Programme Director;
Dr Karamo Sonko;
Civil Society
Private Sector Businesses;
All protocols observed.

I would like to start by thanking Dr Karamo Sonko for inviting non-governmental organisations, academic institutions, responsible business leaders and civil society activists to participate in this important programme. Especially at a time when the people of Africa are in desperate need for not only policy reform, but an economic pathway that navigates communities to realising shared, long-term value within a system that upholds sustainable outcomes and replaces harmful practices with human-centred and ecologically aware development. By mending our political, economic, and social approaches and building a language of holistic concern, we can create a standard of business operation by which Africa and the world can abide by, as custodians of the planet and everything that lives in it.

As we understand it, the universe itself is an aggregate of all things, the totality of everything across space, including the earth itself. But when considering what it is that allows for habitable conditions for plants and animals, we are given the opportunity to discover the natural phenomena of the world. A complex combination of air, water, and soil: elements that blend and brew to imbue a primordial soup in a delicate balance that allows for life on earth.

In simple terms, the intricate survival and development of society, is a function of securing food and shelter by acting upon nature. Arguably, this is the essence of the creation and evolution of technology for productive economic activity. The story of tools in the narrative of humanity, is very much the story of the accumulative development of technology in modern terms. A precarious balancing act that gives way to an ecosystem of human activity that can either transform us or destroy us.

It is indeed a great opportunity to be invited here to serve as the Guest of Honour at this time in our world, on a topic as important to our continent as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG). These three categories capture the main challenges of the world today. These are the climate crisis we all face, poverty in our communities, especially in our continent which is the subject of this webinar, and corporate governance to address the needs of shareholders as well as other stakeholders. Therefore, it is gratifying that both the title of the webinar and the presentations show that we are here to think about issues of relevance to our common destiny.

At the time of holding this webinar, South Africa and the world are experiencing unprecedented health, social and economic impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with ongoing rising global temperatures and the negative effects of climate change. With every section of humanity facing increasing threats to the existence of the human species and life as we know it, it is crucial for us to approach our response to pandemics, natural disasters, and economic crisis from the holistic perspective that ESG offers.

Capitalism re-making has to happen along three axes: (i) rethinking our way of living in nature; (ii) addressing the causes of the destruction of the ecological basis of our life world – the global commons; and (iii) the importance of  climate justice as the basis of a new ecological constitutionalism for the world.

Within the ecology of market democracies, corporations have the power to transform bio-genetic materials into commodities, nature is natural capital and eco-system services are subject to economic valuation. Nature is conquered and must serve endless accumulation. In this context, the limits, regenerative cycles and complex interconnections of eco-systems do not matter. Such an ecology is eco-cidal, in the sense of obliterating the conditions that sustain life. It is not how we should be living.

Market democracies ecologies are enabling the destruction of the planetary commons. Water, land, bio-diversity, energy and the earth system are part of the life enabling commons. We are living through the last great dispossession of the planetary commons systems. These are living systems and are necessary for human and non-human life. More commodification of water, mono-industrial agriculture, destruction of wild spaces, fossil fuel extraction and more carbon emissions are making our planet unliveable. This understanding reinforces the need for emancipatory ecologies and climate justice.

How we better manage the world’s resources for the good of all humanity in the years to come, is the next piece in the puzzle of human development.

However, when embracing development objectives, it is important to recognise that each country is different and therefore has different needs, challenges and capabilities. The needs of developed and developing countries, established and emerging economies are very different. Countries with citizens in extreme poverty have contrasting challenges to first world nations, including where to invest precious resources and brainpower, and focus policy and social mobilization efforts is particular to each State. Therefore, African countries should not simply copy and paste ESG measures to address their needs, instead should be able to assess their circumstances, economies and societies to determine what they should consider material to their urgent challenges, whilst also recognizing the global threats which they share with the rest of the world.

Once again, I thank Dr Sonko for this historic initiative of bringing together speakers of such diversity and experience as shown here today and wish him continuous success in the untiring efforts he has always shown to serve our continent.

I thank you.