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Good laws offer hope, but technical capacity missing

Publish date: 08 October 2019
Issue Number: 626
Diary: Legalbrief Environmental
Category: Conservation

The sixth mass extinction of life on Earth – a rare event in the world’s 4.5bn years of existence – is upon us, warns Sipho Kings, environmental journalist, in a Mail & Guardian analysis. ‘The last extinction happened when an asteroid struck the planet. This time it’s largely down to human activities, which include the emission of greenhouse gases that are heating the planet,’ he notes. ‘In SA, the scale of the collapse has been captured in the National Biodiversity Assessment report released last week. Put together by the South African National Biodiversity Institute, this is the official document of the status of the country’s plants and animals,’ says Kings. ‘The report estimates the number of animal species at 67 000, and plant species at 20 400. Much of the flora and fauna have evolved to live in SA and nowhere else,’ writes Kings. ‘The researchers are at pains to point out that this biodiversity underpins jobs and the economy,’ he states. ‘But, the researchers detail how this is under threat from activities such as mining,’ he writes. ‘The extinction threats to SA’s plants and animals are being exacerbated by people’s activities, many of which are causing global warming,’ he goes on to say. ‘SA is already more than 1°C hotter than it was a century ago, and the country is warming at double the world average. This means species that have evolved to thrive in specific niches are unable to adapt fast enough as these niches change,’ he writes. ‘But SA is also really good at conservation,’ notes Kings. ‘Nearly two-thirds of the plants that the researchers looked at are categorised as well protected. The same goes for mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians and butterflies,’ he explains. ‘Better planning for where people live and industries are established, and compliance with laws and policies will aid this,’ notes Kings. He quotes the researchers who said: ‘While there may be good policies and legislation in place, there is limited technical capacity to use existing policy tools, and limited capacity to enforce laws or regulations. All South Africans can help reduce the pressures on our biodiversity.’

Full Mail & Guardian analysis

National Biodiversity Assessment 2018