Flora Mokgohloa, the executive director of the City’s environment department, is keeping her fingers crossed that the Rea Vaya buses will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Johannesburg.

“We are hoping that more people will leave their cars at home and use the buses,” Mokgohloa said. “[The Bus Rapid Transit -BRT – system] will reduce traffic congestion and reduce the emissions, obviously.”

The state-of-the-art buses would transfer people from townships and suburbs to the city centre much quicker, contributing to important cuts in carbon emissions, she said.

“For instance, a person travelling from Dlamini in Soweto would be able to get to the city with a single trip,” she stated. “There will definitely be a reduction of private cars on our roads.”

BRT buses will run on low-sulphur diesel. Replacing a significant number of poor quality buses, they will either be 75 or 112 capacity vehicles.

“We have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Whether it’s on existing projects or new programmes, we have to ensure that we do not increase the City’s carbon footprint,” Mokgohloa said.

Results of an environmental impact research released in 2008 indicated that 382 940 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions would be saved through the implementation of the Rea Vaya project. The buses are also estimated to save 1,6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 2020.

Carbon credits
The BRT is one of the projects the City is undertaking that will improve air quality, and it is expected to cut thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

This drop in greenhouse gas emissions will put the City in a position to participate in the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, which allows emission-reduction projects in developing countries to generate certified emission reduction (CER) credits, each equivalent to one tonne of carbon dioxide.

CERs are already sold in European countries that have developed carbon markets. Most of these industrialised countries use CERs to meet part of their reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol, a United Nations environmental treaty aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Mokgohloa said the City had started to conduct basic studies on “what amount of greenhouse gas emissions we can reduce from BRT”. The studies would be based on a comparative assessment of emissions before the system is introduced and during its operation.

Capacity building
The City of Johannesburg is part of a three-year carbon finance capacity building programme, which seeks to enable various cities to penetrate the global carbon market.

Run by the World Bank through its carbon finance unit, the programme helps the cities structure their environmental projects so that they can generate carbon credits, which results from lowering their greenhouse gas emissions.

“As the City we must participate in carbon finance capacity programmes, so we can build our own capacity. [We will then] be able to develop projects that we can take to the market,” Mokgohloa said.

Other projects that the City is hoping will generate carbon credits include its landfill gas project, its energy-efficiency projects and its solar water heater project.