SA must look at resources

By Drum Digital
15 May 2012

South Africa can tackle its ever-increasing ecological footprint by looking at its commodities holistically, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF SA) said on Tuesday.

"We need a more integrated view of our landscapes," biodiversity head Deon Nel said at the release of the Living Planet Report in Cape Town.

"The food, water and energy nexus becomes very important in our thinking."

Various ministers should be sitting together to create an intelligent plan of how land would provide for a growing population. He said water scarcity, for example, should be tackled in the bigger picture of protecting the land from which the water was sourced.

"Fifty percent of our water is generated from 12 percent of our land capacity. We should be putting all our resources into securing that 12 percent."

Described as a "nervepoint" by Nel, water scarcity was a harsh reality, with the 2012 Living Planet Report showing that large parts of the country went at least two to three months without normal water levels.

He called on the national planning commission to play a more strategic role in the management of environmental resources for future security.

WWF SA CEO Morné du Plessis said the country's ecological footprint, or its demand on natural ecosystems, had increased in the last two years.

Each local citizen was consuming natural resources to the value of 2.59 hectares, up from 2.32 hectares in 2010. He said this was under the global average of 2.7 hectares, measured in 2008.

An ecological footprint is a measure of how much biologically productive land and water a person needs to absorb their waste and produce all the resources they consume.

The biggest component of South Africa's footprint was the amount of land needed to offset carbon emissions. The country had an over-reliance on fossil fuels, burning mostly coal for electricity.

Carbon offsets were also the biggest component of the global footprint at 55 percent, followed by croplands.

In Africa, the three countries with the highest footprint are Mauritius, Mauritania and Botswana. South Africa is in fourth position. The countries with the three highest footprints in the world are Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

A new analysis of consumption trends in Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa shows rapid economic growth, with a per capita footprint increase of 65 percent since 1961.

The report highlights that these countries are expanding more rapidly than high-income countries and therefore face sustainability challenges.

Du Plessis said the globe was consuming a lot quicker than it was producing.

"We are living as if we have an extra planet at our disposal. We are using 50 percent more resources than the earth can sustainably produce and unless we change course... by 2030 even two planets will not be enough."

The conservation body said the future of the globe could be managed by preserving natural capital, creating better production systems, consuming natural resources more wisely, re-directing finances to conservation efforts and sharing available resources.

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