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  • Speech by Dr. Barbara Hendricks on the conclusion of the German Presidency of the Alpine Convention

Speech by Dr. Barbara Hendricks on the conclusion of the German Presidency of the Alpine Convention

Speech by Dr. Barbara Hendricks on the conclusion of the German Presidency of the Alpine Convention

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Dear Ambassador Kos Marko,
dear Embassy representatives from the Alpine countries,
ladies and gentleman,
dear friends of the Alps,

International Mountain Day, which was actually yesterday, reminds us of the immeasurable value of our mountains - their breath-taking nature, unique wildlife and the distinct culture of their people which reminds us of how strenuous life in the mountains used to be, and still is today.

The Bavarians among you today are probably wondering what the Prussians have to do with our Alps?

And the question is not entirely unjustified.

The highest peaks in Berlin, the Arkenberge in Blankenfelde, are just 120 metres.

They were formed between 1984 and 1998 and were, in fact, formerly a landfill site for construction waste. Even with the best of intentions, the Arkenberge couldn't possibly pass for foothills of the Alps.

I am interested in the Alps for another reason: In my role as Federal Environment Minister, I took over the Presidency of the Alpine Convention for the last two years. The Alpine Convention is an international agreement between all Alpine countries and the European Union that is aimed at protecting and sustainably developing the Alpine region.

During the Alpine Conference in Grassau am Chiemsee in October, I handed over the Presidency to my Austrian colleague, Andrä Rupprechter. I would thus like to use International Mountain Day as an opportunity to briefly look back on the work of the last two years and take stock. 

  • First and foremost, I would like to thank all those, who supported us during our Presidency:
  • First of all, the other Parties to the Convention, with whom we have worked together constructively over the past two years. In particular, Austria, who have taken over the Presidency.
  • The government ministries that worked together with us, in particular the ministries responsible for economic affairs, transport, agriculture and spatial planning.
  • The subsidiary authorities, especially the Federal Environment Agency and Federal Agency for Nature Conservation.
  • The Free State of Bavaria, which supported us in many ways, logistically and at expert level.
  • The Permanent Secretariat of the Alpine Convention, which has become a strong player in the Alpine region.
  • And finally, the observer organisations which, though at times with a critical eye, always constructively supported the work of the Presidency. 

Incidentally, the Presidency coincided with a very historic time for international climate policy.

In September last year, the United Nations agreed on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and in December the Paris Climate Agreement was adopted.

Both of these agreements show that the transformation towards sustainable economic practices and lifestyles is no longer just a distant aspiration, but is beginning to become a reality.

I don’t think it is going too far to say that we are on the doorstep of a new chapter. For many years, international climate policy moved at a snail’s pace - with many countries deliberately pushing on the brakes. And here at home many people said: "What is the point of being leaders in environmental protection if no-one follows us?" Today is a very different story. While each country may have different starting positions and be working at different speeds, we are all going in the same direction.

And that is towards economic practices and lifestyles that allow for prosperity and preserve our foundations of life.

Now is the time to develop prospects to ensure the success of the transformation - to ensure no new injustices are created and allow the people in the global South a life in prosperity.

This is especially important for us riparian Alpine countries. We are among the wealthiest industrialised countries on earth.

The Alps remind us day after day of our duty to preserve our natural wealth for future generations. And: The Alps are located in a region that is already feeling the effects of climate change.

The objective must be to bring “environment” and “economy” together. The environment and economy are not opponents - in fact they depend on each other. I can only successfully protect the environment when it is not at the cost of prosperity. Conversely, I can only succeed in the long run economically if I protect the environment as the basis for our prosperity. Foresters, for example, have already been applying the principle of sustainable development for a long time.

Sustainable economic practices were therefore the focus of our Presidency.

Together with the Federal Environment Agency we compiled the Report on the State of the Alps which focussed on greening the economy. The report presents current trends in the Alps, for instance, in the areas of renewable energies, green jobs and sustainable tourism and the opportunities arising from them.

