South Africa has been urged to support the Global Deal for Nature proposal to conserve at least 30% of the world's land and oceans by 2030 at the fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held in China, in April and May.
Conserving and protecting these areas will provide up to 33% of climate change mitigation and curb biodiversity loss to sustain the $125-trillion-a-year services the world gets from nature, say conservation and environmental advocacy organisations.
Conserving 30% of land and sea areas will cost only 0.2% of global gross domestic product (GDP) and reduce the number of vulnerable species by 90%, while contributing to the renewal and regeneration of species and ecosystems, says science and exploration organisation National Geographic US explorer in residence and Pristine Seas executive director Dr Enric Sala.
The World Economic Forum estimates that $44-trillion of economic value generation, more than half of global GDP, depends moderately or highly on nature and its services.
"Nature is important for the economy. If countries care about long-term economic development, then they must protect nature and the critical ecosystem services that support the rest of their economies.
"Nature is foundational to economies and, if we can live in harmony with nature, we can rely on the benefits it produces indefinitely," says University of British Colombia ocean bioeconomics and fisheries economics Professor and Institute for Oceans and Fisheries director Dr Rashid Sumaila.
However, these services are typically not priced and are not accounted for in global markets, which means they are over-exploited and massively underfunded. The current rate of destruction of nature causes an estimated $1.4-trillion of economic losses each year, equivalent to 1.6% of global GDP.
Globally, only 15% of land and 7% of oceans are protected. Doubling protected lands and more than quadrupling protected ocean areas will not only provide sufficient protection for species to sustain themselves, but selecting the right areas to conserve and protect will lead to regeneration of especially overfished fish stocks, renewal of ravaged ecosystems and contribute greater economic benefits than currently, says Sala.
South Africa has 418 000 jobs directly related to biodiversity and conservation, according to the South African National Biodiversity Institute and, if protected areas are expanded, the country can push this to 650 000 jobs, marine advocacy and Wild Coast protection communications specialist Ruth Mthembu points out.
Prior to 2018, only 0.4% of South Africa's exclusive economic waters were protected, but this was increased to 5% of its waters being designated marine protected areas (MPAs). The combined economic benefits from the ocean economy and coastal tourism is about R13.5-billion a year. Advocacy groups are supporting a drive to increase MPAs to 10% of South Africa's waters.
"To preserve our nature services, we must protect enough of it and it is far less costly to conserve than to restore an ecosystem," she adds.
Similarly, the nature sector is projected to achieve between 4% and 6% compound yearly growth for the foreseeable future, while nature-based sectors, such as agriculture and timber, are projected to grow by less than 1% a year for the foreseeable future, notes conservation organisation WildOceans South Africa MPA project youth coordinator Merrisa Naidoo.
"[Conserving and protecting 30% of lands and seas by 2030] is the minimum down payment we must make to keep our global life support system in operation," she emphasises.
The average return on investment in conservation is about five-fold, garnering $5 for each $1 invested. Similarly, each job in conservation creates and sustains five jobs in other areas of the economy, highlights Sala.
"Nature conservation is not in conflict with development, but is fundamental for economic development strategies. The economic benefits far outweigh the costs, not least investing 0.2% of GDP a year to reduce or eliminate 1.6% GDP loss a year," he adds.
A 2021 study showed that, if the world protects the right 30% of oceans, it would not only preserves marine life and the benefits it provides, but also help to reduce carbon emissions by a similar level to that produced by the global aviation industry each year, he illustrates.
"If we conserve the right 30%, we will also increase the global fishing catch. Best practice fisheries management will prevent further loss, but is insufficient for the oceans to regenerate. However, if these areas are protected correctly, the populations of species will spill over into areas where they may be caught, and this increase will exceed the foregone catches. This means we will have a net gain in fish and stronger food security," emphasises Sala.
Sumaila, meanwhile, adds that there is sufficient information for countries to identify the correct areas of land and sea to conserve and protect by overlaying ecological information, such as vulnerable areas and biodiversity hotspots, with economic information.
"This approach deals with both sides of the equation and enables countries and policy makers to identify the areas that are rich in biodiversity and the most vulnerable areas because they support economic activity, and these are the areas we must protect the most," he says.
Additionally, the 30% by 2030 (30x30) campaign is not only about expanding protected areas, but also about improving the quality and quantity of conservation areas, says Sala.
"The 30x30 campaign is not a national goal, but a global goal. However, not every country has the same responsibilities. For some, setting aside 30% of national lands would be impractical; for others it would be impractical not to conserve more than 30%.
"The first step is to secure the global agreement at COP15, and then see how much each sovereign State commits to furthering this goal in conjunction with local communities and scientists. The 30x30 Campaign for Nature is supported by 80 governments, half of which are from the Global South and 24 from Africa," says Sala.
South Africa is one of 36 mega-biodiverse hotspots on Earth. However, 18% of its natural habitats have been lost and 40% of its terrestrial areas are under threat. South Africa's government must support the 30x30 proposal to protect the wellbeing of South Africa's people and its land, says Wildlands South Africa marketing and communications deputy director Buyisiwe Makhoba-Dlamini.
"In terms of rural development, there are lots of jobs in biodiversity activities outside urban areas, although there is a need to upskill and empower people in rural areas to fulfil these functions. Further, jobs in many subsectors of biodiversity and conservation are labour-absorptive and labour-intensive, as well as being sustainable," she says.
"South Africa is a leader in community and communal land management and is ahead of many other countries in terms of conservation and protected areas, including MPAs," says Sala.
South Africa's conservation actions can send strong signals to other African countries and help garner support from other African countries to increase protection of natural treasures, adds Naidoo.
"The environmental benefits of protecting land and sea include protecting biodiversity, which is the foundation of ecosystem health, protecting critical habitats, mitigating against climate change and supporting natural carbon capture processes.
"The social benefits of nature conservation include food security, continuation of cultural and spiritual heritage and reduced pandemics owing to healthier environments," she says.
The Campaign for Nature is a global campaign and a global effort which needs South Africa's support and leadership. It is an ambitious goal, but achievable, and the proposal is not only about curbing biodiversity loss and storing carbon, but about bolstering long-term economic growth, says conservation agency Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal wildlife biodiversity stewardship and economy acting manager Tembisa Jordaan.