Managing biodiversity and ecosystems allows the opportunity to create thousands of jobs and deliver on South Africa’s new growth-path framework.
This is according to Kristal Maze, chief director of bioregional programmes at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) at the two-day Biodiversity: Powering the Green Economy conference, hosted by the SANBI Grasslands Programme in partnership with the Transnet Programme in Sustainable Development at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), this week.
“Biodiversity is about our vast wealth, and the development path of South Africa. It is about the variety of life, and it offers a suite of natural solutions in the face of climate change,” says Nosipho Ngcaba, director-general of the Department of Environmental Affairs.
The need to demystify ‘biodiversity’ in people’s minds, and understand that it is not separate to economic growth and development in South Africa, but is critical to the sustainability of livelihoods and economic activities across the board was emphasised by Dr Tanya Abrahamse, CEO of SANBI.
“Through careful science we have determined the areas that are important for sustainability – these are the areas that are most important to biodiversity and ecosystem services, using the least amount of land possible” Maze adds.
“Sustainability has never been more pertinent for business in South Africa,” says Donald Gibson, director: Transnet Programme in Sustainable Development at GIBS.
Complexity, uncertainty and unpredictability are a challenge to business and society, and there is a need to mainstream sustainability into business and society. “We need to explore the value creation opportunities and potential of the green economy – a smarter, more efficient, more effective and more resilient economy that will help up solve our development challenges” he says.
The green economy broadly refers to making use of ‘green’ products and services in contributing to overall economic growth, poverty alleviation and sustainable development. Traditionally, issues such as renewable energy and carbon emissions have taken precedence in debates and policy decisions, overshadowing an understanding of the importance of ecological ‘services and infrastructure’ in the economic space.
The importance of South Africa transitioning to a green economy in terms of improving its competitiveness, particularly in the face of a changing climate was the topic of discussion for panelists including Dr Guy Preston, DDG of DEA Natural Resource Management, and Ravi Naidoo, group executive of DBSA who both emphasised that we need to take a long term view to see the benefits of better natural resource management today, and that there is consensus that decision-makers today need to take the future more seriously into account.
Andrew Donaldson, DDG of the National Treasury emphasised that SANBI is a national treasure because it has a knowledge base that can be used to reduce the cost of business decision-making by providing greater certainty of where development will result in negative impacts and therefore should be avoided.
Maze had made the point earlier that by managing catchments and planning in tandem we can get better return on investments for hard infrastructure, like dams and bridges.