Western Cape and California share how they’re dealing with wildfires and droughts

Author: Sarah Birch, Climate Change Adaptation Coordinator, Western Cape Government
Reading time: 3 minutes
16 July 2018

In May, two delegates from the Western Cape government in South Africa travelled to California, US, for a five day peer-learning secondment, funded by the Future Fund. The two regions have similar ecosystems so the aim of the secondment was to share learning on the management of climate impacts such as wildfires and droughts, which have been experienced by both Western Cape and California.

First Impressions

Our initial impression was one of shock at the level of financial resources and capacity the government of California can leverage. Developing countries like South Africa lack big finance and Western Cape’s current budget pales in comparison to California. However, South Africa is not classified as least developed globally and could fall into a “missing middle syndrome”. At present we have some climate finance access, but it is only trickling in while climate impacts are undermining the economy at local levels.

There was a lot to learn about how California has arrived where it is today, where we can follow, and where we are already going in the right direction. California also started small, but with focused leadership, they stimulated change. Climate change is successfully being integrated into most sectors at a technical level, taxes and finances are flowing and regularly increasing, and new guidelines and standards appropriate for a changed climate are being developed.

We also established that this was not a one-way learning, but that we are doing well considering our budget and size of our economy. The region is showing creativity and innovation by developing M&E for adaptation, undertaking economic assessments of climate change adaptation, and stimulating a green economy. One of our sectors is also leading the way with an advanced climate change response strategy for agriculture in place.

However, whilst we can remain upbeat about our ability and what we’re doing, climate impacts are already hitting our region hard. The current drought we face has crystalized the magnitude of the challenges we face and we know that we need to act now.

Western Cape and California officials

Lessons Learned

We have come home with new insights, tools and guidelines, which we will translate into our own governance and social systems. Our own climate change program has been underway for over a decade in the Western Cape, the organization has a good feel for what needs to be done to achieve resilience; the major challenge is - how we do it.

As such we hoped to gain more insight into how the Government of California has leveraged investments, created change management, and is redirecting the economy to one that is resilient, rather than reactive to disasters.

  • Organisation is key: We learned that governments like ourselves need to be far more organized and coordinated to make sure that we can leverage our investments and development planning to be resilient. Our policy positions at a broad scale are well developed, but detailed sector work providing guidelines for resilient investment are required. 
  • To inspire change, we must embody itWe understood that before we can create a local environment that is resilient and adaptive to our new climate, we must first create the change in ourselves, our leaders, our people, our institutions and our economic activities. Great leaders inspire others and take them on a journey with them. This is why we joined the Under2 Coalition, in the hope that our leadership capacity can be further strengthened.
Western Cape Officials

Next Steps

We will undertake an evaluation of our programs to date, reviewing the Western Cape Climate Change Response Strategy. During this process we hope to bring in learning from California, we intend to continue to drive a strong focus on leadership, long-term institutional ability to drive adaptation and resilience, and climate finance.

Certainly the time for leveraging key changes for us is now, as we emerge from a multi-year drought which has been a trial run for climate change adaptation, and as our own country prepares for the enactment of a Climate Change Bill. We hope this learning exchange will provide extra energy to the many change management processes that lie ahead for our government in relation to climate change.

Finally, we urge other governments to take up the invaluable opportunities offered by the Future Fund and the wider Under2 Coalition to engage in peer-learning activities. We know that to tackle climate change we need to work together to build an effective response – and by working with the Under2 Coalition we have learned a lot about how we at the sub-national level can play our part.

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