Highlighting the value of biodiversity: Assessing the sustainable development impact of South Africa’s Biodiversity Policy


  • University of Cape Town
  • UNEP DTU Partnership


A policy on the conservation and sustainable use of South Africa’s biological diversity was published in 1997 for discussion, but it was not subsequently adopted as policy. Since then, the absence of an overarching policy has arguably contributed to a lack of clarity around some key issues, for example in addressing biological invasions, and a slow pace of development of sectoral legislation like the Biodiversity Framework.

The drafted policy aims to achieve multiple sustainable development objectives that are environmental, social and economic in nature, as expressed by the policy’s six goals.

Through its goals, the policy is intended to provide the broad context for strategies, plans, regulations concerning the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and aims to mainstream biodiversity across sectors and across spheres of government by requiring that biodiversity considerations are included in all sectoral budgets, and in national, provincial and local regulations and guidelines for spatial planning.

To identify the possible sustainable development impacts of the draft policy on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in South Africa, the University of Cape Town applied ICAT’s Sustainable Development Assessment Guide – a methodology to help policymakers and other users assess multiple development and climate impacts across the environmental, social and economic dimensions


  • To understand the likely sustainable development impacts of the overarching draft policy for biodiversity in South Africa in light of the policy’s multiple objectives, its reliance on the sustainable use of natural resources for success, and shared objectives with sustainable development and climate policy.


The ex-ante assessment followed a qualitative approach relying on consultation with expert stakeholders and a desktop review. The assessment includes interventions over the short-term to medium-term, and evaluates the short-term to long-term impacts.

Following ICAT’s Sustainable Development Assessment Guide, impact categories were identified based on relevance, significance and comprehensiveness, and were later assessed and evaluated to better understand the overall impact of each impact category. The likelihood was also evaluated based on different factors to understand the probability of the impact as a result of policy.

Consultation with stakeholders played a key role in the assessment given the multiple objectives of the policy and the large number of related policies and actions. The consultations were especially useful for gaining understanding of the related policy landscape, and for learning about unintended impacts, and about some changes in thinking or differences in opinion about different conservation approaches.


If implemented, South Africa’s policy on biodiversity is expected to have an impact on 12 SDGs (see Figure 1 below). This means that it is possible that the policy will facilitate transformation even as the extent of potential transformation is expected to be moderate.

A set of indicators to keep track of impacts was also developed to support a monitoring strategy for the policy.

Figure 1: The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in South Africa is linked to 12 SDGs. (United Nations, 2017)


More information

For more information about the Sustainable Development Assessment Guide or any of the ICAT series of Policy Assessment Guides, please contact the ICAT Secretariat.


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Image credit: World Bank Photo Collection