Speech by Svenja Schulze on biodiversity and pandemic

29.06.2020 | Nature/Biological Diversity

Onlinetalk: Biodiversity loss and wildlife trade as pandemic causes

Discussion with international guests explores biodiversity loss and wildlife trade as causes of pandemics

Onlinetalk: Biodiversity loss and wildlife trade as pandemic causes
Svenja Schulze gave a speech at the event "Nature is sending us a message". She addressed the connections between biological diversity, wildlife trade, nature conservation and pandemics.

– Check against delivery –

Ambassador Christoph Heusgen,
Special Envoy John Scanlon,
Professor Simone Sommer,
Dr Sue Lieberman,
Ladies and gentlemen,

For several months now, our world has been in a state of crisis. Governments worldwide have adopted comprehensive packages of measures to stop the further spread of the virus and overcome the economic, social and societal consequences of the pandemic.

The coronavirus crisis has shown us that the conservation of nature and biodiversity is essential to prevent future pandemics. About 60 percent of the pathogens that cause pandemics originate from animals: HIV, Ebola, bird flu, MERS, SARS. All of these dangerous infectious diseases were originally transmitted from wild animals to humans.

It is not yet fully understood which species played what role in the transmission of COVID-19. The raccoon dog, civet or the world's most frequently trafficked species, the pangolin, are under discussion. But one thing is undeniable: the cause is human behaviour.

When different animal species and humans come together in a confined space, the risk of virus transmission increases. This happens, for example, at wildlife markets, where a wide variety of wild species are crammed into pens, killed and kept in unsanitary conditions. These are very poor conditions for the animals, but unfortunately very beneficial conditions for dangerous viruses.

Apart from wildlife markets, illegal international trade in wildlife is part of the growing problem. Trafficking in wild plants and animals and wildlife products has become one of the largest and most lucrative forms of transnational organised crime.

It is precisely these trafficked species that pose an increased risk of transmitting zoonoses. Measures must be taken to combat illegal trade in wildlife. I believe that all available means must be used, including strengthening international cooperation between law enforcement agencies.

However, as scientists have warned, it is by no means enough to focus exclusively on these problems.

People are pushing ever further into primeval forests and the natural habitats of many species, thereby reducing and destroying biodiversity. By deliberately pursuing and hunting certain species or by establishing monocultures. Habitats and ecosystems are being damaged, fragmented or destroyed. The surviving species then increasingly share ever smaller habitats with humans. This unnatural proximity between people and wildlife makes viruses more likely to be transmitted. But when we preserve ecosystems, we are more resilient to pandemics and other crises.

This is why I am committed to an ambitious strategy for the international conservation of biodiversity in line with the One Health approach to protect nature and our health.

The IPBES Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services shows that the global loss of biodiversity is dramatic. Natural habitats are being altered and destroyed. People are encroaching on these habitats, and biodiversity is declining drastically in many regions of the world.

In addition, multilateral agreements and international cooperation are increasingly being called into question. But they are necessary and helpful. The current situation in particular shows that these kinds of crises can only be contained or prevented through international coordination together with global partners.

This can be achieved through bilateral and multilateral cooperation, for example, in the context of major campaigns such as the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration. Or by establishing binding international laws. The 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity next year represents an opportunity.

The international community can show that it has learned from the coronavirus pandemic. It can adopt a new global biodiversity strategy that includes the necessary measures for the global conservation of biodiversity, which will also reduce the risk of future pandemics.

The focus is reconciling economic activities with nature conservation, preserving ecosystems and protecting habitats. In other words, it is about giving wild animals enough space and diverse ecosystems to ensure that humans and animals can maintain a healthy distance from one other. My particular focus is also on combating illicit trafficking in species using all available means. I want to more strictly regulate international trade in species which are currently only protected by national law and I want to strictly regulate high-risk wildlife markets at international level. Countries of origin and communities must be better supported in this fight.

Biodiversity is experiencing a fundamental crisis. It can only be tackled in collaboration with our international partners and civil societies. And the change must be transformative.

That is why I am pleased that we have come together today – some of us in person, some of us virtually – to discuss how we can make further progress on this very important issue in the coming weeks, months and years.

Thank you.

29.06.2020 | Speech Nature/Biological Diversity