South Africa: Prioritise Environmental Conservation - President Ramaphosa

As countries across the world grapple with rebuilding their economies amid the destruction caused by COVID-19, President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on governments to prioritise environmental conservation.

President Ramaphosa made the call during his address at the virtual Summit on Biodiversity taking place on the sidelines of the 75th United Nations General Assembly.

"The Coronavirus pandemic has had badly affected the ability of national economies to respond to challenges like environmental degradation and climate change. But even as we prioritise economic revival and reconstruction, we must maintain our collective commitment to environmental conservation," he said on Wednesday.

The President said this was even more important considering that there are strong linkages between environmental destruction and the emergence of new deadly diseases in humans.

"Biodiversity loss, deforestation, the loss of farmland, animal habitat loss and the consumption of wild species are creating conditions for infectious diseases that we will soon be unable to control.

"South Africa commits to working with the UN Environment Programme in the development of tools to track the future emergence of Zoonotic disease," he said.

South Africa is the third most mega biodiverse country in the world, with unique species and ecosystems found nowhere else on earth.

South Africa as a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, is working to conserve its biodiversity, promote its sustainable use and ensure the benefits of the commercial use of genetic resources are fairly distributed.

"We have a Biodiversity Economy strategy that integrates the sustainable management of biodiversity with job and business creation opportunities.

"We have increased our territorial protected areas and our protected ocean space," said the President.

In pursuit of sustainable development, President Ramaphosa said recovery strategies should strike a balance between environmental and economic imperatives.

"We need a holistic approach to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 15 on halting biodiversity loss. As responsible global citizens, we need to change our behaviour and consumption patterns and integrate approaches to improve conservation of species and ecosystems," he said.

President Ramaphosa punted the need to adopt sustainable land management practices, restore degraded lands, implement sustainable food production models and develop more climate-friendly agriculture.

"There needs to be a shift away from economic models that value growth for growth's sake towards a circular economy.

"We must engage with local communities, drawing on traditional knowledge, and promote the inclusion of women and indigenous populations in bioprospecting and other sectors," he said.

As countries emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic, the President called on countries to raise the ambition of their biodiversity targets and also ensure that the recovery effort fosters greater and not less harmony with nature.

"Through improved awareness, collaboration and collective determination, we can ensure that we build back both better and greener," he said.

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