Indalo Inclusive South Africa Symposium 2021

We leverage the power of grassroots innovation, speed-up innovation for concrete results on the ground to achieve the SDGs to #BuildBackBetterGreener.


Distinguished participants

Ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great honour to be a part of the Indalo Inclusive South Africa Symposium 2021 to engage, collaborate and co-create around the theme “Creating partnerships for adaptive entrepreneurial innovations for a green recovery and promotion of an inclusive, just and resilient economy in South Africa”. 

COVID-19 has hit us hard, claiming lives and magnifying inequalities around the world, the pandemic is still with us and still threatens our individual and collective health. The South African economy was facing a deep recession prior to the pandemic, after a year of COVID-19 it has seen a record 7% decline. This recession and the pandemic has meant that poverty is on the rise, with the impacts falling most heavily on the poor and most vulnerable people. Women have been disproportionately impacted, with studies showing they have been most affected by job and livelihood losses due to the pandemic.

For South African SMMEs, a contracting economy has put severe pressure on their operations, especially for informal labourers, and small farmers. According to the SMMEs COVID-19 Impact Report, 42.7% of 1,489 small businesses surveyed across South Africa during the first five months of the pandemic were forced to close. A big proportion of these were female-led enterprises.

Such examples are a clear demonstration that the public health crisis has evolved into a social and economic crisis that is set to remain with us well beyond the current pandemic.

As COVID-19 upends our lives, a more dangerous and deadly crisis demands urgent action on a global scale; climate change.

The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the interconnected relationship between people and nature. The scientific evidence shows that the pandemic and climate change are part of the same planetary crisis, threatened by biodiversity and habitat loss, global heating and toxic pollution.  We are living beyond the carrying capacity of the planet and are therefore putting human health and the health of nature at risk. Failure to act is failing humanity. Although the immediate priority at this time is to protect people by limiting the spread of COVID-19, the climate and biodiversity crises are ongoing.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes it clear that Climate change will increasingly have dramatic effects on poverty, inequality as well as human and ecosystem wellbeing. The impacts will disproportionately affect disadvantaged and vulnerable populations through food insecurity, higher food prices, income losses, lost livelihood opportunities, adverse health impacts and population displacements. The future of our planet in a 3-4° C increase of average temperature scenario takes us to an entirely different level of uncertainty, including aspects in terms of health.

As the Secretary General has clearly articulated: “Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top, top priority for everyone, everywhere.” The disruption caused by the pandemic provides us with an opportunity to re-think South Africa’s development trajectory going into the future. Meeting the targets set in the Paris Agreement needs a reimagining of economic structures. It needs a bold, honest recognition of the calamity that we are facing and the economic and behavioural revolution that is required to save ourselves.

What is clear is that the path we are on is UNSUSTAINABLE. The current crisis is an unprecedented wake-up call.  A rapid, ambitious global response is possible. We have the opportunity to build back better – to create a better, stronger, more sustainable, resilient and inclusive future for all. Finding solutions that will not only help us mitigate and adapt to climate change, but will also reduce inequality, lift people out of poverty, and build trust in international cooperation.

It is only through a whole-of-society effort, we can create a more sustainable economy by moving to resource efficient, circular economic systems that reuse resources, reduce emissions and weed out the chemicals and toxins that are causing millions of premature deaths – all while creating jobs and ensuring that transitions are fair and equitable. Resilience and environmental sustainability must be at the heart of everything we do.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

We need to rebuild a public consciousness that we are part of the natural world, that saving our climate and our biodiversity is not a mark of our kindness, but a basic act of self-preservation.

With less than a decade left to achieve the SDGs, the South African government has made considerable strides towards meeting its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Perhaps, the most notable is the adoption of the National Adaptation Strategy, the passing of the Climate Change Bill as well as the first Low-Emission Development Strategy (SA-LEDS) towards 2050. The outcomes of which, will contribute  to meeting South Africa‘s commitments of the UNFCCC, which includes the move towards ultimately reaching a net zero carbon economy by 2050”. But these documents need to be implemented urgently, South Africa, like all countries, needs to determinedly and urgently wean itself off fossil fuels for its own good, as well as for us all. This is where our collective effort should be directed, including building multi-sectoral partnerships for implementation. Meeting the Nationally Determined Contributions is not the work of Government alone but must be premised on all of us taking action.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

This year, we must commit to making peace with nature and, in every subsequent year, we must make sure that this peace lasts. We are part of the natural world, but it does not need us, but without it we cannot survive.

Building upon the success of the previous SEED Symposium, Indalo Inclusive is now hosting the first Indalo Inclusive South Africa Symposium to celebrate achievements, network and deliberate on strategies for increasing resilience and adaptive capacities for communities and entrepreneurs in response to climate change impacts. I hope the deliberations during this conference will generate ideas and solutions that place eco-inclusive entrepreneurship at the heart of climate change action and sustainable development.

The pandemic has shown humanity’s incredible ability to innovate and respond to threats, guided by science. Promoting and supporting eco-inclusive enterprises which protect and use natural ecosystems sustainably is one of the most immediate steps to take to reduce the risk of future crisis. Nature-based solutions – locally appropriate actions that address societal challenges, such as climate change, and provide human well-being and biodiversity benefits by protecting, sustainably managing and restoring natural or modified ecosystems – must also become a priority to address the causes and consequences of climate change.

By leveraging the power of grassroots innovation, scaling-up and speeding-up innovation for concrete results on the ground to achieve the SDGs, we also need to recognize the central role of women and youth in tackling some of the planet’s biggest environmental threats, from climate change to species loss, to pollution.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

The UN in South Africa in partnership with the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries and other state agencies remains committed to building back better. We are happy to see the very good results from the work executed by Indalo Inclusive South Africa and look forward to continuing our fruitful collaboration to address complex issues of adaptive entrepreneurial innovations for a green recovery and promotion of an inclusive, just and resilient economy. This includes support to enterprises for increased Resilience in Wildlife Communities of the Greater Kruger National Park (UNEP funded) and technical and financial support to enterprises participating in Tourism Value Chains (UNDP – GEF5 funded). Further, to provide a platform for dialogue amongst stakeholders. This is essential for putting all people and countries on the path to achieving the SDGs and the Paris Agreement.


On behalf of the UN Family in South Africa, I wish you successful deliberations.


Thank you and please stay safe.

Speech by
Nardos Bekele-Thomas
Resident Coordinator
Nardos Bekele-Thomas
UN entities involved in this initiative
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
International Organization for Migration
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office
UN Women
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Environment Programme
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations Children’s Fund
United Nations Industrial Development Organization
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
World Food Programme