One of the most biodiverse countries in the world, with the most robust economy on the African continent, South Africa faces challenges such as income inequality and water scarcity. With a history of accounting for its natural wealth and commitment to a green economy through private sector partnerships, South Africa is leading the way forward on sustainable development.
As determined by Conservation International, South Africa is ranked the sixth most megadiverse country in the world, meaning a country containing a majority of the Earth’s plant and animal species. South Africa is abundant in resources beyond just biodiversity. The nation has a large endowment of fossil fuel reserves and precious metals. Despite these rich resource endowments, South Africa faces issues due to physical scarcity of another resource, water. Water scarcity affects the country’s agriculture system causing social, economic and environmental trade-offs to mitigate. Resource constraints have compounded the high rates of poverty, unemployment and inequality in the country.
The Republic of South Africa is located in the southern most point of the African continent. The 1.2 million square kilometer of terrestrial area is composed of variable and unique landscapes including plateaus, rugged mountains and narrow coastal plains. South Africa has a climate that is mostly semi-arid to subtropical. In the bushveld and savannah regions Africa’s “big five”: elephant; rhino; lion; leopard and buffalo can still be found. Other quintessential African wildlife such as hippos, zebra, giraffe, crocodiles, kudu and wildebeest can be seen roaming South Africa’s plains. Major reserves such as the Kruger National Park, Hluhluwe Umfolozi Park and Pilanesberg National Park maintain populations of these species. Despite these reserves, species are still competing for habitat as 79.4% of South Africa’s land is used for agricultural purposes. Only 7.6% of forest cover remains.
With almost 3,000 km of coastline, the country is known for its coastal habitats and marine wildlife. Off the coast lies an active volcano which continues to form the Marion and Prince Edward Islands, which are known for their penguins, seals and albatross. The South African seas are also rich in a variety of fish species which provide for larger animals like South Africa’s eight different whale species and the infamous great white shark. Fisheries play a critical role in South Africa’s economy, making up %0.5 of gross domestic product (GDP) and providing livelihoods for over 140,000 people. It is understood that a comprehensive approach to fisheries management is needed to meet man’s growing demands on marine ecosystems.
The South African economy is the most robust on the continent. The abundant supply of natural resources has assisted the country in reaching its middle income, emerging market status. The nation’s stock exchange is Africa’s largest and among the top 20 worldwide. The biggest industries are mining (chromium, platinum, and gold) as well as industrial production. Agricultural exports play a crucial role in the economy, with the main exports being corn, wheat, fruits, beef, poultry, and dairy products. Despite this strong economy unemployment rates remain high, at 25%. Unemployment and the large wealth gap complicate issues of poverty in the nation. The percentage of population below the poverty line is still around 35%.
South Africa and the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa
South Africa already has many moving initiatives which complement the Gaborone Declarations goals and outcomes. The Gaborone Declaration will be able to work with South Africa to build cohesion among existing national plans to move towards a green economy and to continue to develop the nation’s natural capital accounts. Demonstration of the Declaration aims to prioritize the green economy report and focus on the use of renewable energies as well as developing a META and sustainable indicator framework. With the support of the Gaborone Declaration Secretariat as well as other Gaborone Declaration signatory countries, South Africa can successfully continue on its path to sustainable development and a green economy.
National Strategies and Poverty Eradication
The Government of South Africa has development a series of development policies and strategies, the most relevant of which is the National Development Plan (NDP) 2030: Our Future- Make it Work, which was released in 2011. This plan focuses on environmental sustainability, poverty eradication and greening the economy with lots of parallels to the goals of the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa. Environmental reporting is also well established throughout South Africa. National, provincial and municipal reports have been continually published since the first National State of the Environment report was released in October 1999. Throughout this reporting there are many strategies which will help South Africa to work towards the goals of the Gaborone Declaration, including the Natural Strategy for Sustainable Development and Action Plan 1 & 2, the Environmental Assessment and Management Strategy among others.
South Africa has understood the importance of moving towards a green economy to protect natural capital and eradicate poverty. In 2014 the Draft Policy and Strategy Framework for Green Economy in the Context of Sustainable Development: Towards Implementation of the National Development Plan was released. This strategy views sustainable development as a path based on addressing the interdependence between economic growth, social protection and natural ecosystems.
Natural Capital Accounting
South Africa has a relatively long history of incorporating natural capital into its national accounting system. Through its natural capital accounting the country has committed to implementing the UN’s System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) framework and has developed natural capital accounting reports in the following areas: water (2000), energy (2002-2006), land (2004) and fisheries (1990-2008).
Private Sector Partnerships
South Africa’s national plans and policies discuss the importance of incorporating the private sector in order to achieve national development goals. This is an area where South Africa has lots of space to grow. Industries such as agriculture, fisheries and mining are important to South Africa’s economy and are a space where private sector partnerships are encouraged. Frameworks such as South Africa’s Consumer Goods Council and Climate Innovation Center are in place to work and partner with the private sector to move towards the nation’s green economy.
Image credits, top to bottom: © Wilderness Foundation/image by Chris Marais © Peter Wollinga; © Conservation International/photo by Jessica Leas
South Africa Quick Facts
79.4% of South Africa’s land is used for agricultural purposes and only 7.6% of forest cover remains, leading to competition among species for habitat.
Fisheries play a critical role in South Africa’s economy, making up %0.5 of gross domestic product (GDP) and providing livelihoods for over 140,000 people.
Due to unemployment and a large wealth gap, the percentage of population below the poverty line in South Africa remains around 35%.
Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa Focal Point for South Africa
Mr. Stuart Mangold
Pretoria, South Africa