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National Strategy for Sustainable Development (NSSD)

Author: Compiled by Chief Directorate: Communication,Department of Environmental Affairs, Pretoria

( Article Type: Sustainable Development )

As concerns for the environment and its ability to sustain our current consumption patterns grow, globally the move towards sustainable development is becoming increasingly urgent. There has been an acknowledgment that the earth’s supply of natural resources is not infinite. Faced with the real threat of climate change, sustainable development becomes more pertinent and significant from the South African and worldwide perspective.
Research indicates that South Africa’s natural resource base is under severe pressure, with many ecosystems already seriously degraded and we are faced with the reality that our country is most likely to be seriously affected by climate change. This coupled with South Africa’s highly energy intensive nature point to the fact that we are currently on a development path which is unsustainable. The concept of sustainable development has been on the international agenda since the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972. Sustainability and sustainable development has been interpreted in numerous ways, with sustainable development having gained increasing recognition worldwide as a conceptual framework for development that recognizes the interdependencies between economic growth, social equity and environmental integrity.
Although definitions vary, an internationally accepted definition emphasizes the need for a long-term planning horizon, and the adoption of a development path that improves the quality of life of current generations, while leaving future generations with at least the same capacity and options for development. Also with the importance of enhancing horizontal linkages and promoting co-ordination across sectors, and in particular for recognizing synergies and tensions across sectors. This with the importance of vertical spatial linkages, so that local, provincial, national and global development efforts and governance are mutually supportive; and the role of partnership between government, business, non-government and community and voluntary organizations being recognised.
The World Summit on Sustainable Development held in South Africa in 2002 was tasked with reinvigorating the global commitment to sustainable development and delivered a number of key outcomes including a political declaration, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI), and a range of partnership initiatives. Paragraph 162 (b) of the JPOI requires that: “States should take immediate steps to make progress in the formulation and elaboration of national strategies for sustainable development and begin their implementation by 2005.” Following the World Summit, the then Departments of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and Foreign Affairs were mandated by Cabinet to formulate a National Strategy for Sustainable Development. The first phase of this process culminated in the adoption by the Cabinet in June, 2008 of the National Framework on Sustainable Development (NFSD).
In 2008, Cabinet approved the National Framework for Sustainable Development (NFSD) which signalled a new wave of thinking aimed at promoting effective stewardship of our natural, social, and economic resources. The NSSD builds on the NFSD and a number of existing initiatives by business, government, NGO’s, academia and other key role players to address sustainability issues in South Africa. It is a forward-looking strategy that regards sustainable development as a long-term commitment that combines environmental protection, social equity and economic efficiency, in line with our vision and values. The National Framework provides a valuable step in defining key sustainable development principles for the country, while being mindful of global challenges and growth ideals. Due to the complex development considerations, that include the worrying increase in the gap between the rich and poor populations in the country, a simple ‘triple bottom line’ approach to sustainable development is insufficient. This realisation led to the broader definition of sustainable development. The country’s approach accepts that social, economic and ecosystem factors are embedded within each other, and are underpinned by systems of governance that holds all the other systems together within a legitimate regulatory framework. T
he NFSD formed the first step of the NSSD process. This document provides the Strategy and Action Plan to support the implementation of the NFSD. It therefore provides a high level strategic sustainable development roadmap. It is intended to provide guidance to public and private sector organisations in their own long-term planning and to the development of sector- or subject-specific strategies and action plans, which must all be consistent with the NSSD. In developing this strategy for sustainable development, the country therefore agreed on a clear meaning in a South African context. Sustainability (or a sustainable society) is seen as the overall goal of the NSSD. Sustainability in this context, implies ecological sustainability, which recognises firstly, that the maintenance of healthy ecosystems and natural resources are preconditions for human well-being, and secondly, that there are limits to the goods and services which they can provide. In other words, ecological sustainability acknowledges that human beings are part of nature and not separate from it. A sustainable development is the process by which we move towards that goal. Sustainable development implies the selection and implementation of a development option which allows for the achievement of appropriate and justifiable social and economic goals (based on meeting basic needs and equity) without compromising the natural system on which it is based.
Although sustainable development is a contested concept, in this context it refers to development that upholds the integrity of natural resources and the ecological support systems, underlined by sound governance practices such that the options of present and future generations are not impaired. The strategy marks the beginning of a national partnership for sustainable development and it is a milestone in an ongoing process of developing support for sustainable development and actions towards achieving sustainable development in South Africa.
The process of the NSSD comprises three phases. Phase one occurred from 2003 to 2008 and an analysis of long-term economic, social and environmental trends and related policy initiatives were undertaken in this phase. This informed the vision, goals and strategic priorities for sustainable development. Phase one culminated in the NFSD which was adopted by the Cabinet in June 2008.
From 2009 to 2010 Phase two was undertaken and involved the formulation of a strategy and action plan for the period 2010 – 2014 to facilitate the implementation of the vision, goals and strategic priorities as outlined in the NFSD. It included proposals for an institutional framework to drive sustainable development and for a process of monitoring and evaluation of progress in implementing the NSSD. The third phase is from 2011 until 2014 and onwards. Although many relevant activities are already being implemented, a formal implementation of the action plan will commence on approval of the NSSD1. Implementation will be accompanied by ongoing monitoring and evaluation of progress towards a sustainable society which also then provides feedback for a system of adaptive management. Phase III implementation progress evaluation will inform the NSSD 2 (2015 -2020).
The vision for South Africa’s NSSD and action plan (NSSD1) is, “South Africa aspires to be a sustainable, economically prosperous and self-reliant nation state that safeguards its democracy by meeting the fundamental human needs of its people, by managing its limited ecological resources responsibly for current and future generations, and by advancing efficient and effective integrated planning and governance through national, regional and global collaboration”

