase in industrial pollution; and the weakened local government administration and services.
Recently, Durban has become synonymous with progress on local climate mitigation strategies, as it hosted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) 17 in December 2011. ICLEI’s work at this conference led to the launch and adoption of the Durban Adaptation Charter (DAC). The DAC was one of the major milestones for ICLEI and local governments worldwide. It committed local governments to local climate action, ensuring that they would help their communities to respond to and cope with climate change risks, thereby reducing vulnerability. By signing the DAC, local governments committed to:
- Ensuring that adaptation strategies were aligned with mitigation strategies;
- Promoting the use of adaptation that recognized the needs of vulnerable communities and ensured sustainable local economic development;
- Prioritizing the role of functioning ecosystems as core municipal green infrastructure;
- Seeking innovative funding mechanisms.