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FEATURE: How a development agency can spearhead green growth at subnational level

South Africa is working at national and subnational levels to address and mitigate the impacts of climate change, and to secure a cleaner, renewable energy future. The country’s national electricity plan, the Integrated Resource Plan 2010 (IRP) published by the Department of Energy, set a target of 17.8 GW of electrical energy from renewable resources by 2030. In 2011, the national government established the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP) to secure electricity from private sector producers to assist in realising this target. The REIPPP is designed not only to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels, but also to stimulate a local renewable energy industry (through the procurement of locally manufactured products), and to contribute to socioeconomic development and environmentally sustainable growth.

In 2010, in direct response to the opportunities to be created by the IRP and anticipated REIPPP, and in response to the unreliable supply of nationally produced electricity, the Western Cape Government, one of the nine provincial (subnational) governments of South Africa, established a sector development agency. The agency, called GreenCape, was set up as a nonprofit organisation to support businesses operating in the green economy in the Western Cape.

GreenCape has been highly successful in supporting the establishment of the renewable energy sector in the Western Cape and has extended support to other sectors in the green economy.

Now a new case study from the Low Emission Development Strategy Global Partnership (LEDS GP) outlines how GreenCape was established, how it is structured, what services it offers, and how it has refined its approach over time. It explores why the GreenCape model is successful and the key lessons learned to enable this success.

Key messages

The following factors are central to GreenCape’s success in supporting the development of the green economy at subnational level:

  • Strong and continued financial and non-financial support from its primary funder, the provincial government, which sees GreenCape as a key partner to support the achievement of its Green Economy goals.
  • Strong alignment with national, provincial, and local green economy policies and strategies, while remaining an entity separate from government. This establishes GreenCape’s credibility as an independent agent of change. This governance structure retains accountability to government funders, but also allows for impact oriented, agile delivery.
  • Strong links to industry across all sectors of the green economy, and a strategic position that allows access to multiple stakeholders (in business/industry, all tiers of government and civil society). This enables GreenCape rapidly to identify effective points of leverage to remove barriers and initiate or accelerate economic development.
  • As a small start-up organisation, an initial specific focus on renewable energy helped build its reputation through clear and visible impact. This enabled expansion over a 5 year period into a larger organisation with a wider green economy remit. Stable and secure government financial support nurtured the establishment of an expert, reputable organisation, along with creating the opportunity over time to grow the mission and diversify funding to ensure organisational sustainability.
  • A diverse, multidisciplinary team that takes a robust approach to problem solving, while also being able to adapt strategies rapidly to changing circumstances.
  • Maintaining an independent view at all times—supported by technical competence, legal independence, and political neutrality.

The achievements of GreenCape as a subnational development agency – to support country-wide goals in green growth, including renewable energy expansion – can inspire decision-makers in other countries on the ‘art of the possible’.

Read the GreenCape case study in full.

We welcome your feedback on the case study  – send us comments in the box below. If you are a practitioner working on low emission development strategies (LEDS), you may also like to join the LEDS GP, including its African, Asian or Latin American Platforms and/or the Subnational Integration Working Group. Visit for more information and to sign up!

CDKN is part of the Co-Secretariat of the LEDS GP, together with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).


Image: Cape Town, courtesy Terry and Brenda Martin.

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