South Africa and EU cities kick-off their collaboration under the ICP-AGIR programme.

On the 24th of February 2022, the cities of Cape Town, Hamburg, eThekwini, Greater Porto Region, Johannesburg, Parma, Tshwane and Stara Zagora officially kicked off their collaboration to exchange knowledge within the field of circular economy and energy transitions under the ICP-AGIR programme.

The online event gathered 40 participants who listened to the EU delegation, the mayors and senior government officials of the cities deliver welcoming speeches and offer city background to the collaboration. The project team presented insights to the timeline of the project, the setup of the networking and knowledge exchanges, as well as the expected outcome for the city co-operations. Breakout rooms then followed, where each paired cities had a chance to meet one another and discuss best practices and/or challenges identified by the cities.

The kick-off started with a welcoming remark by the EU delegation, Dr. Bernard Rey (Minister Counsellor and Head of Cooperation of the European Union in South Africa). He opens his speech by welcoming all the participating cities and thanked the Directorate General of the Commission DG Regio, for organizing this programme. Dr. Rey expressed the importance of this programme in the framework of the wider collaborations in South Africa, and highlighted that it opens and shows the way of twinning as a powerful means of co-operation between the European Union and South Africa. He stated that ICP-AGIR and the bilateral cooperations, adds impetus to the efforts of South Africa and the EU through interventions, and what is achieved through these partnerships are building blocks for future actions towards sustainable transformation.

The meeting then progressed to welcoming remarks from cities.

Mr. Lance Greyling, the Director of Enterprise and Development in Cape Town, expressed that the city of Cape Town was honored to be a part of the ICP-AGIR initiative, and that they had a great appetite for innovation, new ideas and the protection of their wonderful natural resources. He stated that the impacts of climate change must be confronted head on and the circular economy concept must be fully embraced across as many value chains as possible. Mr. Greyling closed by thanking the programme for organizing this knowledge sharing forum, and they looked forward to their relationship with the city of Hamburg.

The State Secretary of the Free and Hanseatic city of Hamburg, Mr. Michael Pollmann, prepared a video recording, thanking the initiative of DG Regio and expressed their enthusiasm in co-operating with the city of Cape Town. He conveyed that the climate crisis and the limit to our natural resources presents us all with a lot of problems to solve, obstacles to overcome, and the shared responsibility for ensuring basic services for our citizens. Partnerships like the ICP-AGIR are important as this allows for a chance to contribute to their level of responsibility to the traditional friendship between Germany and South Africa.

Mr. Eric Apelgren, head of International Relations and Governance Relations for the municipality of eThekwini, followed suit, indicating their keen interest in partnering with the Greater Porto Region, as there is sure to be a mutually beneficial relationship, both being port cities. They are excited to build their resilience in issues around the circular integration of their circular economy and nature-based solutions. eThekwini welcomed the partnership, endorsed and expressed their strong commitment and appreciation to the European Union and all the partners for the important co-operation that they will be engaged with.

Dr. Fernando Leite, CEO of LIPOR and Executive Administrator of Greater Porto Region took the floor, and greeted the cities, as well as DG Regio and programme coordinators. For them, circular economy and energy transition are core topics in the Greater Porto Region, and they work very diligently with the European Commission to meet certain accords within those topics. They are very keen on evolving theory to practice, and looked forward to cooperating with eThekwini under the ICP-AGIR programme to either learn, replicate or gain new inspiration from the partnership.

Mr. Zayd Ebrahim, Acting Group Head in Group Strategy Policy of the city of Johannesburg, welcomed the idea and initiative from the EU, as well as the International City Partnerships programme. He expressed the city of Johannesburg wished to enhance their approach to becoming more sustainable to ensuring that they start implementing green and inclusive technologies, approaches and solutions. By partnering with Parma, he looked forward to understanding intercity networks, co-operations and the coordination of shared agendas. The city of Johannesburg is enthusiastic about the partnership, and aspire for a mutually beneficial collaboration with the city of Parma.

Mr. Federico Pizzarotti, participated via video recording but was sorry he could not attend in person. Parma is constantly making efforts on implementing measures to improving the quality of their city, and they look at the environment as a resource and starting point for promotional innovative policies, pre-acted in the future. The city of Parma is committed to the fight against waste, starting with food waste, and ending with the waste of energy, water, soil, and other materials. They have promoted many actions to raise their harness regarding the importance of sustainable and efficient waste management, and are keen to co-operating with the city of Johannesburg to share best practices and experience for a more sustainable future.

