Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change in Urban South Africa

  • Dianne LongEmail author
  • Gina Ziervogel
Part of the GeoJournal Library book series (GEJL)


While social and economic considerations are key concerns driving development in South Africa, successful sustainable development cannot occur without understanding the potential implications of how the climate and environment are changing. With a growing number of people migrating to and residing in urban areas it is becoming ever more pressing that urban vulnerabilities and climate adaptation be understood in light of development challenges. The purpose of this chapter is to track the progress made to date with regards to vulnerability assessments, adaptation planning and adaptation implementation in urban areas in South Africa. Although climate adaptation is relatively new on the policy and practice agenda, initiatives have been developing rapidly. This chapter reviews the work in the context of South African urban areas and highlights the potential gaps in knowledge. It provides an overview of the urban response to climate change in a developing world context where a growing urban population and the need for increased development place an already significant degree of pressure on the environment as a resource subject to change.


Sustainability Development Vulnerability Climate change 


  1. Academy of Science South Africa. (2017). First biennial report to cabinet on the state of climate change science technology in South Africa.Google Scholar
  2. Adelekan, I. O. (2010). Vulnerability of poor urban coastal communities to flooding in Lagos, Nigeria. Environment and Urbanization, 22(2), 433–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Archer, D., Almansi, F., DiGregorio, M., Roberts, D., Sharma, D., & Syam, D. (2014). Moving towards inclusive urban adaptation: Approaches to integrating community-based adaptation to climate change at city and national scale. Climate and Development, 6(4), 345–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Broman, G. I., & Robèrt, K.-H. (2017). A framework for strategic sustainable development. Journal of Cleaner Production, 140(1), 17–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Burton, I., White, G., & Kates, R. (1978). Environment as Hazard. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Carmin, J., Anguelovski, I., & Roberts, D. (2012). Urban climate adaptation in the global south: Planning in an emerging policy domain. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 32(1), 18–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carpenter, C. (2001). Businesses, green groups and the media: The role of non-governmental organizations in the climate change debate. International Affairs, 77(2), 313–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cartwright, A., Blignaut, J., De Wit, M., Goldberg, K., Mander, M., O’Donoghue, S., et al. (2013). Economics of climate change adaptation at the local scale under conditions of uncertainty and resource constraints: The case of Durban, South Africa. Environment and Urbanization, 25(1), 139–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cavan, G., & Kingston, R. (2012). Development of a climate change risk and vulnerability assessment tool for urban areas. International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment, 3(3), 253–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. City of Johannesburg. (2009). City of Johannesburg climate change adaptation plan. Retrieved from
  11. Department of Environmental Affairs. (2011). National climate change response white paper. Retrieved from
  12. Department of Environmental Affairs. (2013). The national climate change response policy: Towards implementation of the national climate change response strategy. Retrieved from
  13. Department of Environmental Affairs. (2014). The department of environmental affairs hosts the climate change breakfast briefing. Retrieved from
  14. Department of Environmental Affairs. (2017). South Africa’s third national communication under the united nations framework convention on climate change. Retrieved from
  15. Dlani, A., Ijeoma, E. O., & Zhou, L. (2015). Implementing the green city policy in municipal spatial planning: The case of buffalo city metropolitan municipality. Africa’s Public Service Delivery and Performance Review, 3, 2–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Douwes, J. (2018). Exploring transformation in local government in a time of environmental change and thresholds: A case study of eThekwini municipality (Masters thesis), University of KwaZulu Natal.Google Scholar
  17. du Plessis, A., & Kotzé, L. J. (2014). The heat is on: Local government and climate governance in South Africa. Journal of African Law, 58(1), 145–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Eakin, H., & Luers, A. L. (2006). Assessing the vulnerability of social-environmental systems. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 31(1), 365–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Earthlife Africa. (2016). Earthlife Africa. Retrieved from
  20. Eden District Municipality. (2016). Eden district municipality—Eden DM climate change adaptation plan. Retrieved from
