World Environment Day message by the Minister of Environment and Tourism Hon. Pohamba Shifeta

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World Environment Day was designated by the UN General Assembly in 1972 and occurs on 5 June every year, and is used as a vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. The World Environment Day has grown to become a global platform for public outreach, with the participation of over 143 countries annually. Each year, it has a new theme that major corporations, NGOs, communities, governments and celebrities worldwide adopt to advocate environmental causes.

This year it is being celebrated under the theme “Connecting People to Nature – in the city and on the land, from the poles to the equator”, which implores us to get outdoors and into nature, to appreciate its beauty and its importance, and to take forward the call to protect the Earth that we share. This year’s theme invites everyone to think about how we are part of nature and how intimately we depend on it.

This theme is particularly apt in the current context of Namibia, where we regard our environment and natural resources as a national treasure and a key part of our cultural heritage. Many countries have damaged their environments and stocks of natural resources beyond repair in their pursuit of development. In Namibia, we can be thankful that our environment and natural resources are still in a relatively healthy state and are the envy of many countries around the world.

Incidences of poaching, illegal trade and over-exploitation of our natural resources and human wildlife conflict reminds us of the challenges in the co-existence of humans and the natural environment and more broadly in achieving a balance between socio-economic development and environmental protection. In Namibia, we cannot however disconnect ourselves from nature – it is estimated that around 60% of the population is dependent on the natural resource base for their livelihood – and it is critical that our ecosystems and environment remain healthy and able to provide for our communities.

Our pristine environment and protected areas are one example of the socio-economic importance of the natural environment to Namibia. Protected areas are the basis of our rapidly growing tourism sector with parks such as Etosha National Park and the Tsau //Khaeb (Sperrgebiet) National Park recognized as sanctuaries of globally important biodiversity. As Namibians, we need to get out and experience these national treasures and expose our children to them. There are very few countries in the world with such breath-taking nature on its doorstep and we need to connect with and embrace this opportunity. For those of us with the economic means, why not go hiking, go camping or take a game drive in one of our nearby protected areas and immerse yourself in nature and relax from the stresses of our everyday lives.

Meanwhile, we continue to expand and re-shape our protected area network, particularly through the addition of Community-Based management structures such as communal conservancies and community forests. The involvement and participation of communities in environmental protection, through the Community-Based Natural Resources Management Programme, is a prime example of connecting people with the environment.

The Ministry of Environment and Tourism is acutely aware of the need for communities to benefit from our natural resources endowment. This must be done through the sustainable utilisation of and value addition to these natural resources. If the benefits of our communities can be increased through these processes, then it will incentivise communities to conserve our natural resources and environment. This principle is key to the success of the Community-Based Natural Resources Management Programme and we are working hard to ensure that the benefits from the programme outweigh the costs in terms of living with wildlife.

Just last month, the National Council passed the Access to Biological and Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge Bill. I am eagerly awaiting for this Bill to be signed into law as it will give added impetus to protecting the rights of local communities over biological and genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge and provide for fair and equitable benefit sharing for communities from value addition and the commercialisation of natural resources.

Namibia is home to such a rich variety of natural resources and traditional knowledge relating to these resources. The knowledge of our people of the medicinal, cosmetic and other uses of these resources is a key example of how in the rural areas we are connected to nature. It is my view that the time is now to capitalise on the commercialisation of some of this knowledge and the resources at our disposal. This applies to our plant species such as Devil’s Claw, Marula, Hoodia and !Nara for example but there is also huge potential for greater value addition and commercialisation of wildlife-based products as well as other products derived from nature.

While the connection of our rural populations with nature is clear, the connection of our urban population to nature can become cut and or forgotten. With over 50% of the population now estimated to be living in urban areas in Namibia, we need to ensure that our urban populations remain connected with nature and broader environmental protection. Urban areas can become centers for environmental degradation through air pollution, littering and inappropriate management of waste as well as through pollution of our precious water resources. I am particularly concerned that this tendency is now occurring in our towns and cities across the country.

This needs to change and our urban areas need to capitalise on the economic and social opportunities from becoming greener and developing more in harmony with nature. For example, the transition towards renewable energy and more sustainable forms of public transportation can help us to reduce air pollution and become more energy secure in a manner which protects our environment. The need for our citizens to embrace responsible water use has been much publicised and is essential while we work towards developing long term appropriate water security solutions such as managed aquifer recharge and desalination.

Crucially, we need to bring back our reputation as the cleanest country in Africa. This will enhace our reputation among tourists and improve the quality of life for our citizens in urban areas. For this to occur, we must decisively tackle the problem of littering and the improper management of waste, particularly in our urban areas. I am pleased to report that we are working closely with Municipalities and Local Authorities to make this happen. Just last week, a clean up campaign was held in Omuthiya and we now have a programme in place for undertaking such campaigns in collaboration with a number of Local Authorities. The issue of waste management is identified as a priority area in NDP 5 and the Ministry is currently in the process of finalising a National Solid Waste Management Strategy to transform how we manage waste in line with the principle of reduce, re use and recycle.

On this occasion I encourage Namibians to stand up and take action to protect our environment. I encourage particularly our leadership at all levels to mobilise people into adopting environmental friendly ways of life. This is in recognition that, our environment is significantly threatened by human activities such as population growth; deforestation, pollution; littering; biodiversity loss through wildlife crimes amongst others.

Additionally, climate change poses a threat to the environment and its impacts are devastating particularly for a country such as Namibia where our people and economy are heavily dependent on natural resource-based sectors including agriculture and livestock farming, fisheries and tourism.

On this note, the Ministry is saddened by the withdrawal of the United States of America from the Climate Change Accord. Even though the accord the provides for any party to the agreement to withdraw at any given time, the sudden withdrawal of The United States of America is a major blow to the global efforts in tackling climate change considering that the USA is one on the biggest polluters in the world.

This withdrawal has undermined the significance of the Paris agreement and the efforts that has been made in particularly by developing countries such as Namibia to reduce and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

It is disappointing that the withdrawal was made on the verge of the World Environmental Day where countries are expected to rededicate and recommit themselves to protecting the environment and mitigate the impacts of climate change on the environment.
The Paris Agreement unites all the nations of the world into a first-ever universal, legally binding global deal to tackle climate change.

The agreement sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. It further commits developed countries such as the United States of America to scale up financial support for climate change mitigation and adaptation actions in developing countries.

In conclusion, for both our urban and rural populations to be connected with nature, it is essential for our citizenry to be engaged and conscious of the importance of environmental protection. For this reason I am pleased to note that all kinds of information and awareness raising events are taking place across the country for World Environment Day with the full involvement and participation of a broad range of stakeholders.

Let us all unite and take action so that our current and future generations will be able to connect to nature and can enjoy the treasures that it has to offer.

I thank you.
 

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