Key note address by Ms Barbara Creecy, Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries of South Africa on the opening of 17th Ordinary Session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN)

Olive Convention Centre, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
14 November 2019

H.E Mr Lee White, Minister of Forests, Sea and Environment, in charge of Climate Plan of Gabon and President of AMCEN;
Ms Joyce Msuya, United Nations Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of UNEP;
Mr. Harsen Nyambe, representing Ms. Josefa Leonel Corriea SACKO
Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, African Union Commission
Honourable Ministers;
Representative of the African Union Commission;
Members of the diplomatic corps;
Heads of UN-institutions and other intergovernmental organisations;
Heads of delegations and country experts;
Representatives of civil society organisations;
Members of the media;
Distinguished Delegates;

Ladies and Gentlemen;

On behalf of the Government and the people of South Africa, it gives me a great pleasure to welcome you all to this beautiful City of eThekwini, here in our KwaZulu Natal Province.

I would like to begin, by congratulating Gabon for the excellent work that has been done to steer the African Ministerial Conference on Environment during their Presidency over the last two years.

Furthermore I would like to appreciate UNEP, the Secretariat and the technical experts who have worked diligently on the preparations for this 17th Ordinary Session of AMCEN.

Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen we meet at a significant time for our continent and our people. 

In 2017, the African Development Bank reported Africa to be the world's second-fastest growing economy, with average growth rates approaching four percent per annum.

Growth has been present throughout the continent, with over one-third of African countries posting 6% or higher growth rates, and another 40% growing between 4% to 6% per year.  Several international business observers have also named Africa as the future economic growth engine of the world.

Africa has approximately 30% of the earth’s remaining mineral resources. The continent has the largest reserves of precious metals with over 40% of the gold, over 60% of the cobalt, and 90% of the platinum reserves.

Africa is the second most populous continent with about 1.1 billion people or 16% of the world’s population. Over 50% of Africans are under the age of 25, giving the continent a significant youth dividend in years to come. Recent research suggests that with current growth rates, the continent’s population will more than double to 2.3 billion people by 2050 by which time, half the continent’s population will have achieved middle income status.

Our rich resource base and human capital endowments coupled with the significant entrepreneurial spirit of our people, mean our continent has indeed the potential to achieve the African Union’s Agenda 2063  of “ A high standard of living, quality of life and well-being for all citizens” .

The recent African Continental Free Trade Area sets the scene for further infrastructure and industrial development on the continent. Just yesterday, at the Africa Investment Summit in Johannesburg, $40billion was pledged for investment on the continent, much of it in infrastructure projects.

In addition to the continent’s rich resource and human capital endowments, the continent also has significant biodiversity resources.

Eight of Conservation International’s 34 biodiversity hotspots are in Africa. Megafauna like giraffe, zebra, gorilla, hippopotamus, chimpanzee and wildebeest are unique to the continent and only found here.

Lake Malawi has more fish species than any other freshwater system on earth. Our continent also boasts over 25% of the world’s bird species.

We have over 3,000 protected areas in Africa. These include 198 Marine Protected Areas, 50 Biosphere Reserves, 129 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and 80 RAMSAR “Wetlands of International Importance”.

While we celebrate our rich biodiversity and our significant environmental heritage, we know that the combined effects of environmental degradation and climate change are already taking a toll on our natural resources.

Africa is the world’s second driest continent and the world’s hottest continent with deserts and drylands covering 60% of land surface area. Water scarcity impacts the lives of over 300 million Africans, of whom approximately 75% rely on groundwater as their primary source of drinking water.

Productivity of much of our continent’s agricultural lands has declined significantly. Vast tracts of land have been degraded by erosion, poor land management practices, mining and pollution over the last 50 years. Over 30% of our pastural land and almost 20% of all forests and woodlands are classified as moderately- or heavily-degraded.

Accordingly, this conference organised under the theme “Taking Action for Environmental Sustainability and Prosperity in Africa”. Could not have come at a better time. 

While dire warnings of loss of biodiversity and environmental degradation are cause for concern, it is not too late to act.  For the first time, the world has agreed on a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that have turned the often misused term of ‘sustainable development’ into a real and practical vision for the future. This practical vision is clearly reflected in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the collective commitment we have made as a continent to implement the SDGs.

Furthermore, Honourable Ministers, we are living in a time of new and exciting technological advances in the green economy space.  There is increasing recognition of the important contribution the Biodiversity and Oceans Economies can make to our gross domestic products.

Renewable energy technology is becoming both more effective and cheaper by the day.  This is an era when a circular economy, is a practical and affordable alternative to the unsustainable take-make-use-dispose model that is the root of many of our current problems. 

Now is the best time for us to take stock and consider how we will build environmentally sustainable and climate resilient economies and communities on our continent.

The main objectives of this 17th Session are therefore to facilitate discussions on priority sub -themes derived from previous ordinary sessions. We will focus on turning environmental policies into action, and investing in innovative solutions to accelerate implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The sub themes include: Promoting a Circular Economy in Africa; the Biodiversity Economy and Natural Capital Accounting; Advancing the Blue/Ocean Economy; and Implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

This AMCEN session takes place on the eve of the 25th Climate Change Conference of Parties scheduled to take place in Madrid Spain.

We all know that Africa is regarded as the continent most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

We are already witnessing, more severe, more frequent and more unpredictable extreme weather events – heat waves, droughts, intense storms and floods.

Rising global temperatures are driving sea level rise, changes in the incidence and prevalence vector-borne diseases, changes in rainfall patterns, dramatic increases in devastating wild fires, changes in the ranges and yields of food and non-food crops, the bleaching of our corals and changes in our biodiversity wealth.

Complicated by existing significant development deficits, the current cost of adapting to these impacts is estimated to be over US$ 50 billion a year with a new report showing estimates five time higher than previous projections.

In preparation for COP25, this forum must therefore deliver a common and coherent approach to the negotiations. We need to ensure credible outcomes that advance the continent’s concerns regarding scaling up finances for delivering on adaptation and mitigation commitments.

Africa also faces a massive financial shortfall in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In a context of declining levels of official development assistance this poses another significant challenge for the continent.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as leaders on our continent, our people are looking to this forum to implement concrete programmes and projects that will provide answers to the challenges we face. They want inclusive solutions and meaningful action at the grassroots level. Our people want action now.

To achieve this we must nurture a vision of a prosperous and equitable Africa living in harmony with its natural resources.  We must have the courage to discard the destructive practices of the past and to chart and implement a new sustainable path that will make this truly ‘the African Century’.

We must take advantage of the opportunities presented to us by our enviable renewable resources, including our vast, largely untapped, solar, wind and hydro energy sources.

In doing this we must realise the potential of our youthful populations who are desperate to get working. We must use our entrepreneurial spirit and creativity to find new and improved solutions.

Ladies and Gentlemen this is how we who are here today, will make our contribution to the realisation of the African Union Vision for Africa contained in Agenda 2063: The Future We Want. This document speaks of “…an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, an Africa driven and managed by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena”. Fellow Africans we have no time to waste. Let us start building the future we all want now!

I thank you.