Durban’s resilience journey

Durban has become a global leader in climate change adaptation despite being the poorest metropolitan area in South Africa.

The city’s informal neighborhoods and poverty undermine resilience and social cohesion. Durban is actively exploring ways to adapt institutions, systems, and processes in order to facilitate integrated, innovative, and flexible planning. This approach will help build a foundation for a more resilient economy, government, and society.

Meet the Chief Resilience Officer

Debra Roberts

Chief Resilience Officer

Dr. Debra Roberts is currently Head of the Sustainable and Resilient City Initiatives portfolio in eThekwini Municipality (Durban, South Africa). Prior to taking up this post in 2016, she established and managed the Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department of eThekwini Municipality for 22 years (1994–2016), and was selected as the city’s first Chief Resilience Officer in 2013.

Debra contributed to Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report (lead author of Chapter 8 on Urban Areas, contributing author to Chapter 12 on Africa). She was elected Co-Chair of Working Group II for the IPCC’s sixth assessment cycle in 2015.

Until December 2015, Debra was a member of the South African United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating team. She has sat on various international advisory bodies focused on climate change issues in cities, such as the Rockefeller Foundation’s Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network, and UN-Habitat’s 2011 “Cities and Climate Change” Global Report. She was a member of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Thematic Group on Sustainable Cities involved in mobilising support for the creation of a city-focused SDG. She is also a member of the Future Earth Engagement Committee and a Fellow of the Watson International Scholars of the Environment program. In 2016, Debra was invited to deliver the Barbara Ward Lecture celebrating Outstanding Women in Development at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London.

Debra is an Honorary Professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in the School of Life Sciences. She has written widely in the fields of urban open space planning, environmental management, and urban climate protection, and has received a number of awards for her work.

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