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Conservation science must empower people, says environmental minister

More cutting-edge research is required into the role and value of indigenous and traditional knowledge in promoting biodiversity conservation.

This was a key message that South Africa’s minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, delivered to more than 380 top African and global scholars on the first day of the 11th annual Oppenheimer Research Conference.

And it was vitally important, said Creecy, that measures to conserve biodiversity empowered rural people and enabled transformative socio-economic development.

“This audience understands more than others the crisis confronting our natural world and indeed the future of humanity as we know it. Climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution threaten the environment on which we depend and weaken our economic and social systems,” said Creecy.

She said the conference could not have come at a more suitable time given that South Africa was inviting final inputs on draft laws on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa’s Biodiversity, as well as South Africa’s first Game Meat Strategy.

She said while the draft White Paper recognised the value of indigenous knowledge systems and practices in protecting natural resources, more research was needed and should be prioritised by academics and research institutions.

Habitat loss and degradation, invasive alien species, overharvesting, and illegal harvesting all threaten biodiversity, resulting in negative impacts for livelihoods and the economy, said Creecy.

Equally urgent said Creecy was the need to mitigate climate change and support “the adaptation capabilities of communities and regions to build climate resilience”.

Minister of Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affairs Barbara Creecy-2
Scientific research is important in promoting evidence-based decision-making, especially in the search for innovative solutions to the existential challenges facing humans – Barbara Creecy, the South African Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, said at the recent 11th Oppenheimer Research Conference (Photo: Supplied)

Creecy said a recent World Economic Forum’s survey had identified climate action failure, extreme weather events, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse as the top three of the top 10 global risks by severity over the next 10 years.

“The role of scientific research in promoting evidence based decision-making becomes more important than ever before, added Creecy, especially in finding innovative solutions to the existential challenges facing mankind.”

Creecy said she was “heartened to read in the programme that topics such as biodiversity loss, reintroduction of critically endangered species, landscape ecology, climate change and wildlife economies will be covered during this conference.”

“These are not only central, but also aligned to South Africa’s future vision for a prosperous nation living in harmony with nature,” added Creecy. “The work presented here is not only relevant to providing solutions for South Africa, but its cutting-edge excellence informs African and global approaches, and demonstrates South Africa’s continued leadership in climate change, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use research.”

Unlocking the power of nature in well-run protected areas makes business sense – Mavuso Msimang, co-founder of the NGO African Parks and former CEO of the South African National Parks, said at the recent 11th Oppenheimer Research Conference. (Photo: supplied)

In his opening address, Mavuso Msimang, a co-founder of the NGO African Parks and former CEO of the South African National Parks, addressed the economic risk of not embracing the power of nature to solve climate change crisis.

He warned that biodiversity loss had significantly contributed to global warming, resulting in climate related disasters such as KwaZulu-Natal floods earlier this year.

“Severe droughts had also led to massive crop failures in East Africa while fish stocks off the coast of West Africa were in decline,” said Msimang.

He referred to predictions that a 4°C increase in global temperatures (relative to pre-industrial levels) could cause about a 12% decrease in the African continent’s overall GDP – “a decline we simply cannot afford.”

“But we can stop this trend and safeguard our economy if we embrace nature-based solutions,” said Msimang.

He cited a 2020 World Economic Forum report stating that a transition to a nature-positive economy could generate $10.1 trillion in business value every year and provide about 400 million new jobs.

Aside from investing in renewables, the report offers a range of solutions; from precision agriculture to retrofitting buildings with more efficient technology, reducing municipal water leakage, and improving global waste management systems.  Reusing automotive parts and even diversifying diets were among many other solutions posed.

Amid such innovation, Msimang believes that Africa’s protected areas have a vital role to play.

“If Africa chooses to unlock the power of nature by expanding and improving management of protected areas, it will create unparalleled business value for the continent,” said Msimang.

Citing figures from a SA National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) study, Msimang said that South Africa’s tourism sector (closely linked to biodiversity) created more than 418,000 jobs. Mining, on the other hand, sat at 434,000.

“Yes, this is higher than biodiversity, but mining is finite. Nature – if protected – is not,” said Msimang.

He noted that at the time the SANBI study was conducted, just 1% of government spending went into biodiversity.

“Imagine if that number was increased by even a fraction, said Msimang.

He applauded international efforts to increase globally protected areas to cover 30% of the world’s land and sea by 2030.

 “We must continue to be trailblazers, pioneers, and leaders when it comes to protected areas and community-led preservation of nature. By being bold, and supporting goals such as 30 by 30, and investing in nature today, we can reap the rewards, and they are rewards that the many, not the few, will have access to.”

Credit: Article commissioned by Jive Media Africa, strategic media partner of OGRC.

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