The goals of the NSSD are:
• To develop and promote new social and economic goals based on ecological sustainability and build a culture that recognises that socio-economic systems are dependent on and embedded within ecosystems
• To increase awareness and understanding of the value of ecosystem services to human well-being
• To ensure effective integration of sustainability concerns into all policies, planning and decision making at national, provi
ncial and local levels
• To ensure effective integration and collaboration across all functions and sectors
• To monitor, evaluate and report performance and progress in respect of ecological sustainability

The strategy is premised on five strategic priorities which are: enhancing systems for integrated planning and implementation; sustaining our ecosystems and using natural resources efficiently; towards a Green Economy; building sustainable communities and responding effectively to climate change.
Five key objectives have been identified in line with each strategic priority. For instance under climate change the objectives are: a fair contribution to the global effort to achieve the stabilisation of GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that prevents dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system and to effectively adapt to and manage unavoidable and potentially damaging climate change impacts through interventions that build and sustain South Africa’s social, economic and environmental resilience and emergency response capacity.

A list of interventions has been stipulated to assist in the achievement of the said objective. This is further broken down into specific goals and headlines with indicators.

Under the strategic priority, ‘Towards a Green Economy,’ the objective is a just transition towards a resource efficient, low carbon and pro-employment growth path. One of the goals for this objective is supporting regulatory framework and the interventions are a National Green Economy Strategy and sector Green Economy Implementation Plans. Subsequent to the adoption of the NFSD, South Africa, along with most other countries, has been in an economic recession as a consequence of the global financial crisis. This has exacerbated many of the socio-economic problems. For example, there has been a significant increase in unemployment, with reports of up to 1 million jobs lost in South Africa. In addition, concerns around amongst others the growing problem of water scarcity, increase in oil process, rising of global emissions and the electricity crisis SA is experiencing, pose a threat to the achievement of a sustainable society in the longer term as well as the ability of government to meet their short-term socioeconomic objectives and deliver on the Millennium Development Goals.
In the face of the multiple international crises, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) proposed a ‘Global Green New Deal’ which recommends that countries view the financial crisis as an opportunity to shift their economies towards ecological sustainability. The Global Green New Deal was subsequently followed by a Green Economy Report which outlines priority areas of focus in transitioning to a green economy. This together with the work of many other agencies and government, including South Africa, is set to inform a renewed sustainable development vision for the next century.
In developing this strategy to give effect to the NFSD, cognisance was taken of the threats described earlier
The elements of the strategy are therefore as follows: directing the development path towards sustainability; changing behaviour, values and attitudes; and restructuring the governance system and building capacity.

