Conservation of Biodiversity

Biodiversity describes the variety of life in an area, including the number of different species, the genetic wealth within each species, the interrelationships between them, and the natural areas where they occur.

An immensely rich species diversity is found in South Africa. With a land surface area of 1,1 million km2 - representing just 1% of the earth's total land surface - South Africa contains almost 10% of the world's total known bird, fish and plant species, and over 6% of the world's mammal and reptile species. This natural wealth is threatened by growing human populations and their demands on the environment.

Unfortunately this immense natural wealth is under extreme pressure resulting from human demands placed on the environment through economic development, agriculture and urbanisation. Invasive alien vegetation and the trade in wildlife also contribute to the problem.


BIODIVERSITY & CLIMATE CHANGE

The Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme and the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) apply an integrated approach in addressing biodiversity and climate change challenges.


They rely on interdisciplinary mechanisms combining science, culture and education, to:

find solutions for reducing the current rate of biodiversity loss for the benefits of both the environment and human populations around the globe and

support the implementation of relevant provisions under the main multilateral environmental agreements dealing with biodiversity, including the Convention on Biological Diversity.


The MAB Programme and WNBR are also committed to realizing the main objectives of the UNESCO Strategy for Action on Climate Change to:

build and maintain the climate change knowledge base through science, assessment, monitoring and early warning, and

promote mitigation and adaptation to climate change, including through enhanced education and public awareness.


BIODIVERSITY AS AN ECONOMIC STRATEGY

Conservation is not only a key issue in the South African environmental arena, but the use of biological resources has been identified as a key economic strategy of millions of rural dwellers in South Africa .

In the 20th century, environmental concerns have indeed come to the fore and several conferences, treaties and agreements have been concluded. Among these is the United Nation’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an international treaty that focussed on the conservation of biodiversity and to which South Africa is a signatory.

The three key objectives of the Convention are the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of biological resources, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

CONSERVATION IN THE APARTHEID ERA

With an astounding conservation history, South Africa is seemingly one of the world’s conservation leaders. However, colouring this   achievement is the ideological framework within which much conservation activities were undertaken in the 20th century – apartheid.

Viewed with suspicion and mistrust, conservation officials in South Africa adopted a “wildlife-centred, preservationist approach, which appealed almost exclusively to the affluent, educated, mainly white minority. ”Amid forced removals in the name of conservation, black poverty, as well as lack of access to protected areas, conservation efforts received little support. These perceptions underwent a shift with the widespread political changes of the 1990s.”

The wave of political changes that swept the country also resulted in a shift in the environmental movement. From a narrow, preservationist approach the movement has since adopted a holistic approach in which the boundaries between the environment and socio-political and economic concerns are transcended.

CONSERVATION AND THE POST-APARTHEID GOVERNMENT

Biodiversity conservation in South Africa was initially regarded as synonymous with nature conservation. While a key outcome of this approach was the establishment of an impressive network of national parks, recent efforts are broadening biodiversity conservation to incorporate developmental concerns.

These efforts are an outcome of significant policy and institutional shifts initiated with the inception of the post-apartheid government. Noteworthy among these was the consultative process that resulted in the establishment of a comprehensive policy on biodiversity conservation in South Africa.

This policy incorporated the following key principles in line with the objectives of the Convention of Biological Diversity.

The commitment to an integrated approach to the environment, essentially encapsulated in the term sustainable development, has since been demonstrated in several initiatives explicitly linking economic and social development objectives with biodiversity conservation.