The Environmental Management component of the SANBI Biodiversity and Land Use (BLU) was designed to diminish the barriers to effective environmental management in South Africa and to allow for the persistence of biodiversity that sustains human life as well as underpins sustainable development in SA. These barriers included weak co-ordination and alignment amongst regulatory authorities, and across all spheres of government, that regulate land and natural resource use at the municipal scale.
A wide range of interventions were implemented at different levels and in the different project implementation areas to address these barriers. Intergovernmental co-operation agreements and forums were piloted in the Western Cape and Mpumalanga respectively to deal with weak co-ordination and collaboration amongst relevant natural resource management regulatory authorities. SANBI and its partners also undertook to integrate relevant components of the workplan into existing intergovernmental forums and ensured that the social process of the project was inclusive and a wide range of stakeholders consulted. Capacity constraints were addressed through the placement of secondments into relevant regulatory authorities to support biodiversity mainstreaming into the regulatory framework. Biodiversity training was conducted throughout the life of the project to improve the capacity of EIA government staff, environmental assessment practitioners (EAPs) and biodiversity specialists to better integrate biodiversity into EIAs and compliance monitoring and enforcement processes. SANBI also convened multiple partners and stakeholders in numerous policy processes and developed many knowledge tools such as guidelines (Orchard development guideline, Albany Thicket Ecosystem Guidelines, Species Environmental Assessment Guideline etc.) to guide the integration of biodiversity into the regulatory framework.
Achievements of the BLU Environmental Management workplan include the following: –
- An intergovernmental co-operation forum was re-established in the Ehlanzeni District Municipality, within the Mpumalanga Province. The platform aims to ensure that biodiversity continues to provide essential ecosystem services at municipal scale, streamlining matters in governance relating to land use change and facilitate engagements between land use regulatory authorities to improve the capacity to regulate and to take collaborative environmental decisions. After having convened 5 sittings of the forum over the last three years almost all of the natural resource use authorities participate in the forum (this includes the Department of Water and Sanitation, Inkomati Usuthu Catchment Management Agency (IUCMA), Local Municipalities, District Municipalities, Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs (DARDLEA) etc.). Professional networks amongst these authorities have been strengthened. Biodiversity training as well as other training related to other natural resource management mandates have been undertaken. Challenges with regards to enforcing the different mandates as well as how the different authorities can use their respective mandates to support each other has been debated. Forum meetings were also used to discuss the impact of the clearance of indigenous vegetation for orchard development on all natural resource management mandates. The various authorities collaborated on developing regulatory solutions to the rampant expansion of orchard development in the Ehlanzeni District in the Mpumalanga Province. The forum was such a success that the IUCMA decided to take over the convening role of forum after the project ends to ensure the long term persistence of aquatic ecosystems.
- Both CME regulatory authorities contracted to the project, namely the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEA&DP) and DARDLEA, took full advantage of the opportunity provided by the project to integrate biodiversity concerns into CME processes. Staff have become more knowledgeable about biodiversity and how it should be considered from a compliance perspective. The combination of additional staff and improved protocols resulted in a much more organised workflow that is considerate of biodiversity issues, allowing the compliance monitoring department to clear backlogs and conduct its work more efficiently. The existing compliance database within DEA&DP was updated to record five additional biodiversity parameters, including protected areas, Critical Biodiversity Areas, watercourses, vegetation types and ecosystem threat status. This will help to ensure that these aspects are considered in every compliance inspection that is conducted. DARDLEA amended the fines calculator to ensure that appropriate fines are allocated to serious environmental crimes.
- The placement of secondments as Case/Environmental officers in the CME and EIA units of DARDLEA Ehlanzeni District was a huge success. The case officers reviewed several environmental impact assessment applications, S24G applications, undertook many site visits, facilitated environmental monitoring, investigations, and attended to environmental complaints. This work included cases that were within and outside of biodiversity-sensitive areas. The secondments supported the department by relieving the workload and by acting as their primary support for biodiversity knowledge and advice.
- Two work pieces, not originally part of the BLU project, came in the form of efforts to secure strategic water source areas (SWSAs) as well as the work done in relation to Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE’s) online EIA Screening tool, and the subsequent biodiversity related protocols and associated guidelines.
- The BLU project began work to pilot ways to provide better security to SWSAs using legal provisions in the National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998. The BLU project helped to set up co-ordination structures to foster intergovernmental co-operation around securing SWSAs. The SWSAs Government Authorities meeting includes representatives from provincial and national departments and entities related to environment, water, agriculture and mining. This group drafted a joint enquiry to the Chief State Law Advisor requesting advice on the best legal provisions under which SWSAs could be secured. The responsibility of convening these meetings has now been transitioned to the DFFE. An initial step to implementing these legal provisions was that the SWSAs should be delineated at a sufficiently fine scale to allow for potential land use restrictions to be set at the level of individual land parcels. The BLU project established a Spatial Task Team to take on this and other future work related to the technical, spatial aspects of SWSAs. The work done by the project on SWSAs definitely shone a much needed light on these areas and this lead to politicians incorporating a target related to SWSAs into the Medium-Term Strategic Framework of the national Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. The BLU project stepped forward to support the DFFE in achieving this target.
- The incorporation of biodiversity information into the Screening tool has allowed for both the applicant and competent authority to have the same understanding of the nature of the receiving environment in terms of biodiversity and then curb the designation of inappropriate land uses on sensitive and important biodiversity. The biodiversity related protocols, developed in the project, guides the developer, the competent authority and the biodiversity specialist in terms of what must be assessed for when developing in areas that contain priority biodiversity areas. SANBI further supported DFFE by running a consultative process with all the relevant stakeholders in formulating the protocol criteria relating to biodiversity as well as guidelines that provide guidance on how to achieve the assessment and reporting criteria of the protocols.
- The BLU project developed an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) training course, namely the Biodiversity for Sustainable Development course, as a step towards improving capacity among those involved in EIAs to incorporate biodiversity more meaningfully into EIAs and compliance monitoring and enforcement processes. The content of the course covered background explanation of biodiversity inputs and how these should be best considered during EIAs. The course was accredited by the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions, and was promoted via the South African chapter of the International Association of Impact Assessors. The training course was offered through six sessions, two in-person sessions that occurred prior to the COVID pandemic, and four online sessions thereafter, which together reached a range of EIA officials and practitioners countrywide. The EIA course was positively received, with participants indicating that it afforded them “… an improved appreciation of the importance of the mitigation hierarchy and [its] application in the assessment of the impacts of activities on biodiversity”