Living Planet Conference unpacks South Africa’s most complex issues
Attended by government, the private sector, non-governmental organisations, industry stakeholders and interested and affected parties, the conference – held in Johannesburg on 30 July – facilitated three panel discussions, one per issue. From the outset, however, speakers and delegates acknowledged that these are not discrete, siloed fields. Instead, they are so heavily interrelated that any attempt at separating them is not only artificial but, more importantly, indicative of a detrimental blindspot.
The proceedings were opened by Deon Nel, conservation director at WWF International, who contextualised these issues on a continental and regional level. He discussed discrepancies and opportunities, indicating that while South Africa has maxed out its water resources, only 7% of the continent’s hydropower potential has been tapped. “The choices that Africa makes in the next five-ten years [in terms of energy, water and food] will lock us into a development pathway far into the future,” said Nel. “It’s a very critical time in Africa’s development.”
Panel speakers during the energy discussion explored how the transition to an energy system that is flexible, resilient and adaptable might be funded. Conversations focused on renewable energy sources and the attending issues of responsibility, capital cost outlay and, according to speaker Dr Velaphi Msimang, of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, the necessity for paradigm shifts. “South Africa's economy was built on the exploitation of minerals and the mindset is difficult to shift,” he said.
In the panel discussion on water, speakers unpacked the fundamentals that need to be changed in rethinking water security for South Africa. Conversations explored the mismanagement of waste water and effluent, and of the role currently being played by local municipalities and governmental entities. Shanaaz Majiet, of the Department for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, emphasised the necessity for experienced, skilled government personnel, the need for collaboration between different departments and the introduction of ingenuity. “We need to make innovation our mantra in government,” she said, “all of government.”
The final panel discussion, on food security in South Africa, asked, Who needs to take action to shift the food system in a way that secures the equitable, sustainable provision of nutritious food for all? “Fifty percent of people in South Africa don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” said Tatjana von Bormann, the head of WWF-SA’s market transformation initiative. “There are therefore two main focus areas for WWF-SA: to produce more with less, and to be better stewards of the food we're producing.” The role of small- and large-scale farmers was analysed, as was the role of retailers, suppliers and household consumers.
Throughout discussions, the points of intersection between energy, water and food were continually addressed: the ways in which water can contribute to solving the energy crisis, for example, as well as the ways in which the maintenance of food security has inevitable repercussions on energy and water resources.
In his wrap-up of the day’s proceedings, the head of WWF-SA’s Living Planet Unit, Saliem Fakir, commented: “We don’t want to just think about the environment in isolation of the economy,” he said, “We want to think about what is needed by society across all walks of life … We [also] can’t think of South Africa as an island. Our economy is part of a regional, global system.”
The conference also saw the award of the WWF-SA’s annual Living Planet Award, this year won by Andrew Zaloumis, CEO of iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Zaloumis’s work has resulted in the economic turnaround of iSimangaliso, with meaningful empowerment and benefits to local communities, and the introduction of more sustainable conservation practices.