Speech at the Opening of the 5th World Parks Congress, 8 September 2003

Patrons of the Congress, President Nelson Mandela and Her Royal Highness Queen Noor of Jordan;
His Majesty King Zwelithini;
Honourable Presidents;
Honourable Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Honourable Ministers and MEC's;
President of the IUCN, Yolanda Kakabadse;
Director-General of IUCN, Achim Steiner;
Mayor of Durban, Mr Obed Mlaba;
Distinguished delegates and guests;
Members of the media;
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am honoured to welcome you to Durban and South Africa and to wish you a successful and productive stay in this important port city of our country, Ethekwini. I trust that you will find your working conditions conducive to a fruitful interaction among yourselves as delegates at this important 5th World Parks Congress.

Chairperson:

We must assume this to be true that throughout its existence, humanity has continuously pursued the goal of the maximum material and spiritual fulfilment of the human being.

The specific and immediate goals that various societies have set themselves have varied through the ages. In many instances these have been governed by the balance of power within each of these societies.

In this country, all our people are engaged in an unrelenting struggle to decide what the national agenda is, and who should set this agenda.

We must presume that a similar contest is taking place within the global human society. Necessarily, the outcome of this context will be determined within the paradigm of the distribution of power in the world in which we live.

We have convened here as the 5th World Parks Congress. In this context, it might very well seem that we have a very clear agenda to address.

In this context, our Minister of Environment and Tourism, the Hon Mohamed Valli Moosa, has said I must say the following:

"Over time, protected areas have become a universally adopted way of conserving natural ecosystems. Today, more than 20 000 protected areas, covering nearly 5 percent of the earth's land surface, have been established in more than 130 countries.

"Such areas are meant to conserve the diversity of species (both plant and animal) as well as the genetic variation within them; maintain the productive capacities of ecosystems; preserve historic and cultural features of importance; secure landscapes and wildlife, which enrich human experience through their beauty; provide opportunities for community development, science, research, education, training, recreation and tourism; and serve as sources of national pride and human inspiration.

"Our natural resources and biodiversity are a priceless heritage. They hold the keys to many of our challenges on this earth: from pharmaceutical properties to strengthening the gene base of our basic foodstuffs. We cannot afford to lose these resources - that is why this congress is crucial to people's well being. Yet conservation management faces enormous constraints. These include threats to biodiversity from land degradation, climate change, human settlement and alien invasive species. They include lack of funds, high levels of poverty in and around protected areas, poaching and plant theft, and threats from extractive industries."

I fully agree with all these sentiments and observations advanced by Minister Valli Moosa. I agree also with other things he suggested I should say, that:

"We are gathered here today in the land of birth of King Shaka, one of Africa's great leaders, to celebrate and rejoice the world's achievements in the conservation and management of biodiversity. This vision constitutes the bedrock of economic upliftment, especially for the poor.

"Now more than ever, we require new knowledge, new ideas, new perspectives and relationships. This Congress is charged with generating these."

The Congress will have to define these new things within the context of extant global thinking about the future of our common world and human society as a whole. Of course, the question that then arises is whether such a global consensus on matters of major concern exists.

I would argue that it both does, and must be a matter of interest to this important 5th World Parks Congress.

The first point to make in this regard relates to the important issue of globalisation. There is universal recognition of the fact that, among other things, globalisation means the accelerated integration of human society within an unequal set of relationships within and between countries. This has given birth to such concepts as a global village and a common neighbourhood.

The fact of such integration has been emphasised by such phenomena as the East Asian financial and economic crisis on 1997/98, the recent outbreak and spread of SARS, and such matters as climate change and global warming.

In this context, I would like to draw the attention of the Congress to the unanimous position adopted by the countries of the world as reflected in the UN Millennium Declaration, which said:

"We believe that the central challenge we face today is to ensure that globalisation becomes a positive force for all the world's people. For while globalisation offers great opportunities, at present its benefits are very unevenly shared, while its costs are unevenly distributed. We recognise that developing countries and countries with economies in transition face special difficulties in responding to this central challenge. Thus, only through broad and sustained efforts to create a shared future, based upon our common humanity in all its diversity, can globalisation be made fully inclusive and equitable. These efforts must include policies and measures, at the global level, which correspond to the needs of developing countries and economies in transition and are formulated and implemented with their effective participation."

