/ 30 January 2021

Biodiversity coalition keen for SA to join conservation push

Rearview Of Hikers With Backpacks Enjoying The Sunset In The Mountains
Saving species: Fifty countries aim to protect 30% of Earth, but not the most biodiverse — Australia, South Africa and Indonesia. Photo: wilpunt

South Africa has not yet joined an intergovernmental coalition to secure a global agreement to protect at least 30% of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030 to stem biodiversity loss and reduce the effects of climate change.

This month, more than 50 countries committed to the 30 x 30 global target through the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People at the One Planet Summit in France. 

Along with South Africa, Australia and Indonesia were also absent. The three countries are mega-biodiverse countries, which means they are home to most of the Earth’s species found nowhere else and are key to reaching the coalition’s target.

The coalition, co-chaired by Costa Rica, France and the United Kingdom, will take the 30 x 30 target to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15, to be held in Kunming, China, later this year, to secure global agreement.

Alice Jay, who leads international work at the nonprofit Campaign For Nature, said the coalition members would be “delighted” if South Africa joined, because it has decades of conservation experience. 

“South Africa has a leadership role in the global CBD negotiations and would join other African nature champions such as Gabon, Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, Botswana, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Republic of Congo, Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire and Benin, who are all members of the coalition,” she said. 

Research has shown how a commitment to protect 30% of land and oceans is crucial to halt the accelerating loss of species and protect the ecosystems that safeguard human health and ensure economic security.

Albi Modise, South Africa’s spokesperson for the department of environment, forestry and fisheries, said the issues raised by the coalition are the subject of multilateral negotiations in the CBD and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, among others, which are scheduled to be agreed at the COP15 meeting. 

“We are working to conserve our biodiversity, promote its sustainable use and ensure fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from

the use of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge,” he said.

South Africa is a signatory to the CBD and is committed to implementing its goals and objectives, as well as to working towards adopting a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework at COP15, he said.

Environmental and human rights nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) have said the doubling of protected areas may violate human rights and cause social harm for the world’s poorest people. In September last year, Stephen Corry, of Survival International, which describes itself as “the global movement for tribal peoples”, called the 30 x 30 iniative a “colossal land grab”. 

“Let’s not be fooled by the hype from the conservation NGOs and their United Nations and government funders. This has nothing to do with climate change, protecting biodiversity or avoiding pandemics — in fact, it’s more likely to make them all worse.” 

He said the “planned dispossession of hundreds of millions of people risks eradicating human diversity and self-sufficiency”, which are crucial for slowing climate change and preventing biodiversity loss.

Jay said people had not been fully involved in decision-making and benefit-sharing and for this reason “the Campaign for Nature believes that the CBD’s post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework must advance a new paradigm for conservation with a new conception of protected and conserved areas in which the rights of indigenous peoples are fully respected and secured”.