Biodiversity - our future depends on it
This year - 2010 - has been dedicated to raising global awareness of the abundance of life on Earth and how it all fits together for our survival on this planet.
Minister Sonjica has called on all communities in South Africa to jealously guard their natural resources against looting and destruction.
"Let us all unite in a global alliance to protect Life on Earth: Invest in Biodiversity as you would invest in yourselves." - Buyelwa Sonjica, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs
This year - 2010 - has been dedicated to raising global awareness of the abundance of life on Earth and how it all fits together for our survival on this planet - for the ultimate preservation of life in its great diversity.
The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB) with the aim of engaging people all around the world in protecting life on Earth.
Biodiversity is not just about plants, animals and insects, it is about life - it underpins our survival on this planet. IYB presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of biodiversity for our health, wealth, food and survival, indeed for our life.
Biodiversity lies at the cornerstone of human development. This is particularly true for the poor, as they are most vulnerable from the effects of biodiversity loss. The reason is that many of our communities are directly dependent on biodiversity and ecosystems. Ecosystems supply food and fuel, clean our air and water, and help regulate our climate. In short, ecosystems provide a wide range of services on which our well-being and livelihoods depend.
The Earth as we know it is changing rapidly
Biodiversity is being lost at an unprecedented rate. As much as ten per cent of species assessed so far have an increasingly high risk of extinction. We are witnessing the loss of the very services on which livelihood systems depend. Our communities are being affected by erratic weather patterns. Certain communities are becoming displaced and in places a scramble has begun for natural resources, clean water, air and food. Increasingly precious resources are lost as a result of climate change and urbanisation.
We need to take urgent measures to protect the biological diversity of the Earth. It is projected that our present consumption patterns will require the resources of two planets by the year 2030 if we don't change our wasteful ways.
At the launch of IYB in South Africa, the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Buyelwa Sonjica, told members of the media that South Africans should strive for a more sustainable use of natural resources and for a reduction in habitat loss and climate change. The economic rationale for sustaining biodiversity has become a priority, along with the pressing need to make policymakers and the public more aware of how we all depend on biodiversity and its ecosystem goods and services for our survival and well-being. She challenged South African citizens to act NOW to preserve the environmental services on which we all depend.
"An ethical mindset is needed to find innovative solutions to the local challenges we face - natural disasters, poverty, shrinking water resources, endangered biodiversity, health epidemics, the need for improved service delivery and poverty eradication," Sonjica stated. "Awareness and education must engender a culture of sharing and responsibility towards our planet. It must open hearts and minds. We cannot be party to wilful ignorance."
The circle of life
The Minister indicated that more science was needed to improve decision making, highlighting the importance of the smallest living organism to the largest charismatic species in the circle of life.
"Science knows no boundaries, as knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world," she said. "To be able to track and adapt to changes in biodiversity levels more than ever requires improved knowledge of species and their interactions. This should include recognition of indigenous knowledge."
Communication was singled out as an important vehicle to raise awareness. Sonjica stressed the fact that communication should be simple enough to be understood by all of society - to ensure that everyone joins the movement to conserve life on Earth.
The Minister called on South Africa's local communities to jealously guard their natural resources against looting and destruction. She stated that communities should be made aware of the importance of biodiversity in their daily existence. Indigenous knowledge needs to be harnessed in order to allow communities to adapt to changing conditions.
Communities need to be empowered to join hands with government to deal with unscrupulous people who loot our natural resources to a point of depletion. For working together we can do more to ensure that we build a society that lives in harmony with its environment, whose patterns of consumption are mindful of the devastation that could be visited upon our resources.
South Africa is the world's third most mega-diverse country
The launch of the International Year of Biodiversity in South Africa is particularly momentous as South Africa is the third most mega-diverse country in the world. This means we have a diversity of landscapes and natural beauty to match our diversity in culture and language. However, our country is faced with the double challenge of climate change and loss of biodiversity.
Rural development remains a priority for the South Africa government. Often the rural areas are where the biodiversity hot spots are. Unsustainable developments present pressure on ecosystem integrity and cause habitat destruction and ultimately the loss of biodiversity. Sonjica said that government was aware of environmental crimes that diminish our natural resources even further, such as poaching and illegal hunting and trade.
In conclusion Sonjica called on all of South Africa to embrace the International Year of Biodiversity. The Department of Environmental Affairs has allocated a theme to each month of the year, linking the benefits of biodiversity to society in every possible way.
"Let us not miss this unique opportunity - lost chances are the worst misfortunes," she said, "and this is an opportunity we simply cannot afford to squander. Let us all unite in a global alliance to protect Life on Earth: Invest in Biodiversity as you would invest in yourselves. Biodiversity is life, biodiversity is OUR life."
For more information visit www.environment.gov.za
Monthly IYB themes
January: Biodiversity is LIFE
February: Biodiversity is PRECIOUS
March: Biodiversity is FRESH WATER
April: Biodiversity is FOOD & ENERGY
May: Biodiversity is WEALTH
June: Biodiversity is SECURITY
July: Biodiversity is CLEAN AIR
August: Biodiversity is HEALTH
September: Biodiversity is HERITAGE
October: Biodiversity is BEAUTIFUL
November: Biodiversity is THREATENED
December: Biodiversity is OUR FUTURE