Africa’s rapidly expanding urban areas might be many years away from seeing the type of wealth enjoyed by big cities on other continents. But...

Africa’s rapidly expanding urban areas might be many years away from seeing the type of wealth enjoyed by big cities on other continents. But that shouldn’t prevent them from being able to grow in greener, more efficient and more sustainable ways.

That’s one encouraging finding in Siemens’ new African Green City Index, which compares 15 major cities in Africa on how they manage energy, carbon dioxide emissions, land use, transport and other environment-related factors. Unlike other regions that Siemens has analyzed for urban sustainability, Africa doesn’t show a strong link between wealth and environmental performance. Considering the shaky global economy, that’s good news not just for Africa, but for every part of the world.

“(T)he institutional ability to run a city efficiently and intelligently matters more than wealth or the level of economic development,” the Siemens report states. “This idea is powerful on a continent where many cities may wait decades for the kind of wealth levels common in other regions of the world, but where environmental challenges cannot wait.”

“Sustainable development policies at the city level in Africa are far from being a ‘nice-to-have option,’ ” said Nicholas You, chairman of the Steering Committee of UN Habitat’s World Urban Campaign. “These policies will ultimately determine Africa’s capacity to ensure sustainable development for society as a whole.”

It’s not surprising that the Siemens index finds Africa’s most sustainable cities concentrated in the far north and far south of the continent, rather than in the middle. One notable exception, however, is Accra, the capital of Ghana. While the city of 2.3 million still faces considerable challenges — in particular, a large gap in living standards between rich and poor — Accra earns an overall “above average” rating in the index.

“The city’s standout category is environmental governance, where it ranks well above average relative to its Index peers, with strong scores for environmental management, monitoring and public participation,” the report notes. “Other strong areas are air quality and sanitation, where it ranks above average, bolstered by air quality promotion and monitoring, and a robust policy aimed at promoting sanitation. Energy and CO2 is another above average category for Accra, driven by a high rate of renewable electricity and low electricity consumption, but limited supplies and steep prices partly explain the city’s relatively low consumption. Accra’s weakest category is transport, where it ranks below average, largely because of underdeveloped infrastructure and policies.”

Besides Accra, other African cities earning “above average” rankings include Cape Town, Casablanca, Durban (currently hosting the latest round of global climate talks), Johannesburg and Tunis. “Average” cities include Addis Ababa, Alexandria, Cairo, Lagos and Pretoria. Luanda and Nairobi, meanwhile, scored “below average” and Dar es Salaam and Maputo came in at “well below average.”