Minister Edna Molewa calls on South Africans to connect with nature on World Environment Day

04 June 2017


The Minister of Environmental Affairs Dr Edna Molewa has called on all South Africans, particularly the youths, to join the global community in celebrating the World Environment Day (WED) on Monday 05 June 2017.

This year’s WED is celebrated under the theme: ‘Connecting People to Nature’, imploring every individual to appreciate and protect the importance of the natural environment.

The WED is the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) biggest annual event commemorated on 5 June, with an aim of galvanising positive environmental action. It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1972, and was first celebrated in 1974 with a view to deepening environmental awareness and address concerns such as the depletion of the ozone layer, toxic chemicals, desertification and global warming. Since its inception, WED has developed into a global platform for taking action on urgent environmental issues, with millions of people taking part in helping drive change in consumption habits, as well as in national and international environmental policies.

According to the United Nations, billions of rural people around the world spend every working day ‘connected to nature’ and appreciate their dependence on natural resources that provide for their livelihoods. However, these people are among the first to suffer when ecosystems are threatened, whether by pollution, climate change or over-exploitation.

“Africa is a continent endowed with a wealth of unique and diverse genetic resources, species, ecosystems, as well as blessed with diverse people and cultures. The continent contains a quarter of the world’s biodiversity and has an extraordinary range of animal and plant species. These biological resources are the backbone of many African economies, providing life-support systems for many people, especially marginalised rural communities,” says Minister Molewa.

Although South Africa comprises only 2% of the world’s land area, it is home to a remarkable 6% of the world’s plant and mammal species, 8% of bird species and 5% of reptile species16. The country has nine biomes with a range of habitats, ecosystems and landscapes16. In addition, South Africa’s marine biodiversity straddle three oceans and include an exceptional range of habitats which are home to almost 15 % of known coastal marine species, including 270 marine fish families out of a world total of 3 25. South Africa is listed as one of only 17 global megadiverse countries.

In 2015, Cabinet approved the Biodiversity Economy Strategy that covers the period ending 2030 and seeks to increase the biodiversity contribution to Gross Domestic Product while conserving the country’s ecosystem.  It focuses on, for example, enhancing growth in both the wildlife and tourism sectors.

The vision of Strategy is to optimise the total economic benefits of the wildlife and bioprospecting industries through its sustainable use, in line with the vision of the Department of Environmental Affairs.

The largest resource use in bioprospecting products is Aloe ferox (bitter Aloe), followed by bee products, Aspalathus linearis (rooibos) and Pelargonium sidoides.  The potential market size until 2012 of the bioprospecting industry, based on resource permit application data, is at least R2, 150 million per year.  This means that the industry has reached only about 20 % of its potential, and thus has a large growth potential.

An industry growth goal has been set in the strategy which requires that by 2030 the South African biodiversity economy will achieve an average annualised GDP growth rate of 10% per annum in line with the National Development Plan.

In 2016, the Departments of Environmental Affairs and Tourism jointly hosted a Biodiversity Economy Operation Phakisa Delivery Lab to accelerate the economic growth and job creation opportunities in the biotechnology and biodiversity conservation sectors, in particular through the ecotourism and wildlife sectors.

As announced by the Minister in her Budget Vote Speech last week, the Biodiversity Economy implementation plans target the creation of 100 000 jobs, and support for 4 000 new SMMEs by 2030.

For this financial year we are:

  • Prioritizing the identification of about 800 000 hectares of land for wildlife economy activities.
  • Establishing eleven National Biodiversity Economy Nodes and priority projects therein.
  • Have identified the top 25 plant species for cultivation to provide employment and stimulate economic activities across the bio-prospecting value chain.
  • Are Investing in conservation management infrastructure with a focus on base infrastructure such as fencing and water reticulation, through the Department’s Environmental Protection Infrastructure Programme
  • Establishing eight pilot wildlife economy projects for this financial year,
  • Developing support interventions for Biodiversity Economy projects implemented by national and provincial entities such as game donations, the provision of veterinary services and capacity building

“I urge all South Africans to protect and optimally use the natural environment in their communities, for the benefit of the current and the future generations,” said Minister Molewa. “We all rely on environment for our wellbeing. We are therefore duty bound to be at the forefront of protecting our environment, and ensure that as we derive benefits from natural resources, we do so in a manner that will not compromise the integrity of the environment. It is our responsibility to bequeath to the next generation, an environment that will continue to sustain their needs.”

South Africa has adopted the entire month of June to heighten awareness of environmental issues through various pertinent activities.

It is during the month of June that we also celebrate the World Oceans Day (WOD) and the World Day to Combat Desertification. WOD is also an initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme celebrated annually on June 8th, with an aim of raising awareness about the significance of the marine environment. The Day also promotes the role of the oceans and the importance of conserving and protecting the marine environment.

“On the 17th June we will also join our global partners in recognising and celebrating the World Day to Combat Desertification. The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought (WDCD) has been observed since 17 March 1995 to promote public awareness about the international effort to combat desertification and the effects of drought,” said Minister Molewa.  

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