Minister Barbara Creecy: opening remarks at the 11th Openheimer Generations Research and Conservation Conference
05 October 2022
Programme Director Dr Duncan MacFadyen
Mr Nicky Oppenheimer and Mrs Strilli Oppenheimer
Representatives from Government and various research and related organizations
Young researchers and seasoned members of academia
Ladies and gentlemen
It is a great honour for me to be part of this, the 11th Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation Conference – one of the most important environmental research conferences on the South African, and now also on the African, biodiversity and conservation research calendar. Allow me also to sincerely thank the organisers for accommodating me in this afternoon time slot. I returned from Kinshasa where I was attending the pre-CoP27 meeting in the early hours of this morning and I just was not going to be coherent at 9am today!
Ladies and gentlemen 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.
Concern for the environmental crisis is no longer confined to multilateral institutions or the non-governmental sector. This year, the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS) identified climate action failure, extreme weather events, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse as the top three of the top ten global risks by severity over the next ten years.
In the context of these interlinked global risks, the role of scientific research in promoting evidence based decision -making becomes more important than ever before. Equally important is the role of scientific research in finding innovative solutions to the existential challenges facing mankind
This conference presents us with cutting-edge scientific research that can set the agenda for future action to mitigate and adapt to climate change and protect our environment. Importantly, in addition to the ecological components, the social and economic aspects of sustainable development, based on leveraging our rich biodiversity heritage and resources, are included in the programme.
This conference could not have come at a more suitable time given that South Africa is working to finalise the development of the draft White Paper on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa’s Biodiversity, as well as South Africa’s first Game Meat Strategy.
These two measures provide a clear understanding of our intentions and aspirations as we promote the sustainable use of our natural heritage to enable and facilitate transformative socio-economic development, but also to ensure that we conserve biodiversity for current and future generations.
In other words, the actions we take today must not only secure ecological sustainability into the future, but must also promote justifiable economic and social development to reduce poverty, inequality, and unemployment, especially for our rural communities.
The publication of the two documents was recommended by the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLP) that reviewed our existing policies, legislation and practices on matters of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling.
Among the many findings of the Panel was that, despite having a range of biodiversity and sustainable use legislation and policies, biodiversity loss continues to threaten the health of ecosystems and the survival of species, resulting in negative impacts for livelihoods and the economy. Global climate change, habitat loss and degradation, invasive alien species, overharvesting, and illegal harvesting all threaten biodiversity.
The draft White Paper focuses on a future in which all South Africans live in harmony with nature, a future in which our biodiversity sector is transformed, and a future in which rural communities benefit from access to our rich natural environment as we conserve our country’s biodiversity and maintain and restore ecological integrity. It also sets out important principles, which will guide future policy, legislation, and decision-making across the sector.
The Draft White Paper has a policy objective specific to research, Objective 6.3: namely, that knowledge and understanding of South Africa's biodiversity informs effective decision-making and practice. Under this objective, the White Paper emphasises the need for targeted research to address knowledge gaps, the need for strategic biodiversity inventories, and for thematic and Rapid Biodiversity Assessments. This recommendation supports the findings of the 2018 National Biodiversity Assessment, which emphasised the importance of long-term, monitoring of specific species and biodiversity at specific sites to ensure long-term survival of ecosystems and species.
The white paper emphasises the importance of research and inventory partnerships, as well as for broader collaboration, and the removal of barriers and impediments to effective biodiversity research, such as inappropriate permitting requirements.
Furthermore, the draft White Paper highlights the value of Indigenous/Traditional knowledge and practices providing localised solutions to biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, and the need for this to inform biodiversity policy development and decision-making. Much research is needed in this regard, and should be prioritised by academics and research institutions.
The Game Meat Strategy acknowledges the significant contribution made by the diversity of South Africa’s wildlife models, and the potential for wildlife businesses to drive critical elements of the value chain.
Importantly, the strategy recognises a need to improve on the status quo, with behavioural change to create win-win outcomes. The strategy will move from an informal industry, towards larger commercial ventures that provide for economies of scale.
Recognising the imperative for transformation, the strategy identifies opportunities for community-based enterprises to drive rural socio-economic development. There are also high barriers to entry, which would need to be addressed.
As we emerge from the COVID 19 Pandemic it is important to note and track the implementation of the One Health concept, which focusses on the consequences, responses and actions at the animal–human–ecosystem interface.
Our approach recognises the increase in emerging and endemic zoonoses, and the burden this places on the developing world, with major societal impacts in resource-poor settings.
Just as important is antimicrobial resistance and food safety. Interdisciplinary collaboration is at the heart of the One Health concept and we must look at the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic to plan better.
The HLP report, and the draft white paper, in considering animal wellbeing, emphasised the need to take the One Health approach further, into the concept of One Welfare, which emphasises the link between animal welfare, human wellbeing, biodiversity and the environment.
This is a new area for the Department, arising from the NEMLA Bill, and we encourage academics to undertake research in this regard, and inform the development and implementation processes.
As you know, The National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act requires the department to promote research on biodiversity conservation, including the sustainable use, protection and conservation of indigenous biological resources.
For this reason, we have been implementing the National Biodiversity Research and Evidence Strategy (NBRES) 2015-2025, which seeks answers to important questions that relate to our living heritage and its benefits to the people of South Africa.
The department hosts an annual Indaba in this regard, and researchers are encouraged to link with the department to participate in the translation of their research into practical actions.
Ladies and gentlemen at the beginning of my speech I indicated that I returned last night from Kinshasa where I attend the Precop27 meeting of parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change.
South Africa is fully committed to contributing our best efforts to mitigating climate change and supporting the adaptation capabilities of communities and regions to build climate resilience.
In this regard, we submitted an updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in September 2021, which includes a significantly more ambitious mitigation target.
To ensure a science-based response to the climate crisis, which is centrally important to our just transition, we are funding a wide range of research, development and innovation programmes and interventions, which I was proud to report on in Kinshasa. These include:
- the Global Change Research Plan (GCRP) and its associated programmes and interventions;
- a Marine and Antarctic Strategy;
- the South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas (SARVA);
- Water and Waste Roadmaps;
- indigenous knowledge systems (IKS);
- Earth Observation work under the Space Sub-Programme;
- the hydrogen and fuel cell technology development process under the Hydrogen Society Roadmap;
- detailed mapping of renewable energy resources, via wind and solar atlases
- the advanced batteries (energy storage) initiative,
- multiple programmes on moving towards a circular economy, and finally,
- a strong research focus on water resources.
I am 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 as these are not only central, but also aligned to South Africa’s future vision for a prosperous nation living in harmony with nature.
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.
I wish you a very successful three days of deliberation.
I thank you.