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A little more than a year ago, about 200 experts from all walks of science and politics met here at the Federal Foreign Office for the “One Planet, One Health, One Future” conference organized in cooperation with the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Discussions at this conference led to the conclusion that biodiversity - or rather the loss thereof – could greatly influence the possibility of outbreak and spread of pandemics.
The “Berlin Principles”, established as a result of that conference, encouraged us to take action against the current climate crisis and the resulting degradation of ecosystems.
None of us present at that conference would have dared to believe that only a few months later the world would have to face a scenario of a pandemic: A virus spreading with such speed that only the most drastic measures seem to be able to contain its proliferation.
Today, we have hope for vaccines coming soon.
This hope, however, should not distract us from the crucial point: the next pandemic could already be waiting for us. Therefor we have to succeed in keeping in check those factors that may trigger further future pandemics:
Climate change and the resulting loss of biodiversity.
As the recently published report on Biodiversity and Pandemics of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES, (Weltbiodiversitätsrat) clearly states, the risks of further pandemics are increasing rapidly. They are driven by unsustainable anthropogenic impacts on nature and climate.
IPBES reminds us that - at the same time - there is a very strong economic incentive for preventive action. We have to keep in mind, that the costs of global strategies to prevent pandemics are only a fraction of the economic damages they cause.
And therefore, Ladies and Gentlemen, we know what has to be done:
To quote the “Berlin Principles”, we must “retain the essential health links between humans, wildlife, domesticated animals and plants, and all nature.” And furthermore “ensure the conservation and protection of biodiversity, which - interwoven with intact and functional ecosystems - provides the critical fabric of life, health and well-being on our planet”.
The COVID19 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.
The breakdown of health and economic systems can quickly lead to destabilization and insecurity in the societies most affected by the pandemic.
Our task in a post-COVID19 world will therefore be twofold:
We will have to eradicate the factors possibly leading to the outbreak of pandemics by fighting the current climate crisis and the resulting weakening of ecosystems. In doing so, we have to bear in mind that climate change and degradation of nature mutually influence and reinforce one another.
We will have to find ways towards a healthy recovery. The World Health Organization has recently outlined this in its Manifesto for a Healthy Recovery from COVID19, including nature protection, sustainable food systems, and a healthy energy transition.
We have to make sure not to take the short-cut reverting to old technologies just because they are already at hand. We have to take this process of building back as an unique opportunity to build back “greener”, using and implementing more environment-friendly technologies.
And as much as every single country has to do the utmost to deal with the consequences of the pandemic and to find ways out of the crisis, it is by now becoming clear that we will only be able to reach a lasting and sustainable recovery if we work together on an international level.
Only global cooperation in the framework of international organizations and partnerships will enable us to overcome this present crisis but to create conditions that will help avoid global calamities like the COVID19 crisis in the future.
My thanks go to the Wildlife Conservation Society for organizing and co-hosting this event as well as to all the distinguished speakers who have made themselves available for this conference.
I am looking forward to fruitful and inspiring discussions.
Thank you very much!