South Africa’s Environment Minister: There is no Planet B

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This year, government aims to invest R2.2 billion in managing protected areas, restoring ecosystems, removing alien species and preventing wildfires. This will create at least 48 982 work opportunities in rural areas.

The recent flooding in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and parts of the North West that resulted in the death of hundreds of people and destroyed homes, livelihoods and key infrastructure, brought home to all of us the fact that climate change is not something that will happen in future. It is happening now.

The 2022 celebration of World Environment Day under the banner of #OnlyOneEarth supported the urgency of all people to adopt the practice of living in harmony with nature. Through the #OnlyOneEarth campaign, all are encouraged to take collective action to address one or more aspects of the triple planetary emergency — climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

The natural world provides critical ecosystem services to human societies including the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil and the grasslands that nourishes our food as well as the forests and oceans that absorb dangerous greenhouse gases and regulate the planet’s temperature.

Scientific research tells us that all the critical ecosystems that sustain life on earth are under pressure from our unsustainable use of natural resources, and the irresponsible disposal of waste. A recent study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found that air pollution, much of it from the burning of fossil fuels, causes around seven million premature deaths around the world each year. Nutrients from farming, sediment from soil erosion and discarded plastic waste are polluting our rivers and coastal waters.

The emphasis is clear: time is running out to ensure we protect critical ecosystem services and ensure that our current use of natural resources does not threaten the safety and survival of our children and grandchildren.

The South African government has significant programmes to combat climate change; prevent bio-diversity loss; reduce pollution; manage waste more sustainably; and restore ecosystem services. As a signatory to all three Rio Conventions, our government has undertaken to reduce our carbon footprint from 2025.

By working with seven sectors of our economy, we aim to achieve a low-carbon economy and a climate-resilient society by mid-century. Our architecture to advance both mitigation of greenhouse gases and support the development of climate resilience in all 44 district municipalities across our country is moving ahead. To ensure these ambitious targets have a sound regulatory environment to promote compliance by all departments and levels of government, our Climate Bill is currently before the National Assembly.

At present, 16.5% of the land and 14.5% of our sea is under some form of protection. Our Protection Areas Expansion strategy aims to increase the areas under protection by half a percent per annum. By 2036 we hope to have ensured that 28% of the land and sea are under protection.

This year government aims to invest of R2.2 billion in managing protected areas, restoring ecosystems, removing alien species and preventing wildfires. This will create at least 48 982 work opportunities in rural areas where few other economic opportunities exist.

Our White Paper on Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biological Resources is on its way through the cabinet system and will soon be released for public comment. Waste and pollution are among the greatest threats to the health of our environment.

Through the revised National Waste Management Strategy 2020, we are supporting municipalities across the country to build more effective and sustainable waste services and support the reuse and recycling of waste.

Our interventions include improving household waste collection; supporting the development of compliant landfills; ensuring municipalities have adequate waste collection fleets; and supporting the extended producer responsibility schemes to promote diversion of waste from landfills.

Changing the way we do things to ensure that we can all continue to live sustainably on Earth, is the responsibility of each and every one of us.

Each of us can reduce the amount of plastic we buy and ensure we discard our waste responsibly. We must refuse to use plastic bags, plastic and polystyrene cups and plastic knives and forks when we get our favourite burgers and coffees. We can separate our refuse so that plastic, glass, paper and tins are cleaned and taken to collection sites.

We can be more mindful of the electricity we use and the greenhouse gases it creates and turn off electrical appliances we are not using. We can understand the carbon footprint of products we buy and support local cultivation and production, which will also create more jobs for South Africans.

We can reduce the use of pesticides in our homes and turn our organic waste into compost for our gardens and yards. We can plant trees and other greenery in open spaces around us.

We can also educate ourselves and our families about climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution and we can support policy changes that will reduce damage to the environment.

We only have one Earth. There is no planet B.

Author: Barbara Creecy

Barbara Creecy is South Africa’s Minister of Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affairs.

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