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Johannesburg – This year's message for World Environment Day, celebrated annually on 5 June, urges people to cut down on activities that increase the amount of carbon dioxide (CO²) in the atmosphere.
The theme, which will be observed worldwide, is “CO²: Kick the habit! Towards a low carbon economy”. [ note: view info on Share-Net World Environment Day Education material ]
Johannesburg kicks off its celebrations with a two-day climate change summit at Nasrec Expo Centre on 2 June, according to the city’s official website.
The summit will target mostly municipalities, "to create awareness around the city's climate change mitigation and adaptation programmes", says Linda Phalatse, Joburg's deputy director for climate change and cleaner production.
The city is leading the way in South Africa when it comes to measures to curb climate change.
It has launched a wide range of environmental programmes since hosting the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.
Success stories include greening the city, especially those areas that have been previously disadvantaged; the wetlands rehabilitation programme, specifically the Vorna Valley and Mapetla wetlands; and retro-fitting council-owned buildings with energy efficient lighting.
But the really big one is the Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit system, of which the first phase was started in 2007.
A study done to establish the sustainability of this project concluded that, "Rea Vaya will reduce 311 586 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the current ‘do nothing' scenario".
Ms Phalatse said that although some municipalities are already implementing measures to deal with climate change, Johannesburg hopes that the summit will lead to a formal pledge from local government to stem the tide of global warming.
Some 600 delegates from around the world are expected to attend the two-day summit.
Presenters from cities with excellent best practice records in the environmental field, such as London and Seoul, will exchange information on practical actions to combat climate change.
A key environmental achievement is the completion of an eco-design as part of the Klipriver-Klipspruit rehabilitation and greening programme.
Ira Magaziner, the chairman of the Clinton Climate Initiative, will give an overview of the Large Cities Climate Leadership Group (also known as the C40), of which Johannesburg is a member.
Topics discussed will include the relationship between climate change and transport, policy, energy use in buildings, waste, natural resources and carbon financing.
Johannesburg is progressively carving a name for itself in the international environmental arena.
Earlier this year it was awarded second place in the Mastercard Worldwide Centres of Commerce Index, indicating its status as a top commercial centre able to co-exist harmoniously with the environment.
It rubs shoulders with the likes of Melbourne, coming first, and Singapore, in third position, as cities least vulnerable to urbanisation and the environment.
For its executive mayor, Amos Masondo, one of the key environmental achievements of the past year was the completion of an eco-design as part of the Klipriver-Klipspruit rehabilitation and greening programme.
Mr Masondo is particularly concerned with the enormous threat climate change poses to South Africans and Africa as a whole, and has made environmental health a mayoral priority.
The African continent is said to be the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. "The mayor is passionate about climate change issues," said Ms Phalatse.
The host of World Environment Day 2008 is New Zealand, with the main international celebrations scheduled for Wellington.
New Zealand was one of the first countries to pledge to achieve carbon neutrality.
That means the country aims to balance the amount of carbon released with the amount sequestered or offset.
In low carbon economies, a minimal amount of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, is emitted.
China, the United States, Russia and India are the big world polluters. South Africa is in the top 20 of the world's worst carbon dioxide polluters.
[ By Emily Visser BuaNews ]