The 12th Oppenheimer Research Conference kicks off with a challenging keynote address from Minister Naledi Pandor.
“Humanity is standing at the precipice. Given the crisis of climate change as well as the loss of biodiversity and escalating pollution, our environment is being destroyed and this threatens the sustainability of our planet”.
South Africa is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. South Africa’s mega-biodiversity is not only a national and cultural asset but is also a source of socio-economic development for our people through the sustainable use of a wide variety of plants, marine living organisms and wildlife. Our leadership role in wildlife conservation and oceans governance, and the example of how we involve and empower local communities, is also an international contribution.
South Africa is working to combat the illegal wildlife trade, as well as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The challenges we face range from the poaching of iconic species, rare plants and exotic reptiles to the poorly regulated fisheries. We lack the resources, not only financial but in knowledge and capacity, to adequately protect the vast but threatened areas by land and sea that still remain under wildlife and nature within Africa’s jurisdiction.
In December 2022, the international community adopted the landmark Kunming Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. A key decision has been the adoption of a proposal to increase finance to developing countries to drive sustainable investment in reversing the loss of biodiversity as well as prevention of future loss for the Planet through implementation of the Framework. Whilst ambitious in its expression of goals and targets, it falls short in respect of ambition and specificity on means of implementation, including resource mobilisation to close the financing gap and capacity building, technology and technology transfer. The ambitious targets such as the 30 by 30 goal, will be meaningless unless they are backed with enabling means of implementation for developing countries and especially mega-diverse developing countries such as South Africa, where much of the world’s remaining biodiversity is located.
The failure to effectively address climate change, the increase in extreme weather events, and the collapse of our ecosystems are among the top ten global risks over the next decade. This makes the role of scientific environmental research critical if we are to find innovative solutions to save our planet. Over the years our government has supported this annual gathering as Oppenheimer Generations does impressive work on promoting conservation and supporting scientific research to address the challenges that we are facing.
Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation’s commitment to develop dedicated young environmental researchers who work on conservation and are seeking to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change, is what we urgently need at this juncture. The awarding of the $150,000 Jennifer Ward Oppenheimer Research Grant to support an African led environmental research programme at this conference is a tangible way of encouraging environmental research on issues that affect Africa and the globe.
As government we are working to finalise the White Paper on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa’s Biodiversity. It is of great concern that our biodiversity is threatened not only by climate change, but by habitat loss and degradation, invasive alien species, overharvesting and illegal harvesting. The action we take going forward 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.
It is important to note that the draft White Paper has a policy objective specific to research. The objective is 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. The White Paper emphasizes the importance of research and partnerships and highlights the value of Indigenous and Traditional knowledge and practices providing localised solutions to biodiversity conservation and sustainable use. We hope that this type of research is prioritised by academics and research institutions.
South Africa’s foreign policy approach at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Multilateral Environmental Agreements is that solutions to shared challenges should be collective and based on equity and best available science. We locate climate and environment action in the context of just transitions and sustainable development, leaving no one behind. This is because sustainable and acceptable environmental solutions for the planet and our country should be linked to people-centred development and the social and economic pillars of sustainable development. All peoples have a right to development, and they have a right to live in a clean and healthy environment.
South Africa’s foreign policy needs to be informed by scientific inputs covering all types of science, ranging from physical science to human sciences, as well as scientific products that are accessible and useable at the policy level.
At the policy level, when faced with the dauting and seemingly impossible task of addressing existential, interlinked, and long-term crises, such as climate change and loss of biological diversity, we need long-term scientific scenarios. We also need short-term and more targeted products to help spur immediate actions. Policy makers are often forced to think and act in the short term, of perhaps three to five years, and they want to know the implications of the science at the local and regional level and what can be done within those time frames.
As government we need to understand the implications of climate change variability and climate change and bio-diversity loss in our region of Southern Africa in the next five years. We need to know what we can do now to protect our citizens and improve their way of life without compromising future generation’s abilities to do the same. Our national interest remains bettering the lives of our people and tackling the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment, and inequality, and we rely on the scientific community to help us achieve this.
Article by: Minister Naledi Pandor