  21. eThekwini Municipality. (2011). Durban’s municipal climate protection programme: Climate change planning for a resilient city. Retrieved from
  22. Failing, W. (2012). A spatial planning perspective on climate change, asset adaptation and food security. In B. Frayne & G. Ziervogel (Eds.), Climate change, assets and food security in Southern African cities (pp. 163–185). Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Food & Trees for Africa. (2014). Retrieved from
  24. Füssel, H.-M. (2007). Adaptation planning for climate change: Concepts, assessment approaches, and key lessons. Sustainability Science, 2(2), 265–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Garschagen, M., & Romero-Lankao, P. (2015). Exploring the relationships between urbanization trends and climate change vulnerability. Climatic Change, 133(1), 37–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Greenpop—Planting Trees & Educating for Action. (2018). Retrieved from
  27. ICLEI Local Governments for sustainability. (2012a). Building climate resilience: Retrofitting as an adaptation option for the city of Cape Town, South Africa. Retrieved from
  28. ICLEI Local Governments for sustainability. (2012b). EThekwini (Durban), South Africa A municipality’s climate protection program. Retrieved from
  29. IPCC. 2014. Summary for policymakers. In C. B. Field et al., (Eds), Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaption, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Karl, T. R. (2003). Modern global climate change. Science, 302, 1719–1723.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kelly, P. M., & Adger, W. N. (2000). Theory and practice in assessing vulnerability to climate change and facilitating adaptation. Climatic Change, 47, 325–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kirby, A. (2014). 3 African regions at high risk from climate change. Retrieved from
  33. Leck, H., & Roberts, D. (2015). What lies beneath: Understanding the invisible aspects of municipal climate change governance. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 13, 61–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Madzwamuse, M. (2010). Climate change vulnerability and adaptation preparedness in South Africa. Document Prepared for Heinrich Böll Stiftung Southern Africa.Google Scholar
  35. Mann, M. E., Rahmstorf, S., Kornhuber, K., Steinman, B. A., Miller, S. K., & Coumou, D. (2017). Influence of anthropogenic climate change on planetary wave resonance and extreme weather events. Scientific Reports, 7, 124–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mather, A. A., & Stretch, D. D. (2012). A perspective on sea level rise and coastal storm surge from Southern and Eastern Africa: A case study near Durban, South Africa. Water, 4(1), 237–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. McCarthy, J. J., climat, G. d’experts intergouvernemental sur l’évolution du, Change, I. P. on C., II, I. P. on C. C. W. G., Canziani, O. F., Leary, N. A., White, K. S. (2001). In Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability: Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Measham, T. G., Preston, B. L., Smith, T. F., Brooke, C., Gorddard, R., Withycombe, G., et al. (2011). Adapting to climate change through local municipal planning: Barriers and challenges. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, 16, 889–908.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Midgley, G.., Chapman, R. A., Hewitson, B., Johnston, P., De Wit, M., Ziervogel, G., …, Forsyth, G.. (2005). A Status Quo, vulnerability and adaptation assessment of the physical and socio-economic effects of climate change in the Western Cape, report to the Western Cape government (No. Report No. ENV-S-C 2005-073). Cape Town, South Africa: Stellenbosch, CSIR.Google Scholar
  40. Missimer, M., Robèrt, K.-H., & Broman, G. (2017). A strategic approach to social sustainability—Part 1: Exploring the social system. Journal of Cleaner Production, 140, 32–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mukheibir, P., & Ziervogel, G. (2007). Developing a Municipal Adaptation Plan (MAP) for climate change: The city of Cape Town. Environment and Urbanization, 19, 143–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Musungu, K., Motala, S., & Smit, J. (2012). Using multi-criteria evaluation and GIS for flood risk analysis in informal settlements of Cape Town: The case of Graveyard Po. South African Journal of Geomatics, 1, 15.Google Scholar
  43. Nicholls, R. J., & Cazenave, A. (2010). Sea-level rise and its impact on coastal zones. Science, 328, 1517–1520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Odemerho, F. O. (2015). Building climate change resilience through bottom-up adaptation to flood risk in Warri, Nigeria. Environment and Urbanization, 27, 139–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pasquini, L., & Cowling, R. M. (2015). Opportunities and challenges for mainstreaming ecosystem-based adaptation in local government: Evidence from the Western Cape, South Africa. