Let me from the outset welcome you to this auspicious occasion, the inagural Ministerial Meeting of the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa (GDSA), which also marks the 5th Anniversary of the GDSA. It is indeed a great pleasure for me to be here with you this morning, especially that issues of the environment and sustainable development are very pertinent to us here in Africa. Before I delve into the more substantive issues, as Botswana is “our pride and your destination”, let me also welcome you to Maun, as well as the North West region. Maun is very scenic, unique, as well as being vibrant and I hope some of you will use the opportuniy of being here to explore some of the tourist attractions in this locality. Maun is also the gateway to the Okavango Delta, the largest inland Delta in the world, which as you may recall, was listed as the 1000th UNESCO heritage site in 2014, the Tsodilo Hills, famed for their rock art (paintings) that proves early human settlement over many millennia and also a UNESCO world heritage site listed in 2001, as well as the magnificent Gchwihaba Caves. This is almost a triangular series of world heritage sites. As may be recalled, in 2012, Heads of State and Government came together in Gabrorone with International partners, principally Conservation International where we committed to implementing all conventions and declarations that promote sustainability for development. As signatories to the GDSA, we agreed to take action on a number of priority areas for our future development, including inter alia, that we must intergrate the value of nature through natural capital accounting into our national policies and programs, recognizing that nature is needed for economic growth and sustainability. Furthermore, it was also agreed that countries must reduce poverty by transitioning agriculture, extractive industries, fisheries and other economic uses of nature to practices that promote sustainable employment, food security, sustainable energy, and the protection of nature, including protected areas. There was consensus that we must build the knowledge, capacity and policy networks to promote leadership and a new model in the field of sustainable development to increase momentum for positive change. To this end, I am therefore happy to note that we have made progress on a number of these issues since the inaugural meeting. A follow up meeting was held in 2013, which agreed to among others, share best practices and progress made. The joint communique from that meeting outlined specific steps each country would take to implement the Gaborone Declaration.
One of the points that the meeting agreed on was that Botswana should continue to host the GDSA Secretariat in the interim, with the aim to improving our capacity. It also resolved that countries should have focal points. Subsequently, it was agreed that the Secretariat will visit all member countries to refine results of the Situational Analsysis and work with Governments to establish a plan for implementation and how the Secretariat can support the process. We, as Member States, committed to the Gaborone Declaration upon the realization that natural capital forms the backbone of many African economies due to the comparative advantage that the continent has in natural wealth. The long term benefits accrued from our natural assets are however, threatened by economic development models that take the contribution of nature for granted or do not sufficiently consider natural capital as an integral part in our planning, national accounting and policy-making systems. At the Summit in 2012, I mentioned that “we need to embrace sustainable development as a way of life” and that “we need to get the balanace right between development which is economically feasible, socially desirable and environmentally sustainable”. This, I believe, is as true today as it was in 2012. The depletion of natural capital threatens the social and economic sustenance of the majority of our people and reduces their capacity to attain sustainable development. Given the natural resources endowment in our continent, this is something we should avoid at all cost. As the five-year progress reports show, we are collectively on the right track, but we need to scale up our efforts, especially if we want to address the pertinent issues of climate change and contribute to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At the global level, it will be recalled that when we met in 2012, we also aimed to input into the Rio+20 Meeting, as well as other critical conservation and environmental meetings. The GDSA declaration therefore was put forward as contribution from this group at these fora, at COP 21 in Paris. At the continental level, GDSA was also presented and adopted as vehicle for implementation of environmental flagship programmes at the African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMSEN) in Egypt in 2013, and at the 2nd UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA 2) in Nairobi.
In Botswana, as part of our national commitment towards the objectives of the Gaborone Declaration, I am pleased to share with you a few efforts through which we have infused the aspirations of the Declaration into our national programmes;
(a) In our current National Development Plan 11 (NDP 11) we have integrated the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development into our policy decisions, thereby recognizing that natural capital is our primary source of revenue.
(b) We have also engaged in the development of the Sustainable Development Framework, the Climate Change Policy, and Vision 2036 (2017-2036) simultaneously providing the opportunity for further integration of a sustainable development pathway into our national development planning processes.
As such, the GDSA is consistent with our national long term Vision, as well as to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and our commitments made under the Paris Agreement. Most importantly, we have also in recent times, reconfigured our Ministries to ensure that they are in consonance with contemporary and future challenges such as issues of Green Technology and Natural Resources Conservation being prominent in their mandates. It is my wish and vision that as GDSA member countries, we will continue to grow in numbers, and that we increase efforts to implement the objectives of the GDSA. We currently cover 25% of the number of nations and their territorial space in sub-Saharan Africa and it is my hope to see that growing within the next five years. I would like to urge you all to be Ambassadors of the GDSA, to have conversations with your colleagues on this issue and encourage them to join us and walk this noble path with us. I would, furthermore, like to ask you to seriously deliberate ways in which we can scale up our national and collective actions to make the GDSA Secretariat financially sustainable. I would like to reiterate that Botswana is proud to be one of the founding signatories of the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa (GDSA). The Vision of the GDSA is to ensure that the nature on which we depend for our wellbeing is valued, respected and managed, not just for our generation but for future generations as well. As simple as this may sound, the actual task is Herculean and requires our collective and consistent resolve. Let me also use this opportunity to thank all those who prepared for this meeting, as well as thank the people of Maun for the kind hospitality. Let me extend our gratitude to all the stakeholders and partners especially Conservation International who have been participating actively in the undertaking of this endeavour.
Keynote Address by President Ian Khama at the Five-Year Anniversary and Inaugural Forum of Ministers Conference for the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa (GDSA) in Maun