Saturday, November 8, 2008

Keynote Address to the Kalahari Conservation Society's 2008 Dinner Dance by His Excellency The President of the Republic of Botswana

source: Republic of Botswana (07/11/08): TAUTONA TIMES no 36 of 2008
The Weekly Electronic Press Circular of the Office of the President "Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline"


[Salutations]...Ladies and Gentlemen

1. It is my pleasure tonight to address the Kalahari Conservation Society 2008 Dinner Dance on the theme 'meeting environmental and development challenges in Botswana'. You may all be aware of my previous role in the affairs of KCS and various conservation institutions. Not all of you might understand trends and stages in the evolution of conservation, but rest assured that you made the right decision to be here tonight as the event presents you a perfect moment to be associated with the environmental conservation movement in Botswana.

2. Let me say how proud and pleased I am to be The Patron of the Kalahari Conservation Society and I believe that my passion and vision for the environment will be further enhanced by this association.

3. Conservation movements keep changing, and expanding. The first generation conservationists focused on the conservation of species and parks, the second generation conservationists widened that focus to include pollution, sustainable use of natural resources, and the conservation and development agenda. While the third generation recognizes that organizations, institutions, societies, communities and political processes are part of the sustainability challenges facing all development. Environmental and Conservation issues have moved into the room and are inside government meeting rooms and corporate boardrooms. Environmentalists and conservationists have the right to sit at the table of development globally and our country Botswana cannot be an exception to this trend. My current position and my continued contact with environmental organizations such as the KCS afford me the unique opportunity to influence third generation environmental principles and policies within government during my watch. I look forward to facilitating informed choices and decisions in the development of this country, which will not be harmful to future generations.

4. Botswana is endowed with rich and unique natural heritage which is still remarkably intact. Conservation of flora and fauna goes back in our history through a variety of means of protection, including our traditions which we are celebrating through our dress code tonight.

5. Our natural renewable assets have thus been protected and nurtured over the years through various initiatives such as community and state controlled protected areas of various types like game reserves, parks, forestry reserves etc, and privately owned nature reserves/ sanctuaries.

6. Batswana have lived in the country for a long time exploring the land, the wildlife, the water and the minerals and this is continuing at an accelerated pace. So the challenge of how Botswana can continue to benefit today's inhabitants while not diminishing the benefits of its natural resources for future generations, is all important.

7. The economy of Botswana is heavily dependent on the natural resources base, particularly, in mining, tourism and agriculture. This in turn can have significant negative impacts on natural habitats and biodiversity.

8. There are indications that investors are interested in our country and there are deliberate efforts by government to liberalize our laws to facilitate investment. However there is a fear that these interventions to facilitate development may compromise sustainable social and moral development and pay little respect to environmental consequences in the broadest possible definition encompassing social and natural environments. We could be tempted, therefore, to cast aside our national environmental beliefs, policies and regulations for short term economic development.

9. This is not acceptable. We must allow Botswana to benefit from its rich natural capital, without undermining the future existence of that capital.

10. An effective safeguard against this is to integrate conservation and development processes from the initial planning stage through to implementation and for the Government to accept conservation as not being the separate and individual consideration of wildlife, soil or water and integrate it as a major component of development initiatives, policies and laws.

11. The protected areas in Botswana are also facing unrelenting and ever increasing pressure, population growth and growing demands upon natural resources represent an overarching threat to these areas.

12. Wildlife mobility has been curtailed over the last decades by fences, settlements and roads. Loss of connectivity has led to the separation of the northern and south-western wildlife system. As a result some of the traditional wildlife migration routes are no longer in use. The protected area system is a critical instrument for biodiversity conservation in Botswana.

13. The need for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) can not be over-emphasized. The current outcry of developers that EIAs are expensive is a challenge to all stakeholders to evaluate their commitment to safeguard Botswana's environment. The EIA practitioners need to note that their actions could be detrimental to the very environment they help to protect if they don't accommodate developers' concerns.

14. For its part government intends to have an independent EIA Commissioner who will ensure that all stakeholders comply to the EIA policy and as such address the environmental challenges posed by the inevitable infrastructural developments our country is facing. I believe a transition to sustainability (balance between environmental and developmental changes) will not happen without social and political leadership. Politicians, Dikgosi and Society Leaders must lead this transition.

15. Botswana has done well in developing a conducive policy environment for effective natural resources management, but we still experience challenges as far as biodiversity conservation and sustainable development is concerned. In the coming years, biodiversity declines could take place and our environment will be increasingly disrupted and less able to provide for our people's needs. The world is facing and indeed suffering already from the worsening impacts of climate change.

16. Government will tackle the issue of climate change vigorously for the mutual sustainable benefit of our country and our planet. To this end we will continue to support National and International efforts to monitor and reduce the causes of negative climate change. Such complexities and challenges in sustainable development are at the core of Governments implementation of development hubs. It is my hope that these hubs cut across Ministries and integrate all stakeholders in their deliberations and in this regard it should be recognized that the environment itself, in turn, cuts across all hubs.

17. We do have important platforms like the HLCC, which serves a critical role in bringing together different stakeholders to address issues raised by this KCS dinner dance's theme. HLCC is itself an arrangement requiring evolution and change, and we hope it will continue to develop unified approaches, partnerships and forums for collective action for development and to providing a platform for policy engagement amongst all concerned. HLCC will evolve to meet today's challenges and the Environment in its own right, through organizations like the KCS as the only National Environmental NGO, will have a place at that table.

18. All these efforts geared towards creating a balance between environment and development cannot be achieved without cooperation. There is a need to develop a dream package that both promotes environmental integrity and reduces poverty. There is a common belief that raising living standards will automatically reduce pressure on natural resources. However this is only possible if the corporate world can provide economic incentives to the communities and also plough back into environmental conservation initiatives. With all that, the dream package would be realized - a balance between environment and development. Thank you for your attention. PULA!

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