Two measures have been approved by Cabinet to assist in addressing threats to the country’s biodiversity.
During a virtual Cabinet meeting on November 18, the updated National Protected Areas Expansion Strategy and the revised National Biodiversity Framework (NBF) were approved.
The NBF and the National Protected Areas Expansion Strategy are existing policy instruments for protecting species and ecosystems.
Through the release of the National Biodiversity Assessment by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi) in 2019, the country is able to better target future protected area expansion, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) said in a statement on November 25.
The assessment has also assisted with South Africa’s national and international reporting obligations, including the state of environment reporting, and the Convention on Biological Diversity Country Report – reporting against Aichi Targets or the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Revised NBF has been approved for public comment. The sectoral plan addresses the biodiversity threats identified during the scientific assessment of the state of biodiversity and ecosystems in South Africa by Sanbi.
The findings were published in the National Biodiversity Assessment in 2019, which requires a review of the framework every five years.
The most critical areas in the assessment report relate to fresh water ecosystems, rivers and estuaries, with fresh-water fish being the most vulnerable of all the species.
The DEFF noted that South Africa was a water scarce country and pressures on biodiversity such as illegal trade in species, land degradation, habitat loss and exponential population growth were key factors that risk infectious disease outbreaks such as Covid-19.
“Continued investment in healthy ecosystems in terms of management, conservation and restoration of ecosystems and biodiversity is crucial for water, food and energy security, disease and natural disaster control, climate change resilience; and for post-Covid-19 economic recovery.
"Strong commitment and cooperation across all spheres of government is essential for the implementation of the NBF as one of the National Development Plan’s accelerators,” it said.
The 2019 to 2024 NBF is said to coordinate and align the efforts of the various roleplayers in the conservation and management of South Africa’s biodiversity in support of sustainable development.
The review of the NBF was done so that a different approach could be taken in terms of biological management, an area in which there have been a number of changes since the first NBF was developed more than 12 years ago.
The proposed NBF notes that, while there are a range of national policies, strategies, frameworks and other systems either in place, or being developed, to guide the work in certain areas of the biodiversity sector, an integrated, coordinated and consistent approach to biodiversity management is highlighted for the sector.
It provides for the identification of priority areas for conservation action, and for the establishment of protected areas. It also reflects on regional cooperation concerning biodiversity management in Southern Africa, and identifies interventions that can be used to accelerate implementation of high-level priorities of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) over the next five years.
Monitoring the implementation of the NBF will be coordinated by the NBSAP Forum.
Meanwhile, the updated National Protected Areas Expansion Strategy has been approved for implementation.
As one of 17 mega-biodiverse countries in the world, the country’s protected areas are the cornerstone of South Africa’s approach to conserving and managing the wealth of biodiversity assets and ecological infrastructure.
Effective management of biodiversity contributes to creating jobs in the tourism and nature conservation sectot, while serving as areas for research. Protected areas also hold multiple benefits for development, the DEFF noted.
The strategy is a 20-year plan for the expansion of protected areas and highlights how the country can become more efficient and effective in allocating the scarce human and financial resources available for protected area expansion.
It sets protected area targets, maps priority areas for protected area expansion to ensure no further ecosystems become critically endangered, and makes recommendations on mechanisms to achieve this. The common set of targets and spatial priorities enables improved coordination between all roleplayers involved in protected area expansion.
The targets are designed to achieve overall Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi targets, while optimally shifting the emphasis onto high biodiversity value ecosystems. The identified priority areas cover a 190 109 km2, in addition to the 73 610 km2 of mostly marine areas currently under negotiation.
The three main mechanisms for expanding the land-based protected area network include the acquisition of land as the traditional way of establishing and expanding protected areas, which involves large upfront costs; contract agreements in which landowners maintain ownership of their land but enter into a contract with a protected area agency; and the declaration of public or State land as a conservation area with management transferred to a protected area agency.
The strategy is reviewed and updated every five years.