Mr. Benjamin Manasoe, Divisional Head, Economic Development in Tshwane, thanked the programme coordinators and introduced his accompanied colleagues from the environment of waste and cultural division, whom joined the kick-off meeting. He welcomed the partnership with Stara Zagora, and through the partnership hopes both parties will be able to learn, collaborate and mutually benefit from each other’s skills and lessons. Through green economic practices, they wish to create jobs for the youth, and develop best practices on issues of urban agriculture and issues of energy security.

Mr. Georgi Simeonov, Director of Directorate “Investments and European Programs” from Stara Zagora, joined live and thanked their partner in the programme, Tshwane, and the EU for initiating the programme. He expressed Stara Zagora’s interest in the challenges of climate change on quality of life, living conditions, and on the conditions for work on the population. They have made extensive investments in improving the energy efficiency on real estate, and have made great strides towards the zero carbon emissions through the transition to electric mobility. Through the partnership with Tshwane, they believe there will be some good ideas about circular economy and urban solutions.

Next in the agenda, was the content and explanation of the project.

Mr. Ramon-Alejo Lopez-Sanchez, from the Director General Region, prepared a video recording presenting the ICP-AGIR programme and expectations. He started by greeting colleagues in Europe and South Africa, and welcoming them to the South African kick-off meeting. From the European Commission DG Regio, the importance of this project lies in the three cooperation themes that are identified as circular economy, energy transitions and air quality. The bilateral co-operations are of strategic importance to the green transition and active for green and inclusive recovery. A sustainable future means to not only take care of the climate and energy goals, but also to build a circular and inclusive resilient economy. This is a tremendous task that requires a change in paradigm. It is therefore encouraging to see these cities becoming front runners and turning these ambitions objectives into reality. This is the make or break in the fight against the climate crisis, it is therefore of the outmost importance to mobilise actors on the ground and involve international city partnerships, as we have a lot of knowledge and experience to offer one another. The main objective of the ICP-AGIR is to act as a vehicle for bringing cities together to work on sustainable solutions, on urban and territorial challenges, as together we can get more done. This project will put special attention on knowledge capitalization and knowledge transfer from each pairings and stakeholders, to make this knowledge more accessible for all participants. He states that between the European cities and South African cities, we have a lot of experience and knowledge that can be shared. He concluded by thanking all the participants in ICP-AGIR and wished them great success in their work.

Mr. Andreas Sieren, the ICP-AGIR’s Expert in South Africa, presented next, on the history of this initiative and explained the programme was building on activities and partnerships that were show to previously be successful. Such programmes were the ‘World Cities #1’ and ‘World Cities #2’ programmes, which South African cities and EU cities have formerly collaborated in, as well as the sister programme – IURC (International Urban and Regional Co-operation). He mentions there would also be opportunities for synergies with the other programmes through the ICP-AGIR’s cluster meetings to open up to more knowledge sharing and networking opportunities.

Mr. Raul Daussa, the project manager of ICP-AGIR, thanks Mr. Lopez-Sanchez, and explains the project timeline and how this project will be executed. The journey started in October 2021 and will finish in March 2023. In October to December 2021 there was the selection of fourteen different cities in Europe, Asia, South Africa and Canada. From January – February 2022 was the set-up of the online platform, and an explanation of the technical level cooperation action plan and best practices documents. A part of the knowledge exchange will include thematic cluster webinars involving the whole ICP-AGIR community on the topics of inclusion of migrants and refugees, circular economy and energy transition, as well as air quality. These thematic cluster webinars will take place once a month. Between June – November 2022 we are expecting to have study visits to the South African cities and the European cities, along with online pairing and cluster meetings. December – March 2023 there will be the completion and dissemination of the project by which we would have captured the best practices and share it with different initiatives in Europe. He goes on to explain that the results of the project will be the action plans of these fourteen cooperation, and perhaps some partnership agreements would be established by the different cities involved. In March 2023 there will be a closing conference that will take place in South Africa where the action and cooperation plans will be presented.

Mr. Raul Daussa engaged in closing remarks for the content section of the meeting and the cities were separated into paired cities breakout rooms. The paired cities were as follows: Cape Town and the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality and the Greater Port Region, Johannesburg and Parma, and Tshwane Metroplitan Municipality and Stara Zagora.

In the breakout rooms, the cities got to meet one another, discussed initial topics of interest, best practices and identified some city challenges.

Finally, once the breakout room session was completed to establish initial formal contact between the paired cities, there was the final kick-off closing remarks performed by Mr. Raul Daussa thanking the cities for their time and enthusiastically wishing them good luck on their intercity co-operations.