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New Water, Air, and Energy Lab to improve access to Capetonians

Last week, the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) Africa at the University of Cape Town, the City of Cape Town, and Community Jameel launched the Water, Air, and Energy (WAE) Lab. The WAE Lab will foster collaboration between local policymakers and researchers to conduct randomised evaluations and inform the scaling of evidence-based programs and policies for clean air, water, and reliable energy for Capetonians.

The launch was announced at an event at Cape Town’s Civic Centre, bringing together City of Cape Town policymakers and researchers from across the world. The event featured remarks from Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis, Nobel Prize laureates and J-PAL Co-Founders and Co-Directors Esther Duflo (MIT) and Abhijit Banerjee (MIT), and WAE Lab Scientific Advisor Kelsey Jack (University of California, Santa Barbara) among other distinguished speakers.

‘As we address the current energy crisis and seek to prevent future water crises, we will utilise the City’s innovative data systems and work with researchers to rigorously evaluate and scale policy and technological innovations that will positively impact residents,’ Geordin Hill-Lewis, Executive Mayor of the City of Cape Town.

The Water, Air, and Energy Lab is part of a worldwide network of J-PAL’s Air and Water Labs (AWLs). Created with Community Jameel, AWLs partner with government agencies in South Africa, Egypt, and India to address the most pressing air and water challenges through evidence-informed policies. Together the labs aim to improve clean air and water access for millions of people by informing the decisions of city, state, and national governments that together serve nearly 260 million people, including nearly five million Capetonians.

The Air and Water Labs expand the work of J-PAL’s King Climate Action Initiative, building on the foundational support of King Philanthropies to develop new research and policy approaches at the intersection of climate change and poverty reduction worldwide.

‘Over the past decade, J-PAL has built long-term strategic partnerships with governments around the world to greatly increase policy-relevant research and its scale up. Our Africa office has been based in Cape Town since 2010, so I am thrilled that the WAE Lab will build strong collaborations with our host city on their critical policy priorities around water, air, and energy,’ said Iqbal Dhaliwal, Global Executive Director of J-PAL.

The importance of evidence-informed policy for clean air, water, and reliable energy in Cape Town

‘Not only are clean air and water and reliable electricity essential for communities to thrive, but ensuring access to these resources will become increasingly challenging with progressing climate change and growing inequality. This partnership provides a unique opportunity to support a culture of learning and innovation in government that will lead to better policies and programs for people who need them most,’ said Kelsey Jack, WAE Lab Scientific Advisor; University of California, Santa.Barbara.

The African continent’s population is projected to double between 2020 and 2050, with two-thirds of the growth in cities and urban areas. As urban populations grow, settlements densify, roads often become congested, and the additional demand for limited water and energy can strain infrastructure and compete to make the resources scarce. Growing populations create new challenges for providing residents with quality basic services, which are exacerbated by climate change. The impacts of these challenges disproportionately impact people experiencing poverty. 

Solutions to these problems are scarce, often because data and evidence on policies that work are limited. The resulting uncertainty around the most effective course of action may harm vulnerable communities. Randomised evaluations can help ensure policy solutions achieve their desired effects by rigorously testing them in real-world settings.

Collaboration between J-PAL Africa and the City of Cape Town

To address this challenge, the Water, Air and Energy Lab intends to foster deep collaboration between the City of Cape Town, J-PAL Africa, and researchers in the J-PAL network. The lab will partner researchers with local policymakers to: 

·        Co-identify the most pressing air, water, and energy challenges and opportunities for policy innovation.

·        Expand access to and use of high-quality air, water, and energy data.

·        Co-design potential solutions informed by existing evidence, design more targeted policies and use data to monitor progress.

·        Co-generate evidence on promising solutions through pilots and randomised evaluations and determine which ones should be scaled up.

·        Provide technical assistance to scale effective air, water, and energy policies and programs.

‘Policymakers hold the key to many clean air and water solutions, and partnerships with researchers are essential to evaluate and refine these solutions for the greatest impact. Community Jameel is dedicated to fostering these relationships, building on J-PAL’s decades of experience creating trusted policy partnerships around the world,’ said Uzma Sulaiman, the Associate Director of Community Jameel.

This work builds on a decade-long relationship between J-PAL Africa and the City of Cape Town, and the City’s long-standing commitment to using data and evidence to inform policy. 

Looking forward: Broadly disseminating policy lessons and research results

As the Water, Air, and Energy Lab begins to generate rigorous evidence, we will widely share the lessons to inform the work of governments, NGOs, and the private sector throughout South Africa, the continent, and beyond. 

In particular, the lab will collaborate with C40 cities, a global network of mayors of the world’s leading cities that are united in action to confront the climate crisis, to share policy-relevant evidence and identify opportunities for potential new connections and research opportunities across Africa.

‘As climate impacts increasingly cut across all sectors and threaten to reverse decades of poverty alleviation, urgent action is needed. J-PAL Africa is eager to partner with decision-makers throughout the continent to inform the development and scaling of policies and programs with evidence,’ said Vinayak Bhardwaj, Executive Director of J-PAL Africa.

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