I am delighted to hear that the Austrian Presidency is planning on further underpinning our recommendations with an action programme. Austria can count on our support in this.

In addition, we took a number of green economy aspects into account: biodiversity conservation, sustainable spatial development, a future-oriented mountain agriculture, the connections between renewable energies and nature conservation, energy efficient building and sustainable winter tourism.

Speaking of winter tourism: I remember the opening event of our Presidency almost exactly two years ago. Then, just like today, there was a large ice slide on Potsdamer Platz - which perhaps brings a bit of Alpine flair to Berlin.

But now there is one difference - two years ago there was artificial snow on the ice slide, which was painstakingly blown onto the slide using a long plastic pipe and large amounts of electricity. The operators have now decided to do without the artificial snow. This shows that great strides are being made on sustainable economic practices beyond the Alpine region as well.

The example of snow machines highlights just how difficult these debates are in specific settings. Winter tourism is one of the main branches of industry in the Alps. Many people have to live an entire year off of their earnings from the winter season. At the same time, skiing causes significant interventions in nature. And if temperatures continue to rise and natural snowfall continues to decline, snow machines will need be in operation twenty four seven.

One thing is already clear today, with or without artificial help, skiers will in future have to travel higher and higher to reach the snow line. Not all winter sport destinations will be able to rely on skiing in future.

We cannot ignore the discussion on sustainable economic practices and the future of the Alpine region. On the contrary, we now need to engage in it. We need to develop prospects that will still be viable in 20 to 30 years time.

The various interests in this discussion - mobility, economic prosperity, nature conservation, are all justified. And we should not shy away from setting out again and again on the tiresome search for pragmatic solutions. Taking several small steps is most certainly better than making grand statements.

With its Compliance Committee, the Alpine Convention already has a body at the ready to help strike a balance of interests in discussions. The Convention is far from being a toothless tiger.

I am very pleased that under our Presidency we were able to strengthen the Compliance Committee.

The Committee’s work is mostly done behind the scenes. But the impact of its work is enormous: the Committee helps the Parties implement the Convention’s provisions, defines abstract legal terms and develops guidelines to use in practice. The Committee gently urges the Parties to implement what is legally required.

The motto of the local Agenda 21 "think globally, act locally" still rings true today. We need regions, cities, municipalities and each and every citizen to be actively involved. This is the only way we can achieve the targets set out in New York and Paris.

Here, we can build on very successful cooperation in the Alps.

During our Presidency we attached great importance to getting all players involved in our work - for instance, through financially supporting NGOs. And during AlpWeek which facilitated a wide range of encounters between civil society and policy-makers. One thing is clear: Society needs policy-makers to set the framework for developing the Alpine region. But policy-makers need society just as much. Without the multitude of initiatives and ideas and the drive people bring to the table, we will hardly make any progress.

"Cooperation", this is the keyword when talking about a new EU Strategy for the Alpine Region (EUSALP).

EUSALP is still in its infancy and will initiate projects aimed at economic and social cohesion in the region.

The regions are claiming to take on leading role here - but they should not forget the Alpine Convention and its actors in this strategy. It is important to interlink the Alpine Convention and EUSALP.

There is no doubt that we in the Alps alone will not be able to save the world. Nevertheless, as an impressive region in the heart of Europe we can make a contribution. And we can show that environmental protection and nature conservation are a model for success that goes beyond national borders. That different responsible actors do not obstruct each other, but rather provide different perspectives which can enrich joint activities.

The slogan of the German Presidency was "The Alps – a symbol of European diversity". As I have said before, this diversity also includes our vast wealth of culture - our languages, literature, art and music.

Literature was the focus of last year’s International Mountain Day.

And we had the famous author Robert Seethaler read an extract from his novel "A Whole Life". This evening we would like highlight another art form, namely, poetry. I am very excited about the first Alpine Languages Poetry Slam here in Berlin.

I wish you all a wonderful evening.

13.12.2016 | Speech Alpine Convention | Berlin