South Africa is on the cusp of a major investment in infrastructure, but are we adequately investing in ecological infrastructure to support our national development priorities of service delivery, job creation and economic growth? This was the central issue debated at the recent Dialogue on Ecological Infrastructure hosted by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) Grasslands Programme at the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA).
Ecological infrastructure refers to ecosystems that deliver valuable services to people and underpin socio-economic development as explained by the Director General of the Department of Environmental Affairs, Nosipho Ngcaba. It includes healthy mountain catchments, rivers, wetlands and coastal dunes that are the nature-based equivalent of built or hard infrastructure.
“South Africans derive a wealth of benefits daily from well managed, healthy and intact ecosystems. The most critical of these benefits are water and food security. We receive these services from nature from well managed ecological infrastructure. Ecological infrastructure is the nature-based equivalent of built infrastructure or social infrastructure. It is just as important for providing services and underpinning socio-economic development.” Said Ngcaba
The two day event was organised in partnership with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) - Global Environment Facility (GEF) and featured inputs from leading thinkers, decision-makers and practitioners from multiple sectors. It was a cross-disciplinary dialogue among government, labour, business and civil society on the role of ecological infrastructure in South Africa’s growth and development trajectory.
“When we seek to increase the investment on ecological infrastructure and environment as whole, we must be able to link it with the society”. This was an explanation given by Kuben Naidoo who headed the secretariat of the National Planning Commission, and is currently seconded to the DBSA; as to why we’re thinking about ecosystems as ecological infrastructure and seeking to recognise their contribution. A need for stronger evidence of the benefits of investing in ecological infrastructure was however highlighted. Evidence is needed to showcase jobs created, to the role of ecological infrastructure in the delivery of services such as clean water, the buffer role played by EI in averting downstream damage and contamination in better managed catchments, and EI’ s contribution to our economy. While scientists should continue to build this evidence base, it was also argued that some brave decisions and leadership is needed to show dividends over the long term.
Day two of the conference took a close look at the biodiversity information and tools currently being used to support integrated development planning, better decision making in the mining sector, rural development through biodiversity stewardship, and service delivery. However the realities of the challenges we need to address and the trade-offs we need to make are clearly evident in South Africa’s water, food and energy nexus on the Mpumalanga Highveld. A key conclusion of a panel discussion on this topic, and a central issue emerging from the entire conference, was that moving forward towards more a sustainable development future in South Africa requires greater cooperation amongst all sectors of society to make decisions that optimise the contributions of different sectors towards economic development across a landscape.
A fact sheet on ecological infrastructure can be downloaded at http://www.grasslands.org.za/images/Ecological_Infrastructure_Fact_Sheet.pdf
For more information about this Dialogue on Ecological Infrastructure please visit http://www.grasslands.org.za/document-archive/category/15-dialogue-on-ecological-infrastructure.