Speech by Steffi Lemke at the first Africa Protected Area Congress

Steffi Lemke bei der APAC
Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke gave a speech at the first protected area congress for Africa. The focus is on the One Health approach, to protect healthy nature and healthy ecosystems.

– Check against delivery –

Minister Ngamije,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

For decades, environmental protection, and especially biodiversity conservation, were seen as something that would simply be nice to have. However, actually the opposite is true: A healthy environment is vital for human health and well-being and for a resilient economy and society. Healthy ecosystems are our foundations of life. Preserving them is therefore an absolute must. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought this into the public eye once again. It has highlighted how closely human health is connected to the health of animals and ecosystems.

We should take advantage of this public awareness to promote the One Health approach, which aims to sustainably balance the health of people, animals and ecosystems. In recent years, One Health has been drawing increasing attention. At present, for instance, there are discussions on how to appropriately incorporate the approach into the Global Biodiversity Framework. And One Health also has an important part in the talks on a global pandemic agreement.

The actual implementation of the approach must now be firmly embedded on all levels and across sectors.

For me, prevention is key, because one thing is clear: The factors that give rise to pandemics are the same ones that cause biodiversity loss and climate change. Human interventions and ever-increasing encroachment on natural ecosystems. These actions damage, fragment or completely destroy habitats and ecosystems. More and more often, the surviving species are then forced to share shrinking habitats with people. This proximity makes it more likely that viruses will jump from animals to humans. By contrast, conserving ecosystems enables us to become more resilient against pandemics and other crises.

By trading wild animals on wet markets, people create ideal conditions for the transmission and spread of pathogens to other species – including humans. These connections have been verified by a number of scientific studies. They all clearly show that the more humans destroy nature, the higher the risk of zoonoses which can ultimately lead to pandemics. From this we can conclude: To reduce the risk of future zoonoses and pandemics, we need an ambitious species and nature conservation policy.

Moreover, it is significantly cheaper to prevent epidemics and pandemics than to respond to them after they have broken out. COVID-19 made that very clear across the globe. Those who are not here today need to be made more aware of this too. Corresponding structures are needed at international, national and subnational level to secure the development, implementation and coordination of One Health initiatives. To that end, policy-makers must establish a suitable framework and ensure adequate capacities and resources.

Germany will resolutely support this, as indeed it already is doing. To name two examples of this:

1. The International Alliance Against Health Risks in Wildlife Trade. We set this up together with the Federal Development Ministry and it was officially launched in September 2021 at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseilles. Since then, over 100 political, scientific and civil society organisations from around the world have committed to the goals of the Alliance. These include substantially reducing the risks of zoonotic spillover from trade in wild animals and their products and enhancing international and national knowledge and policies in this area.

2. Another example is the Nature for Health Multi-Partner Trust Fund, which we launched in cooperation with IUCN, UNEP, the CBD secretariat, WHO, UNDP, the World Organisation for Animal Health and the EcoHealth Alliance. The aim of this initiative is to support partner countries in implementing preventive One Health strategies. Germany has already provided 50 million euros for the Fund through our International Climate Initiative.

A side event organised by the consortium is taking place at 4:30 this afternoon, and you are warmly invited to attend and learn more about the Trust Fund.

Clearly, these initiatives can only be seen as first steps. In Germany, too, we have only just started implementing the One Health approach. But we are making progress: I have launched an Action Plan on Nature-based Solutions for Biodiversity and Climate, which we will fund with four billion euros over the next four years. The Action Plan takes the same direction as the One Health approach. Nature-based Solutions (NbS) work at the interface between biodiversity conservation, climate action and measures to adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis. NbS look at climate action and nature conservation together and deliberately use synergy effects.

I look forward to hearing about your experiences in Rwanda, and to the contributions of the other experts present in the subsequent discussion. We will only make progress on One Health by working together and learning from each other.

My thanks to IUCN and all those involved in organising this first African Protected Areas Congress. I wish us all a productive and informative day.

Thank you.

21.07.2022 | Speech Nature and Biological Diversity

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