The Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs, Barbara Thomson, has recommitted South Africa to the development of the ocean and wildlife economies in South Africa.
“Our vision is to ensure socio-economic transformation and growth of the biodiversity economy, while ensuring the entrance of the landholders and previously disadvantaged communities into the mainstream economy to restore their pride and dignity,” said Thomson at the closing plenary of the IUCN 6th World Parks Congress.
Heads of state, government officials, NGOs and members of civil society gathered at the Sydney Olympic Park from 12th to the 19th of November 2014 to discuss the vital role of protected areas in conserving nature while contributing to socio-economic development. The more than 6 000 delegates from 170 countries also discussed the value of protected areas in climate change resilience and conservation of iconic species.
The South Africa delegation to the World Parks Congress 2014 was led by the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa, and Ms Thomson. The South African representation included officials from the Department of Environmental Affairs who participated in discussions aligned to the Congress theme of ’Parks, people, planet: inspiring solutions’.
Delivering South Africa’s pledge to the Sydney Congress, Thomson said “Our government’s commitment in terms of Vision 2024 is to create at least 60 000 new sustainable jobs in the wildlife industry, ensure that 2 million hectares of new conservation land is acquired and restored and that more than a million poverty-stricken people are supported.”
The Deputy Minister further promised “South Africa, through the Presidential lead project called Operation Phakisa, promises to triple our Ocean Protection over the next ten years through the creation of a network of Marine Protected Areas within our Exclusive Economic Zone. This will indeed unlock the economic potential of our oceans whilst increasing our ability to cope with, and adapt to, the impacts of climate change as a developing continent.”
Speaking at the High Level Round Table Discussion on the 18th of November, where leaders discussed ’The Promise of Sydney’ as the main outcome of the week-long Congress, Thomson said emphasis needs to be placed on youth empowerment and participation of communities in the park business. South Africa, she said, would also like the Promise to include:
• Exploring community equity options, entrepreneurship and private sector partnership.
• Unlocking the economic potential of community owned land.
• Unlocking the economic potential of oceans and coast.
• Partnering in combating wildlife crime.
• Building resilience for communities and ecosystems against climate change.
• Improving trans-boundary cooperation.
The High Level Round Table Discussion was hosted by IUCN President, Mr Zhang Xinsheng, attended by Commonwealth and African Ministers, as well as Mr Greg Hunt, the Minister of Environment of Australia, and the New South Wales Minister of Environment, Mr Rob Stokes. This session primarily discussed ’The Promise of Sydney’ which is a joint vision for the decade and beyond on what is needed to achieve transformational change for parks, people and planet. ’The Promise of Sydney’, which includes many of South Africa’s proposals, has been published as the main outcome document of the Congress (http://worldparkscongress.org/about/promise_of_sydney_vision.html ).
‘The Promise of Sydney’, lauds the establishment of new marine protected areas, acknowledges the increasing role of indigenous peoples, community, and privately-conserved areas in reaching biodiversity conservation and societal goals, and the opportunities presented by new communication and other technologies to better understand and engage new constituencies, including young people. The Promise commends numerous improvements to corporate practice, and the many success stories and varied partnerships across sectors for nature conservation and sustainability.
Addressing the High Level Round Table Discussion, Thomson acknowledged the role played by the Southern African Development Community in conservation, particularly since the region’s economy relied heavily on ecosystem goods and services derived from protected areas.
Thomson added that as a developing country it was imperative for South Africa to create jobs and provide economic opportunities that would uplift the lives of the majority of the people whilst conserving biodiversity. The World Parks Congress is held every 10 years. South Africa hosted the 5th Congress in Durban in 2003.
The Minister and Deputy Minister held a number of bilateral meetings and participated in the World Leaders’ Dialogue series where issues such as building resilient parks, sustainable financing of protected areas, strengthening partnerships, the illegal wildlife trade and the value of protected areas to conservation and socio-economic development were discussed.