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International commitment to biodiversity – it’s not the Earth we’re saving, but rather the resources on which our life depends

A sea slug

A sea slug, © picture-alliance

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Human activity and climate change present an ever greater threat to the biological diversity found on our planet. This also puts at risk the resources on which our life depends and our health. The Federal Government is working around the world to protect biodiversity.

The Earth is home to some 2 million identified species. This variety of life is incredibly precious. The life sciences are only gradually discovering its value for humanity. However, biological diversity is severely threatened all over the world.

One Health: the decline of biodiversity is threatening human health

Beyond the imminent irretrievable loss of biodiversity, recent research suggests that declining biodiversity also has a negative impact on human health. Where humans and animals come into unnatural close contact (e.g. because of the destruction of natural safe havens due to human encroachment, or due to the effects of climate change or illegal hunting and the illicit trade in wild animals) there is a heightened risk of pandemics when disease passes directly from animals to humans (zoonosis). On the basis of these findings, the first One Planet, One Health, One Future conference was held in Berlin in October 2019, and it was at this conference that the Berlin Principles on One Health were adopted. These make clear that the risks of pandemics can be reduced through long-term efforts to preserve biodiversity around the world. Sustainable nature conservation helps everyone. No one expected how quickly the entire world would be forced to confront the scenario of a pandemic that rapidly spreads around the globe, Minister of State Niels Annen said at the opening of the second conference on 17 November 2020:

The COVID‑19 pandemic has been a wakeup call to us all. It has shown us not only the immediacy of the connection between the loss of biodiversity and the emergence of a pandemic but also how devastating its results are for people, societies, and economies worldwide. We will have to find ways towards a healthy recovery.

The Convention on Biological Diversity

Germany is working around the world to protect biodiversity. The agreement at the foundation of these efforts is the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to which Germany became a signatory in 1992 and that 196 countries have joined so far. The goal of the Convention is to preserve biodiversity. The term “biological diversity” includes the diversity of species on Earth, genetic diversity and the diversity of ecosystems. In addition to a focus on conservation, the Convention also aims to achieve sustainable use of biological diversity. The CBD is the first international convention that regards biodiversity as a resource controlled by states. Biodiversity is thereby placed on the same level as minerals or other natural resources.

Milestones in international law for the protection of biodiversity

The adoption of two legally binding international agreements within the framework of the CBD are additional important milestones: The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety that was agreed in the year 2000 and that came into force in 2003 regulates cross-border transport of living modified organisms (LMOs). The Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-sharing was agreed in 2010 and came into force in 2014. It creates a legally binding framework for access to genetic resources and for the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of their utilisation.

In order to raise international awareness of the significance of protecting biodiversity, in addition to other environmental and climate policy issues, the UN General Assembly decided in December 2010 to set up an Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which advises governments on the science of climate change, IPBES is designed to scientifically study and monitor the Earth’s biodiversity and to advise environmental policy-makers. Germany had long sought to create this platform and ultimately succeeded in its bid to host the IPBES secretariat on the UN Campus in Bonn. Since the beginning of 2014, the IPBES secretariat has been located at the UN Campus on the Rhine.

One important aspect of the conservation of biodiversity is protecting endangered species in the animal kingdom. Germany has signed both the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Washington Convention, CITES) and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn Convention, CMS). Moreover, Germany has been a member of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) since 1982 and actively supports maintaining the ban on commercial whaling. Germany has also joined various regional agreements on the protection of specific species or groups which are endangered but not yet necessarily threatened with extinction.

Additional content

Convention on Biological Diversity

COP 9 in Bonn (May 2008)

9th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 9) in Bonn, Germany, from 19 to 30 May 2008

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