World Environment Day 2014
World Environment Day is an annual event that is aimed at being the biggest and most widely celebrated global day for positive environmental action. World Environment Day activities take place all year round and climax on 5 June every year, involving everyone from everywhere. It is a day that stimulates awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and public action.
The World Environment Day celebration began in 1972 and has grown to become one of the main vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and encourages political attention and action.
Through WED, the UN Environment Programme is able to personalize environmental issues and enable everyone to realize not only their responsibility, but also their power to become agents for change in support of sustainable and equitable development.
South Africa will celebrate this year’s WED under the slogan "Raise your voices, not the sea levels". The theme: “International Year of Small Islands Developing States (SIDS)”
The UN General Assembly declared 2014 as the International Year of Small Islands Developing States
(SIDS). The WED 2014 will shine the spotlight on SIDS and their development challenges and successes. Climate Change is foremost among these challenges as global warming is causing ocean levels to rise. Due to their small size and isolation, SIDS are more vulnerable to natural and environmental disasters, climate change and sea-level rise. However, these islands have weathered the storm in overcoming their environmental problems.
In various small islands, the problems they face are climate change, waste management, unsustainable consumption, degradation of natural resources, extreme natural disasters in the midst of overpopulation and continuing industrialization.
The SIDS are prized destinations, places of outstanding natural beauty, vibrant culture and music appreciated around the globe. There is no denying the draw of these countries, which are home to 63.2 million people. The Caribbean region alone is one of the most visited in the world, welcoming more than 21 million visitors each year. Many of the challenges they face confront us all, and warrant our collective action.
While small in total, the land size of these island nations does not reflect their importance as stewards of nature’s wealth on land and sea. They are custodians of 30 per cent of the 50 largest exclusive economic zones and play an important role in protecting the oceans.
In fact, this group of nations makes a contribution to global biodiversity that is out of proportion to their land area. Many are biodiversity “hot spots”, containing some of the richest reservoirs of plants and animals on the planet. They are home to many endemic species -- meaning that they are found nowhere else on Earth.
Yet, despite their wealth of culture, tradition and many of nature’s resources, Small Island Developing States face a range of challenges. For a significant number, their remoteness affects their ability to be part of the global supply chain, increases import costs – especially for energy – and limits their competitiveness in the tourist industry.
And many are extremely vulnerable to the immediate effects of climate change from the devastating impact of hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones to the threat of sea level rise.
Yet the people there have not been defeated by fear. Instead, they have stepped up and shown extraordinary leadership and resilience. Despite having contributed little to the problem, they are pioneering solutions for a more sustainable future. They have called upon their ingenuity, innovation and use of traditional knowledge to combat climate change and help protect not only themselves but the world’s – our – oceans and biodiversity.
SIDS are on the front lines of climate change, but they are not alone. Forty per cent of the global population lives within 150 kilometres of a coast, often in crowded low-lying cities vulnerable to storms and tidal surges. Most recently, we saw the devastating impact of extreme weather when Typhoon Haiyan, also known as Yolanda, killed more than 6,000 people in the Philippines alone.
In one way or another, we are all experiencing the effects of climate change, and these will increase as global temperatures rise. That is why the UN Secretary General is convening a Climate Change Summit on 23 September in New York to mobilize political will for a legal agreement on climate change in 2015, deliver concrete new commitments and spark a race to the top in climate action.
Tourism is a vital sector of the economies of most SIDS. For more than a half of them, it is the largest source of foreign exchange. The social, economic and environmental well-being of many SIDS is tied to this sector. Tourism receipts represent more than 30% of their total exports; in comparison, the average for the world is just over 5%.
Greening tourism is more than promoting ecotourism. Rather, it requires a shift across the entire industry pertaining to the implementation of policies, practices and programmes that embrace sustainability. The shift to green tourism relies not only on government efforts. It is also up to the global community to make conscious and sustainable choices as travelers and as global citizens.
The combined emissions of small islands represent less than 1 per cent of global emissions. Yet these islands are the most vulnerable to changes in climate patterns, and rising sea levels can cause loss of land along coastlines of low-lying islands, disrupting economies and livelihoods.
Climate Changepresents one of the most significant challenges to the sector. Rising sea levels can cause loss of land along coastlines of low-lying islands, disrupting economies and livelihoods. For example, a 50-centimeter rise in sea level will result in Grenada losing 60% of its beaches, while a 1-metre rise would inundate the Maldives.
Climate change may also cause coral bleaching to become an annual occurrence causing further losses in revenue. The tourism industry should be one of the lead industries in the promotion of green initiatives, being both an industry dependent on natural resources and a major contributor to employment and economic growth. Greening the sector will involve the promotion of principles and initiatives that can be sustained within social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts as the economic benefits derived can be used to address poverty alleviation.
Our National Climate Change Response Policy states that our coastal human settlements are the most vulnerable to an increase in sea-level rise due to climate change. Coastal areas provide habitation, work, and recreation to approximately 40% of the South African people. A significant proportion of South Africa’s metropolitan areas, including numerous towns and smaller settlements, are situated along the coastline. These areas also host high volumes of local and international tourists annually.
The 3,650 km South African coastline is generally exposed to moderate to strong wave action and provides little natural shelter to storms from the sea. With climate change expected to increase both the frequency and intensity of storms, the South African coastline will become increasingly vulnerable to storm surges, coastal erosion, sea-level rise and extreme weather events. A continual assessment of coastal defences, particularly at harbours, estuaries and lagoons, and along low-lying coastal land, will be needed to reduce damage in high risk areas.
Our policy says that in response to these challenges, South Africa will:
- Ensure that national, provincial and municipal coastal management plans incorporate relevant climate information and geographic information systems and adopt a risk-based approach to planning that anticipates the consequences of the continued migration of communities into high risk coastal areas.
- Take account of the potential impact of sea-level rise and intense weather events, such as storm surges, on infrastructure development and investment in coastal areas, particularly in terms of the location of the high-water mark and coastal set-back lines that demarcate the areas in which development is prohibited or controlled.Government will review and amend the legislation to deal with adjustments of coastal set-back lines that affect the status of existing public and private infrastructure.
Given the sharp focus on Climate Change and Oceans, it is proposed that the Department partner with the EThekwini Municipality and the KwaZulu Natal Department of Environmental Affairs to take the celebration to Durban Beachfront. The day will be largely a public awareness programme aligned with the work done by DEA in response to the areas articulated in the Climate Change Response Policy. As part of the celebration, the day will include media engagements and public awareness programme using the DEA bus and the exhibition stalls to heighten awareness. Communications will work closely with Climate Change and the Oceans and Coasts Branch to ensure an integrated and well executed event is hosted.