And of direct relevance to this Congress, last year's Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development reaffirmed these conclusions. In its Political Declaration, it said:

"From this Continent, the Cradle of Humanity, we declare, through the Plan of Implementation and this Declaration, our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life and to our children."

Accordingly, I believe that in its deliberations the World Parks Congress should focus on the issue of "a shared future, based upon our common humanity in all its diversity", and "our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life and to our children." This calls for a special focus on the matter of national parks in Africa and the rest of the developing world, which we should treat as part of a common human heritage, deserving of protection and expansion for the benefit of all humanity.

This brings us to the second matter we believe constitutes one of the central issues of the common global agenda. This is the issue of poverty and underdevelopment.

In this regard, the Millennium Declaration said:

"We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected. We are committed to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want."

The Declaration of the World Summit on Sustainable Development also addressed this matter when it said:

"The deep fault line that divides human society between the rich and the poor and the ever-increasing gap between the developed and developing worlds pose a major threat to global prosperity, security and stability."

The commitment made in the Millennium Declaration was informed by the reality that human society has the financial, technological and human capital to achieve the objective of freeing the entire human race from want, of effectively addressing the deep fault line that divides human society between the rich and the poor.

The reality we face is that poverty and underdevelopment constitute an important obstacle to the achievement of the goals we spoke of earlier, which this Congress must seek to reinforce.

These include the conservation of the diversity of species (both plant and animal) as well as the genetic variation within them; maintaining the productive capacities of ecosystems; preserving historic and cultural features of importance; securing landscapes and wildlife, which enrich human experience through their beauty, and so on.

The mere search for food among poor people, who have limited access to the various means to sustain life available to people in the developed world, has put pressure and will continue to put pressure on the national parks in poor countries.

Mere exhortations to poor people to value and respect the ecosystems contained within national parks will not succeed. It is critically important that alternative means of livelihood be found for the poor of the world, so that they are not forced to act in a manner that undermines the global effort to protect these ecosystems, driven by hunger and underdevelopment.

Similarly, we must work to ensure proper accountability on the part of the corporations of the developed and other countries, so that they undertake their economic activities, fully taking into account the imperatives of sustainable development, which includes the protection of the national parks.

If this World Congress is convinced that "our natural resources and biodiversity are a priceless heritage…(and that) they hold the keys to many of our challenges on this earth", as I am certain it is, it must then act on these matters in a way that ensures us success.

In this regard, I return to the statement we made earlier, that human society disposes of all the necessary means we need to ensure that we achieve the goal stated in the Millennium Declaration, to make the right to development a reality for everyone and to free the entire human race from want.

As the distinguished delegates are aware, our continent, Africa, has decided on the New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD. The protection of the African environment is one of the priority areas of focus of the New Partnership. It would therefore be the wish and hope of the governments and peoples of our continent that this World Parks Congress will join in this Partnership, to reinforce Africa's efforts to address the very same challenges this Congress will address.

As an expression of the African resolve to address the environmental challenges we face, an African Ministerial Conference on the Environment held earlier this year decided on the African Areas Protected Initiative.

This Initiative seeks to develop, for all African countries, a well-managed system of protected areas that will meet with the environmental and social needs of each country. It is based on the environment component of the NEPAD programme.

Accordingly, it is perhaps appropriate that the 5th World Parks Congress should take place in Africa. Nevertheless, our continent is humbled by the confidence and trust that the people of the world have bestowed on us through the "IUCN - World Conservation Union", by agreeing that Africa should host the 5th World Parks Congress.

In the decade ahead, conservation will face many thorny issues from approaches to the commercialisation of national parks, finding the middle ground in the co-management of parks with communities and peoples, to the creation of effective transfrontier protected areas that facilitate regional peace, growth and development. Undoubtedly, one of the most important challenges that we will face is to formulate a productive and inclusive working relationship with controversial land use industries such as the mines and other extractive industries.

Our own freedom has made possible new ways of working together and the restoration of land to communities forcibly removed from their lands, some of which are today protected areas. This gives this Congress a special meaning for us as South Africans.

In as much as we can learn from others experiences, our own experience in the first decade of freedom has valuable lessons, as do our achievements in giving communities a stake in the development of protected areas.

The theme of the 5th World Parks Congress is "Benefits beyond Boundaries". We, together with the rest of the peoples of the world do indeed expect that this important Congress will help to bring benefits to all, recognising the reality that the existence of boundaries should not be a fetter on human fulfilment.

I wish you a successful World Parks Congress.

Thank you.

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