SAHRC observes the 2011 World Environment Day
Date: Friday, 03 June 2011
On Sunday, 5 June 2011, many countries around the world will observe World Environment Day. While there are a host of concerns regarding the natural environment, however one of the most pressing concerns is deforestation, hence the theme for this year is “Forests: Nature at Your Service.”
The value and essential need for forests cannot be overestimated. Forests cover one third of the earth’s land mass and perform vital functions and services for both the natural environment and animal species including resources for over 1.6 billion people, who depend on forests for their livelihoods. Importantly, forests play a key role in the battle against climate change as forests release oxygen into the atmosphere, while storing carbon dioxide. Forests feed our rivers and are essential to supplying the water for nearly 50% of our largest cities. They create and maintain soil fertility and they help to regulate the often devastating impacts of natural disasters such as storms, floods and fires. Forests are home to a large number of plant and animal species and diverse ecosystems to which humans are intricately linked. Forests also provide shelter, jobs, security and cultural relevance for forest-dependent populations, particularly people living in rural areas in developing countries around the world but are ultimately integral to the survival of all human beings.
Despite the overwhelming need for preservation of forests, global deforestation continues at an alarming rate. Every year, 13 million hectares of forest are destroyed and many people and other plant and animal species who depend on forests for their livelihoods are struggling to survive. Economists around the world have proven that by not integrating the values of forests into their budgets, countries and businesses are paying a high price, one that ultimately impoverishes us all.
The trend of deforestation is not irreversible, but a concerted effort is required to ensure that forests are preserved for current and future generations.
While the South African Human Rights Commission plays a major role in monitoring and documenting changes in the progressive realisation of the right to an environment that is not harmful to one’s health or wellbeing, stronger action is required by government and the private sector to protect natural resources and open spaces, and to monitor violations of the provisions enshrined in South Africa’s comprehensive Constitution and pieces of legislation. Unchecked development and mining activities present a constant threat to our water and forest resources. Poor monitoring means that these violations go unnoticed and cannot be reversed once the damage is done. These activities not only compromise our enjoyment of a right to a healthy environment, but impacts on our ability to preserve a healthy natural environment for future generations.
However, the responsibility for maintaining and conserving natural environments does not just lie with government and business. The Commission hopes that World Environment Day 2010 will generate greater awareness amongst citizens around these issues and will inspire individuals and communities to change their attitude and actions to assist. There are many easy ways that the public can assist in reversing these trends. Individual actions develop into big achievements. Take note of your habits and make little changes:
• Make small changes to the home, workplace and life that will make a big cumulative change such as switching off lights, stop littering, plants trees and do not pave over lawns and gardens.
• Switch off all and unplug unused appliances and equipment as they still use power while on stand-by.
• Recycle recycle recycle: paper, re-use water for things like watering your garden and washing your car. Use recyclable and reusable bottles, storage containers, water bottles etc.
• Say no to plastic! Instead, carry around a canvas or cloth bag for shopping.
• Use environmentally friendly products to reduce the amount of toxins in our water systems.
• Adopt and endorse: adopt slogans and endorse campaigns calling for united action against environmental destruction and climate change.
• Spread the word: making family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, cities, countries aware of these problems and the need for united action against them.
• Use products made from locally sourced materials. this will not only stimulate the local economy but decrease individual carbon footprints.
• Conserve water: don’t leave taps running when brushing teeth or washing dishes. Repair all leaking taps and pipes.
• Lobby government to provide safe and reliable public transport for citizens.
• Embrace nature and the psychological joy and well being that it provides.
• Importantly, respect all living beings, great or small, as they too have a right to exist.
In November 2011, South Africa will host the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Convention’s Conference of Parties 17 (CoP17). The CoP is an annual meeting, where countries negotiate around climate change emissions and legally binding agreements on the reduction thereof. It is hoped that this meeting in Durban will culminate in legally binding dealings on emissions reductions and funding for developing countries to meet their respective targets without compromising growth and development. It is also hoped that individuals and civil society will play an effective role in peacefully lobbying governments to commit to these important agreements.
The Commission has in the past done much work around the realisation of environmental rights, including public hearings and submissions on climate change and energy. Commissioner Janet Love and her team have been addressing issues such as mining, acid mine drainage and the rights of communities in mining areas. The Commission hopes to play a role as an accredited observer for CoP17 and will continue to monitor and advocate for the realisation of environmental rights in the future.
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