How pleasurable it is for the mind to drift away from the staple of our enduring national crises — the ominous darkness wrought by a floundering Eskom; the permanent inaccessibility by millions of citizens to potable water, a life-giving resource that now constitutes a health hazard thanks to defective infrastructure and callous neglect; rampant criminality that terrorises society with virtual impunity; and debilitating corruption and incompetence that has brought the economy to its knees, creating unprecedented levels of joblessness.
Even as we continue to be embroiled in esoteric debates about the meaning of a “failed state”, let us be grateful that the Greeks of old defined kakistocracy in terms that are beyond dispute.
A society that has suffered nine-plus-four “wasted years” should perhaps be forgiven for swallowing hook, line and sinker balderdash by the bullyboy United States of America claiming that South Africa supplied arms to Russia. How unfortunate that Denel, our arms manufacturer, has already been beaten to its knees by the ravenous Guptas and their acolyte. They would have savoured the opportunity of a sale, if it existed at all.
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Happily, this piece is about salutary pursuits, so scarce in the public discourse. There is solace in the realisation that we are still able to forge unity and enjoy a shared commitment. This is in the arena of arresting the rampant destruction of nature and appreciating South Africa’s rich natural capital.
In December 2022, following years of negotiating (having been slowed down by the Covid-19 pandemic) governments from 196 countries came together at COP15 and agreed upon a new global deal for nature. In this agreement, known as the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (KM-GBF), countries agreed that the following goals should be delivered by 2030: halting and reversing biodiversity loss; ensuring that 30% of all land, ocean, and freshwater, globally, is protected; and that 30% of degraded land is put under a programme of restoration.
Additionally, it was agreed to endeavour to end human-induced species extinction; and to provide unprecedented nature finance to the global south, specifically $20-billion per year by 2025, and $30-billion by 2030. This is no doubt a formidable set of goals, whichever way one looks at them.
However, achieving consensus on these goals has given many long-time conservationists a sense of optimism that it was feared might have been lost.
30 by 30
South Africa can be hugely proud of the role it played in delivering this agreement. As a Party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, it was there every step of the way — debating, questioning, and contributing to the agreement’s final form. Alongside that of many other African nations, our support for the global deal to protect 30% of the world’s land and sea by 2030 — “30 by 30” — is particularly significant. It demonstrated the extent of the commitment to halting nature loss.
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A region blessed with high biodiversity, South Africa ranks sixth among the world’s 17 megadiverse countries. It is home to some of the most important ecological zones in the world, encompassing lowland and mountain forests, wooded and open grasslands, and vast coastal and marine ecosystems.
The commitment by this government to expand and enhance conservation areas to the maximum possible shows, if nothing else, requisite awareness that our well-being is ultimately dependent on a healthy natural environment. This is nothing short of laudable, especially at a time when severe socioeconomic challenges beset the nation.
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Nature conservation safeguards ecosystems that are vital for food and water security, and thus supports our health, helps alleviate poverty, sustains cities, and mitigates the risk of natural disasters.
It also has a positive impact on climate change adaptation and containment strategies which are so relevant to our overall development and prosperity.
To understand how important this is, we need look no further than Mozambique and Malawi where Cyclone Freddy, in a rare second landfall, ripped through communities killing more than 220 people and displacing more than 1,900 in March this year.
The 2022 Durban floods were the most catastrophic recorded yet in KwaZulu-Natal, and the 2023 February-March floods caused by heavy rainfall as a result of the La Nina weather phenomenon affected seven provinces, including Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Mpumalanga, KZN and North West. Caused by climate change and biodiversity loss, these floods inflicted extensive damage to homes, businesses, roads, and bridges and affected crops and livestock.
Furthermore, still fresh in our memories is the 2016 drought that left Cape Town gasping for water, Western Cape farmers clutching at empty fields, and the subsequent hailstorms so violent windscreens were smashed in parking lots in Johannesburg.
We must also remember that nature conservation not only protects but provides. Biodiversity-based activities such as nature-based tourism constitute the fastest-growing tourism sector in South Africa.
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In fact, a study by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi) noted that South Africa had 418,000 biodiversity-related jobs in 2017, representing 2.6% of national employment. Of these 418,000 jobs, 17% (72,000) were jobs involved in conserving biodiversity, and 83% (346,000) were jobs that depend on using biodiversity.
This figure will grow significantly with the plans to expand and improve our protected areas. It is not difficult to visualise the respite investing time and resources in nature conservation would provide to our economy’s stubborn crises.
Bearing this in mind it is encouraging to note that within just six months of that great global agreement for nature being signed at COP15, South Africa has reaffirmed its enthusiasm for “30 by 30” and organised the first cross-sector, multi-stakeholder implementation workshop to deliver on these goals.
Just last week, a dedicated group of civil servants, NGOs, civil society, youth advocates, traditional healers and community leaders came together to map out a plan for delivering upon a historic global deal for nature.
Under the competent stewardship of Minister Barbara Creecy, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment (DFFE) and partners discussed mapping, resourcing needs, and action steps necessary for the improvement and expansion of terrestrial and marine protected areas.
This proactive approach to preserving and restoring our natural habitats demonstrates that we can find consensus and drive positive change together as South Africans when we put our minds to it.
It is my fervent hope that we will be able to harness this ambition and commitment in other spheres of development and live up to the vision of the founders of our democracy who sought to build a nation devoid of hunger and deprivation. DM
To read all about Daily Maverick’s recent The Gathering: Earth Edition, click here.