Mr David Perry-Davies, Editor Enviropaedia
Eco warriors and Eco Champs
Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you very much for inviting me to join you at what has been described as “South Africa’s most Glamorously Green eco-calendar event” within my first week of office as Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries.
I understand that the Eco-Logic Awards recognise individuals, organisations and communities that positively contribute towards a sustainable world – in effect, the very people I will be relying on for guidance and support in my new portfolio.
Initiatives like the Enviropaedia and the Eco-Logic Awards have been crucial in building environmental awareness in South Africa and I am very happy that my maiden speech as Minister is to an audience that is likely to be walking the same path with me over the next five years.
Although I have only been the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries for less than a week, I have known the following things for many years –
That sustainable development requires a vibrant, diverse economy; a happy, prosperous and equal society; and a healthy and productive environment.
That climate change and mass extinction of biological species are not only a threat to future generations – but require urgent action right now
That sustainable development will only be achieved through partnerships amongst government, business, civil society and organised labour in the context of an informed and environmentally literate society.
In addressing some of these pressing issues, I am pleased to share with you that I am inheriting a Department with a significant track record in both policy development and implementation, so I am not starting from scratch.
The sustainable society we want to achieve is encapsulated in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which paint a vision of a Planet in where all people enjoy a clean environment, health, education, safety, peace and dignified work.
Similarly the AU’s Agenda 2063 stresses the need for Africa’s natural resource base to be managed sustainably and in such a way that the needs of all our continent’s people can be met.
These visions are localised in our National Development Plan – Vision 2030.
Achieving sustainable economic and social development, requires us to commit ourselves to ensuring that on World Environment day we recommit ourselves to work to realise the environmental rights promised in our constitution as a key enabler of a natural resource base that can in perpetuity sustainably support life on earth.
Those of you who followed the National and Provincial Election campaign would have understood that transforming our economy and creating work so that we can make progress in combatting poverty and inequality, remain the most pressing issues confronting this incoming administration.
There are some who would want to argue that there is an inherent contradiction between achieving sustainable development and the immediate demands of growing our economy and creating work.
I would want to argue that this does not have to be the case. The 2010 Integrated Resource Plan and the new draft which is under consideration, give recognition to the need to move toward a lower carbon economy, as does the National Development Plan.
In South Africa and across the African continent, we understand that the impacts of climate change on weather patterns, and the consequent risks of extreme weather events, droughts, floods etc to food security, natural resource based economic activities such as agriculture, fishing, forestry, nature based tourism etc is potentially severe – and that in this -the poorest and most vulnerable will be hit the hardest and have the least capacity to manage.
Addressing climate change is triggering a technological revolution worldwide and one that is resulting in increasingly rapid technological innovation particularly in the world’s energy economy, such as renewables, electric vehicles, the hydrogen economy etc. As such there are significant opportunities to create new industries, to localise production and to support the struggle against unemployment by building the skills base for these industries to grow and flourish.
As we discuss the implementation of the Just Transition we will do so in a way that is orderly and managed, and that takes account of the needs of those in jobs that might be affected.
Worldwide pollution, poor air quality, bad or absent waste management affects those living in conditions of poverty most severely. South Africa is no exception and the legacy of apartheid has meant that those living in historically disadvantaged areas shoulder this most acutely.
Accordingly, we are mindful that resource use efficiency and climate change resilience can be a key driver of spatial integration and local service delivery.
Transforming waste into raw material in our move to a circular economy, moving people closer to their places of work, improved public transport to get us around, are just a few contributions we can make to this priority.
Although we are not yet meeting international targets, our conservation estate is growing, both on land and at sea.
The latter has been the star performer. Last week 20 new Marine Protected Areas were declared. These new ‘ocean parks’ have increased South Africa’s marine ecosystem area under protection by 1,250% overnight - from 0.4% to 5.4% of our oceans. But it’s not size that counts.
Unlike many of our game parks, these ocean parks have been identified scientifically and provide protection to an impressive 90% of our marine habitat types. In terms of government priorities, these ocean parks will not only protect our rich marine biodiversity, but will also contribute to the sustainability of our fisheries and our fishing industry – a perfect example of sustainable development and a valuable outcome from the Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy initiative.
Our ‘Working For…’ programmes are still providing crucial job opportunities in some of poorest of the poor communities whilst dealing with the scourge of invasive species.
We are performing well in terms of environmental impact management –
We have reduced our environmental impact assessment turnaround times substantially;
We have streamlined impact management for large national infrastructure development programmes – like the renewable energy rollout and grid extension programmes – through the use of strategic environmental assessments;
We are seeing compliance improvements resulting from the work of the ‘green scorpions’
However, despite these few examples of things we should be proud of as a nation, we are still a long way from our vision of sustainable development.
So I have my work cut out for me.
Given the audience I have here tonight – I would like to conclude with some comments around environmental literacy. As I mentioned earlier, sustainable development is only possible if it is underpinned and informed by an environmentally literate society.
An environmentally literate society is one where everyone has the understanding, skills and motivation to make responsible decisions that consider his or her relationships to natural systems, communities and future generations.
With this in mind our Department will be reviewing our public outreach programmes with the intention of developing a more wide-ranging and better co-ordinated public environmental awareness programme.
Linked to this we will explore the concept of a Citizen’s Environmental Awareness Index to be based on the results of an annual independent national public environmental awareness survey.
This Index can serve as an important success indicator for our efforts aimed at improving the environmental literacy and environmental partnerships.
I therefore call on the environmental information, education and awareness raising community represented here tonight to partner with the department in building South Africa’s environmental literacy as a significant contribution to our sustainable development and a better life for all.
By way of conclusion allow me to quote our President Mr Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa from his inaugural speech at Loftus Stadium on Saturday 25 May, he said and I quote:
South Africans “have chosen hope over hopelessness, they have opted for unity over conflict and division. As we give effect to their mandate, we draw comfort from the knowledge that that which unites us is far, far more powerful and enduring than that which divides us”
He cautioned us that our citizens want more than words, they action. Ladies and Gentleman the time for action to build a sustainable society is now! I look forward to our partnership in building that society!