‘New Deal’ strategic biodiversity White Paper published for public comment (South Africa)


Schalk Burger, Engineering News

Date Published

The Draft White Paper on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity in South Africa has been published for public comment. 

Despite having a range of biodiversity and sustainable use legislation and policies, biodiversity loss continues to threaten the health of ecosystems and the survival of species, and results in negative impacts for livelihoods and the economy. 

Global change, habitat loss and degradation, invasive alien species, overharvesting and illegal harvesting all threaten South Africa’s biodiversity, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) said on July 11. 

“The White Paper will be relevant to the historical, socioeconomic and environmental context of South Africa and the aspirations and needs of the people. It is a New Deal to ensure people will not only be living in harmony with nature, but that both people and nature will thrive,” said Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy. 

Cabinet in June approved the draft White Paper on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa’s Biodiversity for public comment, emphasising that “South Africa’s biodiversity provides an important basis for economic growth and development, and is critical to people’s livelihoods”. 

The draft White Paper gives effect to the recommendations made by the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLP) appointed in 2019 to review South Africa’s current policies, legislation and practices on matters of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling, said Creecy. 

“Over two decades since democracy, the biodiversity sector remains substantially untransformed and there is inequality in access to benefits arising from biodiversity and associated ecosystem services. Further, the sector has not reached its potential in terms of its contribution to the national economy and gross domestic product.

“Biodiversity and its use is a catalytic engine of rural economies, and the value chains that emerge from these need to be fully realised,” she said. 

The White Paper will reshape ecologically sustainable use of components of biodiversity, in a manner which foregrounds the responsibilities incumbent on use, including ensuring species persistence and the ecological integrity of ecosystems, she highlighted. 

Social responsibilities are also emphasised in the White Paper, by ensuring that continued benefits to people are fair, equitable and meet the needs and aspirations of present and future generations.

Additionally, in the case of animals, use must be humane and not compromise their wellbeing. 

The White Paper emphasises partnerships and adopting participatory and consensus approaches throughout the biodiversity sector, which will promote meaningful participation and influence of all stakeholders, with communal rather than individual outcomes. 

“These shifts will provide a clear understanding of the intent and aspirations of South Africa, in terms of promoting conservation in order to achieve protection of the environment for present and future generations, as well as securing ecologically sustainable use to promote justifiable economic and social development.” 

The draft White Paper sets out a vision for a “prosperous nation, living in harmony with nature, where biodiversity is conserved for present and future generations, and secures equitable livelihoods and improved human well-being”.

To accomplish this, the mission is to conserve South Africa’s biodiversity and maintain and/or restore ecological integrity, connectivity, processes and systems, with resulting ecosystem services providing transformative socioeconomic development benefits to the nation, through justifiable, responsible, ecologically sustainable and socially equitable use of components of biodiversity. 

This outcome is encapsulated in the impact statement of “Thriving People and Nature”. The draft White Paper also sets out important principles which will guide future policy, legislation and decision-making across the sector. 

“There is a need for us to do things differently. Through the White Paper, South Africa will adopt an enabling definition and understanding of biodiversity conservation that releases South Africa from the shackles of the past, and which emphasises the constitutional imperatives within the environmental right, but also which will improve the wellbeing of people consistent with Ubuntu,” Creecy said.

The White Paper also proposes the adoption of a philosophical framing of Ubuntu for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, emphasising an African approach that is consistent with the traditions, culture, knowledge and aspirations of African people in terms of defining their wellbeing. 

“This will empower communities and traditional leaders and healers as influential and impactful leaders of the sector, and as equal and meaningful participants, as well as to ensure and enhance the spiritual and sacred contribution of nature to people, especially forefronting the close connection of African people with nature and the environment, and of living in harmony with nature,” Creecy averred.