Speech by the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor MP, at the opening of Rio Convention pavilion, COP17, Durban
29 Nov 2011Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed elders of indigenous peoples from the four corners of the world - east, west, north, south, it is my great honour and privilege to welcome you to South Africa, to welcome you to the cradle of humankind.
This event offers an exciting opportunity to highlight both scientific and indigenous knowledge on adaptation and mitigation to climate change.
The indigenous knowledge of many communities embodies a deeply spiritualised and ancient relationship with the earth’s systems and cycles.
Traditional songs and languages, clothing, architecture, foods, motifs, daily rituals and mythological epics contain local survival information.
Moreover, the diversity of indigenous cultures provides unique insights into how to live harmoniously within nature.
By sharing indigenous stories of vulnerability and adaptation, we learn how communities share ideas on how ancestral wisdom is being incorporated into climatic adaptation strategies.
By cherishing the value of indigenous knowledge, we can discover how best to adapt to a changing climate.
The San and Khoi, the earliest people to live in South Africa, were among the first to record and document their struggles against the challenges of climate change through rock-art that dates back almost 80,000 years.
Indigenous communities all over the world have used their local knowledge to interact with the environment.
By integrating scientific studies with indigenous observation, these multiple forms of knowledge will shape a comprehensive understanding of the complex challenges posed by climate change.
Climate change and biodiversity
South Africa has a key role to play in facilitating discussion of the climate-change issues. South Africa is one of the world’s top three bio-diverse nations. Brazil and Indonesia are the other two.
Last year was, as I’m sure you all know, the United Nations’ (UN) International Year of Biodiversity.
As part of that process the UN published a biodiversity report that made a powerful economic case for global action to stop the destruction of the natural world.
The report argued that the economic value of saving the natural world – so that we have fertile soil, and clean air and water – is an integral part of the argument for acting on climate change.
In fact, as Ahmed Djoghlaf, the secretary-general of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity says, climate change and protecting biodiversity are two sides of the same coin. “Climate change cannot be solved without action on biodiversity, and vice versa."
The diversity of life is crucial to our health, wealth and well-being.
The message is clear. We need to cherish the natural world and not to destroy it.
South Africa, as the third most biodiverse country in the world, has between 250 000 and a million species of organisms, most of which occur nowhere else in the world.
Science and technology initiatives to support and conserve our rich biodiversity have always been a major area of focus for the Department of Science and Technology.
This is evident in the important initiatives supported by the department and which include the South African Biosystematics Initiative (SABI), the South African Biodiversity Information Facility (SABIF), the BiobankSouth Africa, managed by the National Zoological Gardens at the National Research Foundation (NRF), the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB), the Elwandle Node of the South African Environmental Observation Network and the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme or African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme (ACEP).
Youth and women
Africa is a young continent. Africa’s population is the youngest of any region of the world: six out of ten Africans are under the age of 25.
This is the challenge we have. All over the world young people are worried about their future. We exclude them from this debate at our peril. This is why the African Young Scientists Initiative for Climate Change and Indigenous knowledge are part of the events at this Rio Conventions Pavilion programme.
I’m pleased to see that this forum has dedicated a session to gender issues.
Gender issues have not previously been central to wider climate change discourses and initiatives.
As you may know, the international response to the implications of climate change has largely focused on mitigation initiatives and primarily the reduction of greenhouse gases.
Less attention has been paid to adaptation strategies that focus on assistance with adapting to the adverse effects of climate change on food, livelihood and human security. In many fragile communities, where climate change will have the greatest impact, these tasks are undertaken by women. They must be part of the understanding of adaptation strategies.
Rio and debate
The Rio Conventions Pavilion provides an excellent platform for dialogue across the various streams of exciting and often competing points of views.
It’s an open forum that should be used judiciously and generously as a forum for debating all issues to the mutual benefit of all parties.
The Rio Conventions Pavilion is also a forum at which the best research and approaches are showcased - research on the impacts of climate change on indigenous and local communities that are living in highly fragile ecosystems, small-island states, semi-arid and arid lands tropical and sub-tropical forests and high mountain areas.
A complex problem calls for multi-disciplinary solutions that are effective, inclusive and practical. The debate on climate-change science opens up exciting opportunities for rethinking our sciences.
The private sector is also involved in the Rio Conventions Pavilion this week. Although the perception is that business has little interest in debating climate science, business has a strong interest in the impact of climate change on their enterprises.
South Africa is considering how to strengthen the Rio pavilion at the local level through a number of initiatives - coordinated management of funding to address biodiversity and climate change as well as increased inclusion of climate change and biodiversity research within national biodiversity strategies.
This has already been achieved to some extent in our recently published Climate Change White Paper where biodiversity is articulated as a key component of the climate change adaptation and mitigation response.
I hope that these will be discussed and debated in the Rio Ecosystems Pavilion and we look forward to sharing the outcomes of the Durban Chapter of the Ecosystems Pavilion at Rio +20 in 2012.
We also look forward to successful deliberation on the pavilion that will strengthen the discussions in the UNFCCC COP17.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
29 Nov 2011
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