/ 16 June 2023

SA needs ‘Kruger Park and a bit’ annually to meet global conservation target

Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park

South Africa will need to add 16 million hectares to its conservation estate to reach a global target aimed at conserving 30% of global land and seas by 2030.

“We need to add a Kruger National Park and a bit every year, to the estate to meet the 2030 target. This is just, sort of, a reality check,” said Karl Naude, the director of protected area planning and management effectiveness at the department of forestry, fisheries and the environment. This is equivalent to or 2.2 million hectares per year.

He was speaking on a panel discussion at a three-day consultative workshop, which the department hosted last week in Boksburg, on the implementation of the 30×30 Protected Areas, which is Target 3 of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

South Africa, as a party to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, is a signatory to the framework, which consists of four goals and 23 action targets.  

Target 3 calls for 30% of the world’s terrestrial and coastal and marine areas to be in effective protection and management by 2030. The department said that in South Africa, the framework will be implemented within the four goals of the White Paper on Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa’s Biodiversity, “namely conservation, sustainable use, fair and equitable sharing of benefits as well as transformation”.

By the end of March this year, Naude said South Africa’s conservation areas (not declared) stand at 6.87%, protected areas (declared) at 9.88% with the full total area at 16.75%.

To hit the 30×30 target, “we need to identify and map,” he said. “We need to think broadly, we need to move into what are our other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs), are we going to add that?”

The department is already looking at other operating mechanisms including the Square Kilometre Array, bio-economy opportunities, game farms and military areas, to add to its conservation portfolio. 

“But not to forget, management effectiveness, representativity, and connectivity — all of those things that sit in the target that we’re trying to reach.”

Meanwhile, human rights and environmental NGOs, as well as indigenous groups, have warned that the 30×30 target could lead to widespread human rights abuses, displacement, and further marginalisation of those least responsible for climate change and the loss of nature, arguing that the target is not backed by science, and risks distracting attention away from the real drivers of the planetary crisis. 

‘Paper parks’

This week, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), a conservation NGO, said in a perspective document on the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework’s goals and targets, that it “recognises the critical importance of Target 3, given its potential for achieving impact for the long-term conservation of terrestrial and marine systems”. 

“Linked to the importance of this global target, the EWT feels strongly that South Africa, as one of only 17 megadiverse countries in the world and an established advocate for increasing our own marine and terrestrial protected areas, can and must play a pivotal role in achieving and exceeding the ‘30×30’ target at a global and national scale,” it said. 

The EWT said it appreciates and echoes concerns around the potential for creating what are referred to as “paper parks” (protected areas formally proclaimed but not effectively managed or sustained in terms of conservation impact thereafter). 

“This highlights the current shortfalls in effective management and institutional support for many provincial reserves, with the majority of provincial reserves across South Africa being poorly managed.

This also emphasises the need for more administrative transparency, supportive policies, and the development of sustainable financing solutions for the long-term maintenance of effective protected areas, it said.

According to the department, 16.65% of the country’s 121 million hectares of terrestrial land are under conservation estate — just over 20 million hectares — and about 14.5% of South Africa’s coastal and marine areas are protected. 

But the EWT said this terrestrial protection percentage includes the country’s vast biosphere reserves, which have expansive buffer zones but “offer no real or effective protection” for biodiversity. 

“According to the South African Protected Area Database our protected area estate would actually equate to around 11.7% without these biosphere buffer areas,” it said. 

Biological diversity

The EWT said it recognises the intentions and, in principle, commitments of the draft white paper on the conservation and sustainable use of South Africa’s biological diversity. It “recognises and emphasises” the importance of protected area expansion and good governance of effective protected areas towards the country’s ecological and economic sustainability.

In South Africa’s pursuit of Target 3, it said, among others, that the next revision of the National Protected Area Expansion Strategy must align with the 30×30 targets of the framework at a national scale by continuing to include protected areas (special nature reserves, national parks, nature reserves, marine protected areas, protected environments and world heritage sites). 

Additionally, it must recognise the contribution of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s OECMs and the land and territories of indigenous people and local communities that bring about “the effective and long-term in situ conservation of biodiversity, support associated ecosystem functions and services, and promote cultural, spiritual, socio-economic and other locally relevant values”.

‘Bold approach’

The EWT said in its document that it encourages Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy to adopt an approach towards achieving the ‘30×30’ target by removing key barriers to protected area expansion and “unlocking opportunities to engage non-traditional stakeholders in the process”. 

This, it said, will require strategic coordination between the various government departments with “either aligned or competing agendas in the landscape”, including but not limited to the department of mineral resources and energy and the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development.

The EWT, too, stressed that protected area expansion does not occur solely through government processes and with public funds and is heavily supported by the NGO sector and private sector funding.

“We also recognise that resource mobilisation from the global community is important for ramping up our ability to achieve the global targets.”

It said there is currently poor political will, resource allocation and support at a provincial level for protected area expansion, which must be addressed to assist in achieving the 30X30 target. Importantly, financial support for provincial conservation agencies must be increased “to enable them to support protected area expansion and to effectively manage existing protected area networks”.

South Africa, it said, must take a “bold approach” towards achieving protected area expansion targets through enhanced collaboration, participation and the co-creation of a variety of biodiversity protection models with new stakeholders to achieve these important national targets. In turn, this would, “benefit all through building sustainable livelihoods, enhancing climate resilience, supporting the green economy and enabling social equity at a national scale”.