Speech by Minister Creecy at launch of SA’s NBA and IPBES Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

Speech by Minister Creecy at launch of South Africa’s National Biodiversity Assessment & the recent Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Global Assessment On Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, 03 October 2019. 

 

Chairperson of the SANBI Board: Ms Beryl Ferguson,
SANBI Board Members
Acting CEO of SANBI: Ms Carmel Mbizvo
Acting Director-Genera of the Department of Environment, Fisheries and Forestry, Mr Shoni Munzhedzi
Members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries present her today,
Representatives of partner organizations, other government departments and Non-governmental organisations
Authors and contributors
Ladies and Gentlemen

It gives me great pleasure to be here today for the launch of South Africa’s 3rd National Biodiversity Assessment (NBA) which is a comprehensive scientific reflection of the state of Biodiversity in our country.

This comprehensive scientific reflection of the state of biodiversity in our country took five years to complete and involved nearly 480 South African scientists. The formulation of the report served as an incredible capacity building programme, providing work for emerging scientists in South Africa who will be the leaders and decision makers in the future.

The Assessment represents a significant attempt to domesticate the Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services launched in Paris earlier this year. It allows us to evaluate our progress and our short-comings in conservation and ecosystem management on both land and sea.

The study will be a valuable tool for the environment sector, and indeed the whole of government, civil society and the scientific community to inform policy, planning and decision making on the wise use of our country’s biodiversity assets and the management and restoration of our ecological infrastructure.  

The five main findings of the study are as follows:

The good news is that the study reveals significant success at assessing and protecting our biodiversity, maintaining South Africa as one of the top three countries globally, and one of 17 megadiverse nations when it comes to plant and marine species that are found nowhere else on Earth. 

The second major finding of the study is the strategic significance of biodiversity-related employment in our country.  The report notes that approximately 418 000 jobs are related to biodiversity. This compares favourably with the mining sector, which sustained approximately 430 000 jobs in 2017. Many of these jobs are in rural areas where there is limited employment alternatives.

Our protected area estate is at 9% of our total land and sea mass, indicating that over two-thirds of ecosystem types and 63% of species assessed are represented and 75% of terrestrial ecosystem types have representation in protected areas, with plans for further expansion in the coming years. The report found that that our protected areas are generally providing good protection for species. Over 85% of bird and reptile taxa qualify as well protected, while only 72% of amphibians, 63% of plants, 57% of butterflies and 56% of mammals are well protected.

Notwithstanding our well and documented conservation efforts, animal and plant species are under threat. One in seven of the 23 312 indigenous species that were assessed are considered threatened with extinction. Of the 2 911 animals assessed in the study, a total of 12 percent are also categorised as threatened with extinction.

Mammals face a higher threat level at seventeen percent. Thirty -six of a total of 20 401 plant species are already confirmed extinct, and a further 70 plant species are possibly extinct. Overall a total of 14 percent of plant species are threatened with extinction.

The most concerning of the report’s findings relate to our freshwater ecosystems, rivers, wetlands, estuaries and freshwater fish stocks.

The National Biodiversity Assessment found that the following to be the major threats to fresh water systems: over-extraction of water, pollution,invasive alien species, habitat loss, and climate change

We can all agree Ladies and Gentlemen, that in a water-stressed country such as ours, these findings are cause for serious concern. They call for urgent action to improve the health of the rivers, wetlands and estuaries that protect our water security. 

The restoration and protection of fresh water eco-systems, or what we term eco-infrastructure services, will deliver huge returns on investment with great benefit to the communities that depend on them.  Wetlands, for example, protect human settlements from flood waters and also clean pollutants from fresh water.  Estuaries are crucial nurseries for fish important for human consumption, and are focal places for tourism and recreation.

The report adds to the significant global scientific evidence that nature is declining worldwide at rates unprecedented in human history. These findings  support the outcomes of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in the Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services we referred to earlier.

The question we must now address is how does understanding this dismal message help us in our quest to get a better deal for people and nature.

The importance of ecological infrastructure and healthy catchments for securing South Africa’s scarce water resources are already accepted within our policy environment. The NBA reports now help  direct attention to the most important ecosystems that underpin water-related benefits for people.

The Department already has significant programmes to rehabilitate water sources, wetlands and estuaries including the removal of waste, in particular plastics, and alien species that suck up the water available to us. These programmes will now become more targeted.

The National Biodiversity Framework and the National Protected Areas Expansion Strategy are acknowledged in the report as important existing policy instruments for protection of species and ecosystems. With this report we will allow us better targeting of protected area expansion as we move forward.

It also assists with our national and our international reporting obligations – such as the state of environment reporting and the Convention on Biological Diversity Country Report; and our reporting against Aichi Targets or the Sustainable Development Goals.

Armed with the scientific evidence we will now be able to take further action in a systematic way to protect our most strategic eco- infrastructure and catchment areas and monitor the effectiveness of interventions we are already undertaking.

Let me conclude by offering my congratulations to Dr Andrew Skowno who led our significant team of scientists in producing our National Biodiversity Assessment. We can today, stand proud, as a nation, of the South African National Biodiversity Institute and its world-renowned scientists.

The Assessment is the result of dedication, hard work and cutting edge scientific excellence.  I now challenge the officials of the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries to urgently process the report’s findings so we can take the necessary decisions to implement the recommendations.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I now place in your hands the National Biodiversity Assessment – the current status of South Africa’s ecosystems and biodiversity.

I Thank you.