Voices from the field: South Africa

Trevor Sandwith, Director of Biodiversity and Protected Areas Policy at The Nature Conservancy, an IUCN Member, talks about Ecosystem-based Adaptation in South Africa.

Fishing on Lake Kosi in St Lucia, South Africa

Why is ecosystem-based adaptation important in your region?

In South Africa, the mining sector is dominant in the economy, but there is a huge dependence, especially in rural areas, on agricultural systems – for crop production and cultivation, grazing and other dryland and rangeland uses, and fishing. Water availability and distribution are limiting factors in the country’s economy, which is extensively based on the use of natural resources. Diversification of the economy, e.g. through tourism and wildlife, also depends on the integrity of ecosystems. Climate change is greatly affecting the environment that human communities depend on, so adaptation strategies and actions must include consideration of how ecosystems, and the services they provide to livelihoods, are being affected.

What is being done?

A good example is Working for Water, a government program based on strong participation of local civil society. Profound changes are expected in the availability and quality of water, in terms of both its geographic and seasonal distribution. Towns and villages depend on water coming down the mountains, whose integrity is threatened by invasive alien species which are increasingly affecting mountain ecosystems of the Cape Floristic Region. Investments in removing alien species has had a positive impact on water quantity and quality, as well as in reducing the threat of these species on biodiversity. The program has provided an opportunity to build capacity, involve local communities in a natural resource management process and enhance adaptive capacity. This approach is in line with the devolution of power to the administrations at the local level, and the development of more participatory approaches that are currently going on in South Africa. The project is an excellent example of adaptation to different changes – both environmental and societal. Climate change provides an opportunity to engage in cross-sectoral solutions, in this case in terms of agriculture, water, economy and biodiversity.

What more is needed?

An understanding is needed of how ecosystems will be affected by climate change. South Africa has already conducted a climate modeling process which allows for prediction of the changes likely to happen in ecosystems. Scientifically-sound information to explain the processes happening at the smallest scale is also essential (for example, the role of alien invasive species in affecting water and fire). Institutional capacity to coordinate these multi-stakeholder processes is needed – a programmatic approach, engaging the right Ministries to co-operate and pool resources. Political commitment must also reach out to the local scale and engage, for example, farmers, municipalities and NGOs with government departments in finding solutions to local problems.

What are your expectations for the UN climate change meeting in Copenhagen?

My expectation would be that the world rises to the occasion, sets differences aside and co-operates to pursue a global goal. Climate change is the one problem that requires a co-operative solution. Perhaps donors, countries, communities, institutions and people, will be able to find practical solutions under a global banner through an emergence of innovative and inspiring solutions. The world of nature conservation has been waiting for the stimulus that proves once and for all that our investment in natural resource management is fundamental to the sustainability of life on earth.

Go to top