South Africa’s current economic development path is based primarily on maximising economic growth as measured by the gross domestic product (GDP), particularly through mining, manufacturing and agricultural activities. As indicated above, this has resulted in an energy-intensive economy and an erosion of the resource base, a situation which is clearly unsustainable.
The need to put in place new socio-economic objectives, particularly around issues of equity, is clearly central to the policies of the democratic government. More recently, there has been some recognition of the need for a more radical redefinition of our development path, with emphasis being placed on the Green Economy.
Central to a strategy of this nature is a behavioural shift but coupled with this is a society that allows people to make sustainable choices such as recycling and using public transport. Therefore attempts to change behaviour must be supported by the provision of appropriate opportunities.

The sustainable development strategy development process is driven by the Department of Environmental Affairs (previously The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT). While these efforts have had a significant impact on natural resource-based sectors, the coordination within DEA contributed to the misconception that views sustainable development as an environmental issue and something which happens in parallel with development initiatives in other sectors. In order to shift to an integrated sustainable development trajectory, which will ensure the achievement of a sustainable society vision, there needs to be a single national vision for development which incorporates the principles of sustainability, and with which all other policies – and associated legislation - must be aligned and consistent.
There are already a number of sectors which have, to a greater or lesser extent, incorporated sustainability criteria into some or all of their policies, legislation, strategies and action plans. In many cases, however, implementation does not seem to be effective due to a number of reasons that includes lack of political will, inadequate resources as well as lack of management and technical capacity. There is, therefore, a need to establish an institutional framework that will ensure that there is effective coordination, planning and monitoring/evaluation of the implementation of the NSSD. In terms of capacity, initiatives need to be linked to clear institutional mandates for ensuring the incorporation of sustainability principles into policies, legislation, strategies and action plans of government, including the need to ensure effective monitoring and evaluation of progress towards a sustainable future. The contributions of the private sector and civil society to sustainable development also need to be managed.

In developing the Action Plan in relation to the strategic priorities identified in the NFSD, cognisance has been taken of emerging global issues/challenges, namely the financial crisis, the global climate change and the transitioning to a green economy. To remain within the prevailing and flexible context, the NFSD strategic priorities were reformulated. For instance, climate change and the Green Economy were elevated to an entire strategic priority.
The approach to be used for planning, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and reporting on progress towards the attainment of sustainability targets will be aligned with the existing government-wide monitoring and evaluation system. This alignment will ensure that the practice of sustainable development becomes integrated into the routine work of government and performance against targets becomes subject to established accounting systems.

The Department will establish and oversee the Inter- Governmental Committee on Sustainable Development (IGCSD) and other structures to engage civil society, private sector, academia, independent review and other multi-stakeholders. The department in collaboration with the relevant sector departments and stakeholders will galvanise action towards the implementation of the strategy through harmonised planning of programmes and execution.

The relevant elements of the national strategy for sustainable development, including goals, indicators and programmes will be reflected in strategic plans of these institutions and organisations with the implementation, monitoring, evaluation and reporting enforced through such a strategic plan.

Urgent action is required to direct the development path of the country towards sustainability, particularly in light of the potential consequences of climate change, financial recession, job losses and declining natural resources. It is acknowledged at an international level that the most poor and vulnerable people are likely to be affected most by climate change. For this reason, it is an imperative that active and urgent interventions are taken to deliver on social objectives, whilst ensuring that the natural resources on which a decent quality of life depends are managed to ensure their long-term sustainability. Thus, this strategy and Action Plan must be prioritised and achievements against its targets must be assessed through applying the relevant indicators.

This National Strategy for Sustainable Development puts into action, the National Framework for Sustainable Development that requires the nation as a whole to increasingly share in the common vision. All sectors, including all elements of the government plus civil society, organised labour and business, need to take part in the social contract to implement the NFSD, NSSD and Action Plan 2011 - 2014. We need to promote simple actions on a large scale. As understanding of sustainable development increases, and it becomes clear that this is the key mechanism for building capacity and governance to achieve human development based on sustainable production and consumptions systems, government and society across all spheres and all sectors will approach and address the issues identified in this strategy with the seriousness they deserve.

This summary of the National Strategy for Sustainable Development is drafted from the National Strategy for Sustainable Development and Action Plan 2011 – 2014.