The summit, themed “Healthy, Productive and Resilient Seas, Coasts and Communities”, was also attended by representatives from a number of other developing countries, such as Kenya, the Seychelles, Samoa, Haiti, Senegal and Jamaica, that rely heavily on harnessing the potential of the oceans to grow their economies.
As a country that has dealt effectively with plastics pollution, Rwanda was also a participant.
As noted in the official G7 Summit Communique, the Charlevoix Blueprint for Healthy Oceans, Seas and Resilient Coastal Communities, the health of the world’s oceans and seas is critical to the economic, social and environmental well-being of the planet. Oceans support communities, jobs and livelihoods, as well as being a source of food security and biodiversity.
Oceans also play a key role in the global climate system, and South Africa, like many other coastal countries, is vulnerable to the effects of ocean warming, acidification, sea-level rise and extreme weather events.
The communique outlines the challenges facing our oceans, from plastic litter to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, to the over-exploitation of fish stocks, and G7 leaders committed to play their respective parts in mitigating the effects of ocean degradation by reducing emissions, enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing the vulnerability of coastal communities to the impacts of climate change.
They also pledged to stimulate innovation and economic growth in the oceans space, in line with both previous G7 commitments and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
This will be done in the spirit of collaborative partnership with all sectors of society, including coastal communities, the private sector, international organisations and civil society at large.
At the Outreach Summit, President Ramaphosa presented the already significant strides South Africa has taken in this regard through Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy. Launched in 2014 to unlock the economic potential of South Africa’s oceans, Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy is a fundamental tenet of government’s economic growth and social transformation agenda and supports the objectives of the National Development Plan (NDP).
The six growth areas are Marine Transport and Manufacturing, Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration, Aquaculture, Marine Protection Services and Ocean Governance, Small Harbours Development and Coastal and Marine Tourism.
To date, South Africa has realised investment of approximately R26.3billion in the oceans economy space, and created 6633 jobs since October 2014. This has been mainly in infrastructure development (notably ports and marine manufacturing, as well as scientific and seismic surveys in the oil and gas sector).
President Ramaphosa emphasised at the summit that having the benefit of about 4000km of coastline, South Africa is ensuring that our oceans and coastal ecosystems are sustainably managed.
Earlier this month the world marked World Oceans Day and the Department of Environmental Affairs outlined the country’s plans to tackle some of the biggest threats to the health of our oceans such as marine pollution.
Through the Working for the Coast programme, South Africa is taking concrete action to address the threat posed by marine pollution, and plastics pollution in particular. We continue to mobilise society at large through education campaigns as part of our efforts to eradicate litter in the oceans, but also in areas within river catchments.
In line with our commitment to provide the necessary infrastructure and enhance capacity to tackle pollution, the department supports start-up and existing enterprises to establish among other things buy-back centres and material recovery facilities - in line with Operation Phakisa initiatives.
This is done through the Recycling Enterprise Support Programme. This programme has been allocated a budget of R194million over a three-year period.
Single-use plastics pose a particular challenge to our efforts to minimise plastics pollution, and we are working with the Department of Trade and Industry to manage the problem.
The department is also working with industry to find solutions to the problem of micro-beads in cosmetics, which are particularly harmful to marine life, and it is noteworthy that the Cosmetics, Toiletries and Fragrance Association of South Africa has committed to a voluntary phasing out.
We are also reviewing the country’s plastic bags policy and undertaking a study to determine whether the intended objectives of addressing plastic bag litter and promoting re-use and recycling of plastic carrier bags have been achieved.
This month we also launched the “Operation 30 Days at Sea” in partnership with Interpol - which focuses on enforcement and compliance with environmental legislation in the oceans and coastal environment.
In the coming months, we will also launch the department’s Source to Sea Initiative, an ambitious new strategy to investigate, combat and ultimately eradicate marine pollution.
President Ramaphosa’s Thuma-Mina Initiative calls on all South Africans to be part of building a better society.
In this regard we will also be launching a Green Good Deeds campaign, a concept borrowed from India.
A mobile application is currently in development that will catalyse this social movement by urging people to perform at least one Green Good Deed every day - such as planting trees, conserving water, or using public transport.
The app will be unveiled at the official launch of the Green Good Deeds campaign in the coming months.
A healthy and sustainable oceans space supports South Africa’s transition to an environmentally sustainable, climate-change resilient, low-carbon economy and just society.
We are a country committed to the principles of sustainable development; and to ensuring that we conserve our natural environment - but at the same time advance economic growth and create jobs.
As highlighted at the G7 Outreach Summit, South Africa can be justifiably proud of the advances it has made so far.
Edna Molewa is Minister of Environmental Affairs.
The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.