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Hluleka Nature Reserve lies on the Wild Coast within the Hluleka Marine Protected Area. Picture: DENEN ERASMUS
Hluleka Nature Reserve lies on the Wild Coast within the Hluleka Marine Protected Area. Picture: DENEN ERASMUS

As the world continues to grapple with the need to reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming, it is becoming clear that investing in biodiversity and putting the environment first is not a goal that is at odds with economic aims, but rather an important driver of growth.

In SA there are more than 418,000 biodiversity-related jobs that would be placed at risk if the country failed to protect natural land and marine ecosystems. This was determined by the SA National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), which also found that for each job dedicated to protecting biodiversity there were five more jobs that directly depended on using SA’s biodiversity resources.

During a briefing on Wednesday, organised by National Geographic SA, expert scientists, conservationists and youth leaders called on the government to commit to the UN’s proposed global target of protecting at least 30% of the Earth’s land and oceans by 2030.

Ruth Mthembu, an environmental communications expert, said there was “overwhelming” scientific evidence to show that conserving at least 30% of land and ocean will curb biodiversity loss, store carbon, prevent future pandemics and bolster economic growth.

She highlighted the economic importance of protecting SA’s marine environments, saying coastal tourism earned the country about R13.5bn per year.

According to Mthembu, before 2018 just 0.4% of coastal areas in SA were under formal protection but this had since increased to 5% of the country’s oceans that were now protected by 41 marine protected areas.

Sinegugu Zukulu, programme manager for Sustaining the Wild Coast, who lives within the Pondoland marine protected area along the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast, said the protection of marine areas was critical for local communities whose livelihoods depended on these natural systems. Apart from direct benefits, such as through tourism, these communities could further benefit from investment in training and capacity-building that will enable them to manage these areas in co-operation with local law enforcement.

These communities, he said, were aware of illegal fishing that happened within the protected areas, but they were not getting sufficient support from the government and local law enforcement to act against illegal fishers.

“If we are to achieve the target [of protecting 30% of land and oceans by 2030], it is critical that we provide the local people, the indigenous communities, an opportunity as well, because they are dependent on these natural systems,” Zukulu said.

The call for SA to commit to the 30% conservation target comes in the run-up to a UN gathering in March in Geneva, Switzerland, where delegates from more than 190 countries will start negotiations again on a global plan to halt the biodiversity crisis. These negotiations will culminate later this year at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) in Kunming, China.

erasmusd@businesslive.co.za

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