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 17, 1121–1140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pasquini, L., Cowling, R. M., & Ziervogel, G. (2013). Facing the heat: Barriers to mainstreaming climate change adaptation in local government in the Western Cape Province, South Africa. Habitat International, 40, 225–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pasquini, L., Ziervogel, G., Cowling, R. M., & Shearing, C. (2015). What enables local governments to mainstream climate change adaptation? Lessons learned from two municipal case studies in the Western Cape, South Africa. Climate and Development, 7, 60–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Preston, B. L., Yuen, E. J., & Westaway, R. M. (2011). Putting vulnerability to climate change on the map: A review of approaches, benefits, and risks. Sustainability Science, 6(2), 177–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Revi, A., Satterthwaite, D., Aragón-Durand, F., Corfee-Morlot, J., Kiunsi, R. B., Pelling, M., et al. (2014). Towards transformative adaptation in cities: The IPCC’s fifth assessment. Environment and Urbanization, 26, 11–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Roberts, D. (2008). Thinking globally, acting locally—Institutionalizing climate change at the local government level in Durban, South Africa. Environment and Urbanization, 20, 521–537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Roberts, D. (2010). Prioritizing climate change adaptation and local level resilience in Durban, South Africa. Environment and Urbanization, 22(2), 397–413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Roberts, D., Boon, R., Diederichs, N., Douwes, E., Govender, N., Mcinnes, A., et al. (2012). Exploring ecosystem-based adaptation in Durban, South Africa: “Learning-by-doing” at the local government coal face. Environment and Urbanization, 24, 167–195. Scholar
  53. Roberts, D., & O’Donoghue, S. (2013). Urban environmental challenges and climate change action in Durban, South Africa. Environment and Urbanization, 25, 299–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Scott, D., & Taylor, A. (2019). Receptivity and judgement: Expanding ways of knowing the climate to strengthen the resilience of cities. London: Springer.Google Scholar
  55. Simon, D., & Leck, H. (2015). Understanding climate adaptation and transformation challenges in African cities. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 13, 109–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Tapia, C., Abajo, B., Feliu, E., Mendizabal, M., Martinez, J. A., Fernández, J. G., et al. (2017). Profiling urban vulnerabilities to climate change: An indicator-based vulnerability assessment for European cities. Ecological Indicators, 78, 142–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Taylor, A. (2016). Institutional inertia in a changing climate: Climate adaptation planning in Cape Town, South Africa. International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management, 8(2), 194–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Taylor, A., Cartwright, A., & Sutherland, C. (2014). Institutional pathways for local climate adaptation: A comparison of three South African municipalities. Retrieved from
  59. Taylor, B. M., Harman, B. P., Heyenga, S., & McAllister, R. R. J. (2012). Property developers and urban adaptation: Conceptual and empirical perspectives on governance. Urban Policy and Research, 30(1), 5–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research. (2014). Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research. Retrieved from
  61. Walsh, C. L., Roberts, D., Dawson, R. J., Hall, J. W., Nickson, A., & Hounsome, R. (2013). Experiences of integrated assessment of climate impacts, adaptation and mitigation modelling in London and Durban. Environment and Urbanization, 25, 361–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. White, G. (1973). Natural Hazards research. In R. J. Chorley (ed.), Directions in geography. London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  63. Wirsenius, S., Hedenus, F., & Mohlin, K. (2011). Greenhouse gas taxes on animal food products: Rationale, tax scheme and climate mitigation effects. Climatic Change, 108(1–2), 159–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Ziervogel, G. (2019). Building transformative capacity for adaptation planning and implementation that works for the urban poor: Insights from South Africa. Ambio, 48, 494–506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Ziervogel, G., New, M., Archer van Garderen, E., Midgley, G., Taylor, A., Hamann, R., et al. (2014). Climate change impacts and adaptation in South Africa: Climate change impacts in South Africa. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 5, 605–620.Google Scholar
  66. Ziervogel, G., & Parnell, S. (2014). Tackling barriers to climate change adaptation in South African coastal cities. In B. C. Glavovic & G. P. Smith (Eds.), Adapting to climate change. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  67. Ziervogel, G., & Smit, W. (2009). Learning to swim: Strengthening flooding governance in the City of Cape Town. In Amsterdam Conference on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change: ‘Earth System Governance: People, Places and the Planet’, Amsterdam.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wits School of EducationUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of Environmental and Geographical ScienceUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations