Opinion & Analysis

South Africa and sustainability
Kim Carstensen (FSC Director General)

Originally published in the Durban Daily News on 3 August 2015

Conferences on sustainability risk are being dismissed as mere talking shops. Nevertheless, several such events this year present crucial opportunities to move the world towards sustainable use of natural resources.

But that requires political will and personal activism, backed by science.


Climate change in South Africa

In the context of South Africa that could scarcely be more important: it is a country that has unique flora and fauna that can provide a competitive economic advantage globally if managed judiciously.

But those species and systems are also pressured by climate change which can cause extreme weather. It alters habitats, imperils species and is linked directly to our food-, water- and energy-security. Those threats hit South Africa’s poor first and hardest, those with the fewest choices or resources.

So, we don’t need to look far to see that we need urgently to reinvent our relationship with the natural systems that sustain us, locally and globally.

From acid-mine drainage crisis in South Africa, to deadly pollution in China’s cities and the acidification of our oceans, we have a clear mandate to act. We have compelling opportunities to do so.

Forests and forestry

In September, Durban will host the XIV World Forestry Congress (WFC), a crucial opportunity to ensure sustainable management of the lungs of the earth.

Forests are essential to life on our planet, to mitigating and adapting to climate change, ensuring an adequate supply of fresh water, enhancing biodiversity and providing sustainable incomes and livelihoods, including food security. But they face unprecedented and unrelenting pressures.

The WFC aims to help position forestry as an integral part of sustainable development at all levels – regional, national, and global.

It will also seek to identify and review major issues facing forests and forestry and propose technical, scientific and policy interventions to promote forest sustainability.

Progress has been made in bringing seven percent of the world’s forests under stewardship through credible certification, but clearly much work remains.

A global view

Successful and fruitful forums like this will add important impetus to, for example, the UN Climate Change Conference, COP21, in Paris in December.

UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, recently announced his Road to Dignity report and called for “a universal and transformative agenda that places people and planet at the centre, is underpinned by human rights, and is supported by a global partnership”.

Sustainable use of natural resources provides business, government, civil society and ordinary citizens with the opportunity to ensure “some, for all, forever” rather than “all, for some, for now”.

That opportunity must be catalysed by conscious consumer demand, conscientious business, and a committed and enabling legislative environment.

Driving the message home

So we must drive home the message that sustainability isn’t simply some middle-class indulgence. Successful environmental and conservation efforts must, by definition, be community and people-centred.

The conference in Durban in September represents an excellent opportunity for focusing the attention of media and their audiences. It is also a chance to address audiences beyond the environmental sector.

But for that to be achieved – before, during and beyond the conference – communications must be sustained and strategic to be effective and drive behavioural change.

Our viability as a species pivots on preserving the natural systems that sustain us, and on finding the will and the way to do so.