"Breaking Barriers” Event in Berlin Convenes Decision-makers, Scientists, and Implementers to Progress on Biodiversity Conservation as Part of a One Health Approach
Oct. 16, 2023, Berlin
Photo credit for all photos: Frank Peters I Fotografie
On October 12-13, the event "Breaking Barriers: Advancing the One Health Agenda with a Focus on Environment” took place in Berlin. The meeting especially focused on biodiversity conservation and prevention of pandemics at the source. The event prioritized showcasing expertise and experiences, creating space for cross-sectoral connections and critical discussions, and capturing practical ways to help guide and inform next steps toward One Health implementation.
The event was made possible thanks to collaboration and support from multiple partners, including the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV), the Quadripartite Collaboration on One Health (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [FAO], United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP], World Health Organization [WHO], World Organisation for Animal Health [WOAH]), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Sector Initiative One Health of the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), and the International Alliance against Health Risks in Wildlife Trade.
We extend special appreciation to Tierpark Berlin for hosting the event at the beautiful venue of the Schloss Friedrichsfelde.
The event was primarily supported with funding from the BMZ, with contributions also from the Sector Initiative One Health of the GIZ, International Alliance against Health Risks in Wildlife Trade, WOAH, and WCS.
Approximately 120 participants from academia, governments, NGOs, UN Agencies and the private sector attended the event and enriched discussions, sharing perspectives from environmental conservation as well as veterinary and human health sectors. Overall, 65 organizations and more than 20 countries were represented. Among the participants, key representatives from each of the co-host partners were in attendance.
Over two days, the event featured presentations by various thematic experts as well as panel discussions. Plenary sessions took place in live format and were additionally live-streamed for a virtual audience. The event also created a space for dynamic discussions, connections, information-sharing, and networking among participants.
A major aim of the event was to help "break barriers" by encouraging cross-sectoral collaboration and demystifying questions and concerns about the One Health approach, and to inform and inspire decision-makers and implementers alike.
On behalf of BMZ, Dr. Tania Rödiger-Vorwerk (Deputy Director General of Directorate of Global Health, Resilience, Equality of Opportunity) provided opening words on the first day, and said: “The One Health approach links human and animal health with ecosystem protection. But the nexus between health and environment has not yet received the attention it deserves. It is very complex, but at the same time particularly important. We are happy to work with the Quadripartite and others to promote the importance of the environment for animal and human health.”
Parliamentary State Secretary Dr. Bettina Hoffmann from the BMUV delivered an opening keynote on the second day: “Potential zoonotic hotspots can be found on all continents and in around 50 countries. Human health and the health of animals and our natural environment are closely interlinked. In order to prevent the emergence of new infectious diseases, we need common global solutions and integrated cross-sectoral approaches to further anchor environmental protection within the framework of the One Health approach.”
Doreen Robinson (Head of Biodiversity at UNEP) provided opening remarks on the first day, on behalf of the Quadripartite Collaboration on One Health: “In this critical moment, we must fundamentally rethink how environmental dimensions shape health risks and outcomes, appreciating indigenous knowledge and recognizing that there is no healthy life on a sick planet. We have a unique opportunity to galvanize action, advance cross-sectoral collaboration, and prioritize prevention to avoid degradation and risks. This is a human problem, and only we can solve it.”
Monica Medina (President and CEO of WCS), delivered a keynote speech focusing on Why Highly Intact Ecosystems Are Critical for Health and Wellbeing: “There is strong evidence that where tropical forests are destroyed or degraded, where wild species have disappeared or been depleted and habitats have been destroyed, this has significant harmful impacts on biodiversity and human health. The science is clear on what is needed to combat the risk of pathogen spillovers that will lead to another pandemic while also mitigating the impacts of climate change, biodiversity loss, and the drivers of non-communicable diseases. It is clear that we must protect wildlife and wild places. Our future health and well-being, and that of our families and future generations, depends on it. The time for action is now.”
On behalf of the International Alliance against Health Risks in Wildlife Trade, Dr. Michael Nagel said: “The Breaking Barriers event clearly demonstrated the pandemic prevention expertise that exists and can be leveraged. But it was more than that because by including so many sectors and areas of expertise and including recommendations from Indigenous advocacy, it was an all-around successful gathering.”
Keynote speakers additionally emphasized key points from their perspectives, including:
Dr. Jean-Philippe Dop (Deputy Director General of WOAH): “WOAH continues to work to incorporate environmental considerations into the animal health sector, recognizing that a healthy environment with functioning ecosystems is an essential basis for the wellbeing and health of animals and humans. WOAH believes in One Health and is strongly committed to support countries in One Health implementation including its environment component, so together we can prevent future pandemics for the benefit of the global community.”
Dr. Abigail Wright (Scientist, One Health Initiative at WHO): “The WHO definition of health states that 'Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,' which emphasizes that health encompasses far more than just the absence of illness; it embodies the holistic well-being of individuals and communities.”
Keith Sumption (Chief Veterinary Officer, FAO): “FAO is working on mainstreaming biodiversity, both above and below ground, along the agrifood systems through One Health actions. We will continue to partner with others to ensure biodiversity protection is better integrated to ensure the resilience of agricultural systems.”
On behalf of the Zoo and Tierpark Berlin, Dr. Andreas Knieriem said: “We are honored to host such an important event here at Tierpark Berlin. A recent statement by the IUCN emphasizes the important role that modern zoos can play in addressing the global issues of our time. With more than 700 million visitors annually, zoological gardens can build bridges between science and the public. In my view, leading zoos are increasingly becoming science-driven conservation agencies. With our conservation programme – Berlin World Wild – the Zoo and Tierpark Berlin are one piece of the puzzle in a great international network of actors that work together for a common goal: protecting biodiversity to ensure that a healthy planet can sustain future generations.”
A Key Outcomes document will soon be published, reiterating major themes, highlighting key messages, experiences and lessons-learned that were shared during sessions, and documenting critical forward-facing outcomes from discussions, including important “next steps” needed and open questions that merit further investigation. This document will be available for download via the Event webpage [link], along with other key resources (e.g.: session recordings, a summary video and presentation materials) – all to be uploaded in upcoming weeks.
The WCS is honored to have played a key role as part of such an important, valuable, and interdisciplinary event. We would like to express our gratitude and thanks to the co-hosts, speakers, organizational team, and attendees for their involvement and contribution to the “Breaking Barriers” event, and to “Advancing the One Health Agenda with a Focus on Environment” more broadly.
WCS looks forward to continuing to engage in discussions and collaborations related to these important topics. As one important next step: the WCS participated in the World Health Summit in Berlin from 15-17 October, leading a session that explored related topics: Intergenerational and Interspecies One Health Equity.
The Breaking Barriers event was made possible through the generous support and collaboration of multiple partners and co-hosts as follows: