Opening Statement by Director General, Ms Nosipho Ngcaba during the High-Level Segment of the 3rd Session of the UN Environment Assembly

Nairobi, Kenya, 14 March 2019


The President of the United Nations Environment Assembly,
Your Excellencies,
The Acting Executive Director of UNEP,
The Deputy Executive Director of UNEP

Ladies and Gentlemen

It gives me great pleasure to address you on this important occasion where as an international community we have once again gathered to discuss critical issues defining the global environmental agenda. 

On behalf of the Government and people of the Republic of South Africa, allow me to express my condolences on the tragic loss of life experienced as a result of the air disaster. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected during this difficult time.

I wish to express words of appreciation to Ms Joyce Msuya who, with great integrity and professionalism, is holding the fort as the Acting Executive Director. Let me also congratulate Ms Inger Andersen as the Executive Director designate of UNEP. I am also grateful for the warm hospitality accorded to us by the Government and the people of Kenya.

Mr President, South Africa aligns itself with the statement delivered on behalf of the African Group.

For South Africa, sustainable development is a national priority that is fully integrated into our National Development Plan (NDP). Given the historical legacy of apartheid, the thrust of our National Development Plan is to address the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment in a manner that is just, inclusive, and sustainable for both current and future generations. The UNEA-4 theme, that is “innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production”, is both important and timely.  

It is believed by South Africa and the African region as a whole that innovative solutions are overarching, cross-cutting and present a unique opportunity to deal with various environmental challenges from a practical implementation perspective in a manner that will lead to the acceleration of social and economic transformation. Innovation approaches are required in Africa in order to eradicate poverty, food insecurity and are likely to create job opportunities and income security. An important element to such innovative solutions is embedded in indigenous knowledge applications as a cornerstone and integral part for addressing environmental challenges.

Furthermore, innovative solutions for environment challenges  plays such a critical role in the preservation of our natural resources, addressing climate change, improved production and consumption patterns, enhanced productivity and improved livelihoods. The positive impacts of innovation cannot be ignored in moving the world towards action to address environmental challenges. We can do more through cooperation and closer collaboration.

The South African government believes creating heightened awareness to enable sustainable consumption and production presents an opportunity for innovation to address environmental challenges. We hereby call on other governments and international community to adhere to resource efficiency targets, contained in SDG 12. Developed countries should curb down their consumption level and assist by supporting the developing countries with finance, technology and capacity-building in order to effectively reduce their consumption and improve the production patterns in a manner that avoids creating environmental pollution and promotes sustainability.

Mr President, South Africa is also encouraged by the importance given to marine litter and plastics in the environment. In this context, I am pleased to report that we have conducted several studies on plastic material flows and policy measures as well as regulatory instruments for the improved management of plastic waste and single use plastic products and micro plastics in cosmetics. We continue to engage the key stakeholders and role-players in this sector towards urgently reducing the amount of plastic waste in the environment.

In order to promote low carbon footprint in industrial activities and commerce, government’s world-wide should create a conducive macro-policy environment to enable the enterprises to transition and integrate green growth in a thriving business environment that supports the formal economy. This will be expressed by the manner in which enterprises will be able to create jobs and enabled through sound green economy policies

Communities rely on natural resources for sustainable livelihoods, such access should take place in a sustainable manner to strike a balance between poverty eradication and conservation measures. We need innovative ways of doing business that enables socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic development for all people. The poverty-environment nexus underscores the inter-dependent relationship between communities and natural resources for sustainable livelihoods to thrive, in advancement of sustainable development goals, in particular SDG Goal 1.

Furthermore, the circular approach to Waste Management contributes significantly to the achievement of the Sustainable Consumption and Production and is an example of the benefits of innovative solutions. South Africa has have developed three (3) major innovative focused socio-economic development programmes in the environmental sector, using the “Big Fast Results” methodology, that we term Operation Phakisa. These are: the oceans economy, the biotechnology and wildlife economy and the circular economy.

South Africa has prioritised four waste streams which are tyres, electronic waste, lighting, paper and packaging waste. This includes plastic waste. The packaging industry is expected to develop the comprehensive Industry Waste Management Plans as part of the Extended Producer Responsibility Schemes.

We need to speed up achieving the sound management of chemicals and waste throughout their life cycle. South Africa supports the strengthening of a science to policy interface at all levels, as an integral element of our efforts, and management instruments in addressing all the environmental challenges that we are faced with and across the various multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). Existing platforms on science to policy interface should be considered going forward.

Furthermore,  South Africa has adopted a Ten-Year Innovation Plan (2008-2018) which is aimed at facilitating South Africa’s transformation towards a knowledge-based economy, in which the production and dissemination of knowledge leads to economic benefits and enriches all fields of human endeavour. The framework addressed a number of areas and more specifically (1) Policies, regulatory approaches and standards and, (2) Research and Development of technologies for environmental protection.

South Africa’s engagement in a number of international platforms, provides an opportunity to benefit from scientific, high quality analysis, and technical resources to influence action for solutions to environmental problems. We are also seeking opportunities to work with communities, organisations and development partners for planning and implementation, which could result in programmes becoming more efficient in reaching its desired goals and to have impact at scale, in the medium to long term.

For the African continent, I cannot overemphasize that the means of implementation, including capacity development, appropriate technology transfer and financial resources are critical to addressing the environmental challenges we face today.

Mr President,

My government supports the strengthening of the UNEA and UNEP governing bodies, because by so doing we will bolster and empower the only UN headquarter located in a developing country and particularly the African continent. In this regard, we would like to urge that this process be done in a transparent, open, inclusive and balanced manner, implying that it should enable UNEP in Nairobi to carry out its mandate of being an authoritative body on environmental matters of global significance. In keeping with this desired objective, we hereby strongly discourage as a matter of principle the conflating of clear procedural resolutions with issues of substance because this will weaken and compromise the organization we claim and profess to safeguard and will not be in the best interest of Member States and key stakeholders.

I thank you all for your attention.