Minister Barbara Creecy: International Day for Biological Diversity

Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Ms Barbara Creecy, delivers keynote address on International Day for Biological Diversity

Mr Arthur Anukur - Regional Director of the International Union for Conservation of Nature
Ms Bianca Brasil – United Nations Convention on Biodiversity Head of Global Partnerships for Business and Biodiversity
Ms Hayley Elwen - COO of the Endangered Wildlife Trust
Dr Gabi Teren – EWT National Biodiversity and Business Network Programme Manager
Professor Zeblon Vilakazi – Vice Chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand
Mr Shonisani Munzhedzi, CEO of the South African National Biodiversity Institute
Ms Flora Mokgohloa, DDG of Biodiversity and Conservation, DFFE

Good Afternoon

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all today to this commemoration of International Day for Biological Diversity 2023, celebrated under the theme: “From Agreement Action to Building Back Biodiversity”.

To understand the importance of this theme and its relevance to all our lives, it’s important to start today, by acknowledging a wealth of scientific evidence. This evidence tells us that biodiversity loss, together with climate change pose an existential threat to the future of humanity.

The reason is fairly simple: nature provides a range of ecosystem services that sustain life on earth and underpin the air we breathe; the water we drink; our food production systems; our health; and our living and recreational arrangements. Carbon emissions, pollution and environmental degradation caused by unsustainable agricultural production; mining; energy generation; human habitation and waste disposal threaten our forests, our water sources, our soil, our air quality and the millions of species that depend on them together with us for survival.

Now before you conclude that I have joined a doomsday cult and your best option this afternoon would be to stop listening and exit this venue as fast as you can, let me say that all is not lost, yet. There is still much those of us who are in this room today can do to prevent this worst-case catastrophe.

Last year, at the Convention on Biological Diversity an agreement dubbed “the new deal for people and nature,” or the Kunming Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), was adopted.

The Framework has three central aspects: The first is the recognition that human and ecosystem sustainability requires thirty percent of the land and thirty percent of the sea be placed under protection by 2030.

Secondly, that communities living in and adjacent to conservation estates must benefit from the economic opportunities created; and thirdly that the intellectual property of indigenous people which underpins many bio-prospecting endeavours in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries must be recognised.

There was also agreement that developed countries must assist developing countries in achieving global conservation targets.

In March this year, our Government adopted the White Paper on Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa’s Biodiversity which is intended to ensure we domesticate this significant global agreement. 

The private sector plays a significant role in the environment, and its actions have can have a significant impact on biodiversity conservation efforts. This was recognised in Montreal where, for the first time in the history of the Convention on Biological Diversity, parties recognised the role of businesses and financial institutions alongside all non-state actors in delivering the Convention’s objectives.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The White Paper calls for change in business practices to reduce biodiversity loss, adding net value, or at least ensuring no net biodiversity loss. It therefore provides an excellent opportunity for South African businesses to contribute towards achieving global targets for biodiversity conservation.

Sustainable development and transformation require the private sector and government to work together to achieve common goals. In the case of biodiversity conservation, businesses can contribute significantly by adopting environmentally responsible practices, promoting sustainable development, and minimising negative impacts on fragile ecosystems. However, achieving these goals will require government to draw up supportive policies and ensure the effective enforcement of environmental regulations.

South Africa, Malaysia, Colombia and India, have been selected to participate in the Global Environmental Facility project entitled Business Action and Advocacy for the Planet. The project is executed by Business for Nature, hosted at World Business Council for Sustainable Development and supported by local partners in each country.

In South Africa, the project is to be implemented by the National Biodiversity and Business Network (NBBN) of the Endangered Wildlife Trust. The EWT is uniquely positioned to partner with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) to support the development of action-orientated targets and solutions for the implementation of the business-related aspects of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).

The project will engage both large and small companies, and will see the drafting of a government-led business action plan on biodiversity. The outcomes of this project will also inform the revision of the 2015-2025 National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. It is of paramount importance that all these processes result in the creation of a national target on the role of business in biodiversity conservation.

There is also a fast-expanding programme of work centered around nature-related risks to economic sectors. This work will help us to better understand risks associated with diminishing ecosystem services and  provide input into decision-making and policy. 

In support of this programme, the French Development Agency (Agence Française de Développement), in collaboration with SANBI and the Department, has developed South Africa’s first study on nature- related risks and opportunities.  

The research highlights the complex relationship that ecosystem services have with our traditional business sectors and the role they play in providing people and communities with socio-economic contributions. 

This important piece of work will go a long way to supporting our country’s reporting obligations under Target 15 of the Global Biodiversity Framework which calls on businesses and financial institutions to regularly monitor, assess and transparently disclose the risks, dependencies and impacts of business on biodiversity

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, this year’s International Day for Biodiversity’s theme is a call for urgent action and a commitment to increasing our efforts to halt biodiversity loss.

While we have the Global Biodiversity Framework that provides a roadmap to achieve these goals, its success will require the active participation of all stakeholders, including business.

By mainstreaming biodiversity considerations into their operations, products, and services, South African businesses can promote sustainable development and ensure the responsible management of the country's natural resources. Through broad-based partnerships and cooperation, we can succeed in ensuring that we restore and protect our country’s biodiversity.

I thank you.

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