How ready is Cape Town for rising sea levels?

This climate change mural painted by Claire Homewood and Fish Hoek school pupils shows the anticipated sea-level rise over the course of an 80 year life span.

Managed retreat is something cities around the world are paying more attention to as low-lying areas face a growing threat from rising sea levels.

The policies outline strategies to move people and buildings away from risks, and sea-level rise caused by climate change is just one such threat.

According to the International Panel on Climate Change – the organisation that is globally recognised for determining climate change predictions – sea levels are predicted to rise 0.85m by 2100.

The City of Cape Town says it doesn’t have a single managed-retreat policy. However, Marian Niewoudt, mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, says the City does have policies and strategies relevant to climate-change-induced coastal risks, such as sea-level rise and coastal erosion. These include the 2014 Integrated Coastal Management Policy, the 2015 Coastal Management Programme, the 2019 Resilience Strategy and the 2021 Climate Change Strategy.

The City has recently had its coastal management line gazetted in terms of the requirements of the Integrated Coastal Management Act. A coastal management line demarcates an area where development is prohibited or controlled to achieve coastal-management objectives.

The Integrated Coastal Management Policy aims to reduce risk, both to the City and its communities, and sets out regulations to retain and enhance the current – and future – economic, social and environmental facets of the City’s coastline.

According to Ms Niewoudt, the City’s policy stance on coastal risk and vulnerability is that due to the highly variable and complex coastline along the Cape, with various areas characterised by their own unique environmental, social and economic attributes, each area must be assessed on its own merits.

Marina da Gama resident Mike Ryder and Muizenberg resident Kevin Rack had called on the City to make public its plans to confront the risk of rising sea levels as these could affect people’s property values and the places they call home.

Mr Ryder said he had written to the City over some years, asking for information. He asked specifically whether flood lines that the marina had been built on were still valid today.

Ms Niewoudt said flood lines for Marina da Gama were used to assess development applications, but she did not say whether they were the original flood lines.

She said the City was developing the master plan for the southern planning district, which would include a revision of the flood lines and climate-change and sea-level-rise considerations.

“The master plan is expected to be complete in three years’ time,” she said.

Asked specifically about the False Bay Echo readership area, Ms Niewoudt said the City had conducted a sea-level-rise and climate-change risk assessment in 2009, but she did not say what it had found.

“However, this assessment is now outdated, and the City will be undertaking a new coastal-infrastructure risk assessment,“ she said.

Brian Youngblood, of Fish Hoek Valley Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association, knew about the policies but not the details

He said Gregg Oelofse, the City’s Coastal Management manager, had been warning about ever-rising tides for years, and had drawn topographical maps indicating the flood area per metre of sea level rise. “Gregg just says that we must head for higher ground, or get a boat.”

Mr Youngblood said he had heard nothing from the City on alternative accommodation in the event of rising sea levels taking in low-lying areas, nor had insurance companies said what they would do about any related claims. “We think electric vehicles will sufficiently lower the carbon dioxide in Cape Town. Now Eskom just needs to quit burning coal,” he said.

Claire Homewood, the Muizenberg artist behind the climate-change mural on the Fish Hoek beachfront, said she had been happy to help raise awareness about rising sea levels.

The mural depicts sea-level rise over the course of a lifetime, starting with the current sea level for a baby born now, to where the sea level will be when that baby is 80 years old.

Fish Hoek High School helped with the painting.

Ms Homewood said it was vital to collect and preserve the richness of what the coastline offered in terms of indigenous and scientific knowledge and storytelling culture before it was lost.

Low-lying areas like the Cape Flats would be hit first by rising sea levels, she said, adding that she hoped the mural would spark important conversations.

Ms Niewoudt said costs and the availability of money to meet them and the consequences of “holding the line“, in respect of loss of beach and the impact on the natural environment, were among factors that had to be considered when looking at how to protect or relocate infrastructure in vulnerable areas.

A 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( ) gives the latest science and predictions on sea-level rise. The Fish Hoek mural is based on its projections.

Visit the City’ website for a list of its strategies and policies dealing with coastal risk and vulnerability.