Message of President Thabo Mbeki: Commonwealth Day: Monday March 10, 2008.

Each year when we celebrate Commonwealth Day, we strive to promote understanding of an important global issue. Our theme for 2008 is “The Environment - Our Future". This was agreed at the last Heads of Government Meeting, held in Uganda, and incorporated in the Commonwealth Lake Victoria Climate Change Action Plan.

The environment is central to life itself and is linked to such issues as climate change, sustaining biodiversity and conserving water resources. For our survival we rely on our soil resources for agriculture, on our fish resources for food, on our biodiversity for tourism, on herbs and medicinal plants for health care, to cite but a few examples.

Environmental degradation poses a threat to all humanity, but has the most adverse impact on the poorest of the poor. The national economies of African countries rely mainly on agriculture and on extraction of mineral and biological resources. On our continent, Africa, better environmental management is not just a matter of preserving our natural heritage. It is a matter of survival.

Climate variations already pose a serious threat to livelihoods and economic development in much of our Continent, and are likely to be aggravated by climate change over the next few decades.  Along with issues such as negative elements of globalisation, conflict and instability, and the burden of disease, environmental degradation is one of the major factors threatening the fragile progress in economic, social, and political development that many African countries have achieved over the past few decades.

What is needed now, and very urgently, is respect for the ecological processes that have made the planet our home. These processes shape the climate, cleanse the air and water, regulate water flows, recycle essential elements, regenerate the soil and enable ecosystems to renew themselves, giving all humanity the possibility to achieve sustainable utilisation of nature’s biodiversity.

Together with raising awareness of the vulnerability of these processes, we also need to educate ourselves to use renewable resources such cultivated land, wild and domesticated animal and plant species, forests, rangelands, and the marine and freshwater ecosystems in a sustainable manner.

The depletion of non-renewable resources like minerals, oil, gas and coal must also be avoided. Their life must be extended for the benefit of future generations, while we also develop and use the necessary technologies to address the challenge of greenhouse-gas emissions.

Recycling of used materials, more economic use of our resources and greater utilisation of renewable substitutes must constitute an important part of our armoury of responses.

All these interventions are essential if the earth is to sustain billions more people in the future, continuing to give all humanity the possibility to enjoy a decent and improving quality of life.

Humanity confronts the twin challenges of defeating the scourge of poverty and underdevelopment that continues to afflict billions in the countries of the South, and modifying life styles in the countries of the North, to reduce and eliminate the threat to the environment.

The world community of nations has agreed that all of us have a shared but differentiated responsibility to protect the environment. While we sustain and accelerate the advance against poverty in the countries of the South, and continue to improve the standard of living in the countries of the North, we must, together, continuously address the challenge of the protection of the environment.

We in the Commonwealth can make a vital contribution to the achievement of the urgent goals encapsulated in the theme - “The Environment: Our Future" – if we adopt and implement policies that respond to this task practically.

What we do must make the unequivocal statement that we are determined that Planet Earth will, forever, remain a place of domicile for the human species and all other animal and plant life which is our neighbour in the common habitat.

Our celebration of Commonwealth Day 2008 will achieve real meaning only if, on this day, we renew our pledge that we will, at all times, act in a manner that says – to guarantee our future, we will protect the environment!

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