/ 26 March 2024

Urgent transformation needed in biodiversity sector, says Ramaphosa

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President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo: Leon Sadiki/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for an urgent transformation of the biodiversity sector to help address the high levels of unemployment in the country.

Ramaphosa told a biodiversity indaba in Boksburg on Tuesday that South Africa needed to move away from being a raw material exporter that created jobs and industries elsewhere, and instead focus on increasing job opportunities in the country’s environmental and biodiversity sectors.

He said the country’s revised biodiversity economy strategy aimed to “synergise our economic and conservation objectives by emphasising that a successful biodiversity economy must be linked to the restoration of ecosystems”.

“It broadens the existing terrestrial goals and adds marine, coastal, estuarine and freshwater opportunities. This strategy places the transformation of the biodiversity sector at the centre of all we do,” he added.

The revised strategy was announced by Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy on Monday and aims to address unemployment in the sector. It was founded to support the sustainable use and beneficiation of biodiversity business value chains, as well as to promote sustainable and inclusive socioeconomic development.

“For us to fully harness the benefits of the biodiversity economy, we have to understand its scope and breadth. Work is underway to develop natural capital accounting for the biodiversity sector,” Ramaphosa said. 

According to Statistics SA, natural capital accounting is an internationally agreed accounting system to measure a country’s natural assets and resources.

Creecy said the urgent transformation of the biodiversity sector was critical for sustainable rural socio-economic development to address the triple burden of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

“This requires new approaches such as investment in community-owned land for conservation compatible land-use with biodiversity-based enterprises, more inclusive processes, opening up of value chains, and ensuring equitable and inclusive access and benefit flows,” she said.

Ramaphosa said it was important for developed countries to assist developing economies in achieving global conservation targets to alleviate the effects of climate change and their  financial burdens. 

He added that South Africa should adapt and build resilience against climate change, noting that the Climate Change Bill, which is before the National Council of Provinces, focuses on enabling a just transition towards a low-carbon, climate-resilient society.

“This just transition must contribute toward the creation of decent work for all, social inclusion and the eradication of poverty. … The bill maintains that enhancing the sustainability of economic, social and ecological services is an integral component of an effective and efficient climate change response,” Ramaphosa said.

Creecy said financial support was required to sustain conservation, grow the biodiversity economy and ensure market access for services and products from previously disadvantaged individuals and communities. She noted that more than 100 proposals would be pitched to investors.t

“This is a key function of this indaba, to make connections for win-win outcomes. I am hoping that many of these projects will be picked up and come to fruition. I can assure you that the government will support and facilitate their success,” Creecy said.

As part of the initiatives to combat climate change, Ramaphosa said the global biodiversity framework adopted in December 2022 must benefit people living in and adjacent to conservation estates by improving the economic state of their areas.