South Africa Can Show the World How to Protect Nature and Prosper


In A Critical Year for Biodiversity, South Africa Can Show the World How to Protect Nature and Prosper


Conservationists and youth leaders call on the government to join global movement to preserve at least 30% of the planet by 2030


Yesterday, at a virtual event organized by National Geographic South Africa, expert scientists, conservationists and youth leaders called on the government to commit to the United Nations proposed global target of protecting at least 30% of the Earth’s land and oceans by 2030 (30x30).  

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“Nature is in a state of crisis,”

explained Ruth Mthembu, an environmental communications expert and member of Youth for Marine Protected Areas (Youth4MPAs) movement.

“One million plant and animal species face extinction, many within decades because of human activity. Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that conserving  at least 30% of our land and ocean will curb biodiversity loss, store carbon, prevent future pandemics and bolster economic growth.”


Research indicates that meeting the 30% target could protect up to 80% of plant and animal species, and secure 60% of the planet’s carbon stocks and 66% of the planet’s clean water.

The virtual event comes on the heels of the launch of the 30x30 NOW campaign, by conservationists and activists from across the country which aims to highlight the urgency of the biodiversity crisis and to champion the 30x30 goal. It also looks ahead to a United Nations gathering in March in Geneva, Switzerland, where delegates from more than 190 countries will start negotiations again on a global plan to halt the biodiversity crisis. Negotiations will culminate later this year at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) in Kunming, China. 

Speakers laid out the overwhelming evidence that shows how conservation creates jobs. One study by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) found that there are more than 418,000 biodiversity related jobs in South Africa, and each job dedicated to protecting biodiversity makes possible five jobs in economic sectors that use biodiversity. 


“Most people think that by protecting nature we are stopping economic development, but protecting nature is actually protecting our economy,”

said Dr. Rashid Sumaila, Professor at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at The University of British Columbia.

“Estimates have shown that nature supports about US$125 trillion worth of ecosystem services that feed other sectors.” 


The evidence that environmental and economic progress are linked is particularly evident in South Africa, the speakers said. The country already has one of the most sophisticated systems for integrating conservation into rural development plans and boasts numerous successful case studies. 

Speakers highlighted Somkhanda Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal and iSimangaliso Wetland Park on the coast of KwaZulu-Natal, whose thriving wild ecosystems support sustainable livelihoods for people living in and near them.


“Somkhanda has given many people jobs in conserving and managing biodiversity,”

said Buyi Makhoba Dlamini of WildTrust.

“It can be a benchmark for what other communities can do.”  


“If we are to achieve the 30x30 target, it is critical that we provide the local people, the indigenous communities, an opportunity as well, because they are dependent on these natural systems,”

added Sinegugu Zukulu, program manager for Sustaining the Wild Coast.


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South Africa is a megadiverse country — one of only 17 in the world — and no stranger to the benefits of protected areas. It has already increased both marine and mainland protected areas — to 15.5% and 15.66%, respectively. 

This makes South Africa a leader in conservation globally, but speakers cautioned that it is now crucial that the government commit to the new target of 30x30 to not fall behind. They also emphasized the global nature of the 30x30 goal, stressing that once the global agreement is reached, how much each country protects will remain a sovereign decision made in conjunction with communities and scientists.

The speakers specifically urged the government to assert its environmental leadership and join the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People (HAC), a group of more than 80 countries, 25 of which are from Africa, calling for swift and sure progress toward the 30x30 goal. 


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“South Africa has been a leader of the African continent in many aspects, and by providing support for the global 30x30 target, our country would be paving the way to garner the support of other African countries,”

added Merrisa Naidoo, a youth leader with Youth4MPAs.

“Our time is now. 30X30 represents the minimum down payment present generations must make to keep our global life support system in operation for the generations to come.”


Dr. Enric Sala, Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society, added that the benefits far outweigh the costs and that finance is increasing for conservation. He said, 

“Protecting 30% of the world’s land and ocean would require just 0.16% of global GDP,”

and he continued,

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“Donor governments are already increasing their commitments to finance biodiversity and Jeff Bezos and other philanthropists have just committed US$5 billion to protecting 30% of the planet by 2030 and are prioritizing funding to the countries that are committed to the 30x30 target.”


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