Biodiversity and Zoonoses: German Efforts to Prevent the Next Pandemic

December 2020

by Flérida Regueira Cortizo & Anne Bräutigam – Germany Trade & Invest

One of the lessons we should learn for the post-corona era is that outbreaks of disease and even pandemics go hand in hand with increased destruction of nature. The exact transmission path of the novel coronavirus from animals to humans has not yet been conclusively researched. However, work at the University of Ulm by a team led by Professor Simone Sommer has shown that animals in undisturbed environments tend to be well distributed and well mixed, making it more difficult for viruses to find suitable hosts. Species preservation thus also reduces the risk of so-called zoonoses, diseases transmitted from animals to humans.

There is a real and urgent need to rethink the ways that we produce and consume. We must face the twin challenges of the pandemic and the destruction of the environment– and develop effective solutions.

Finding and implementing such solutions requires the public and private sectors to work hand in hand. This is why strong support is available to enterprises considering investing in environmental protection in Germany.

On October 24, the European Council adopted the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030, endorsing its objectives and nature protection and restoration targets, which aim to restore biodiversity. In order to meet the specifications of this strategy, including investment priorities for Natura 2000 and green infrastructure, at least EUR 20 billion per year needs to be allocated for spending on nature.

Companies planning to explore new paths in environment protection  and research and development can take advantage of a wide range of incentive instruments.

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A global biodiversity strategy is indispensable

US virologist Dennis Carrol calculates that currently around 1.7 million viruses derived from 25 different virus genus, exist in nature. Of them around 600,000 could potentially be dangerous to humans. Thus, the time is at hand for the world community to adopt a new global biodiversity strategy.

This is a major issue for both the European Union (EU) and Germany, as was underlined by the EU before the last United Nations Summit on Biodiversity in September 2020. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen together with 83 other heads of state and government, including Germany, has signed “Leaders Pledge for Nature” which commits signatories to reversing biodiversity loss by 2030.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated on this occasion: “Environmental destruction and climate change and hence also the loss of biological diversity are accelerating at a rate never before seen in human history. We must use land and sea more sustainably and operate in a more nature-compatible manner. By ‘we‘ I mean all states“.

Protecting biodiversity in Germany:  actions, programs, framework

The German Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) emphasizes Germany’s international commitment under the National Strategy on Biological Diversity (NBS) to stop the decline in biological diversity and to reverse the trend by 2030. For example, in the fall of 2019, the government adopted the “Action Program Insect Protection” to combat the extinction of insects and protect biodiversity. Germany has adopted a new fertilizer law to better safeguard ecosystems and sources of water from over-fertilization. It is also preparing an insect protection law and new regulations on the use of pesticides.

In addition, with the “Masterplan Stadtnatur” (Urban Environment Master Plan), the German government is promoting the preservation and development of natural areas and species within cities. Meanwhile, the “Blaues Band” (blue band) program promotes the renaturation of waterways. Moreover, the BMU supports projects to encourage biodiversity worldwide through the “International Climate Initiative.” Finally, at the beginning of last May, Germany joined the pioneering Global Ocean Alliance, which aims to protect at least 30 percent of the world’s seas and oceans from damage and destruction by 2030. 

Zoonoses research in Germany: The place to be since 1910

Beyond the ambitious agendas for effective protection of the planet’s biodiversity, continual research is needed on existing viral diseases. In Germany, this sort of research goes back to 1910, when the Friedrich Loeffler Institute (FLI) was founded on Riems Island to investigate foot-and-mouth disease. It was the first institute established explicitly to increase knowledge about virus-related disease in animals and is one of the oldest virus research institutes worldwide. Today, the institute is divided into twelve specialized institutes at five locations. The FLI’s main focus is the protection of humans against zoonoses, including faster detection, more effective treatments and better control. Due to factors such as rapid population growth, environment destruction, increasing mobility, the evolution of animal breeding and husbandry, and general climate change, zoonoses are becoming a more and more pressing issue. Research on them is being carried out in Germany at varios places and institutions, at universities, research facilities and federal institutes, and in small working groups, projects and large networks.

The National Research Platform for Zoonoses has been supporting the professional exchange and interdisciplinary cooperation in Germany for the past ten years and has about 1000 members. It is an information and service network funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and other institutions for all scientists active in zoonosis research in Germany.

Support is there  for new market players

Germany’s efforts in this area open up a range of potential growth areas for innovative international companies and research institutions. Germany’s national economic development agency, Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI), offers free support for companies planning to expand to this promising market. GTAI’s industry experts Flérida Regueira Cortizo (flerida.regueira@gtai.com) and Anne Bräutigam (anne.brautigam@gtai.com) are happy to discuss how you might fit in Germany. Just e-mail them to arrange a call.

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