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By Hans-Dietrich Genscher

Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher's speech on the occasion of his acceptance of the 1991 Ecological Eagle at Nörvenich Castle

The preservation of life's essentials on our small blue planet is, together with the struggle against poverty, the central task of mankind as we approach the third millennium. As fellow inhabitants, we all share the responsibility for keeping the earth livable for future generations. We are all obligated, therefore, to make an active contribution to the protection of our environment. Environmental protection is a community responsibility.

The International Committee Artists for Ecology is playing its part in this responsibility. For many years, its members have been winning greater recognition by their efforts to increase public awareness of environmental problems. Throughout history artists have acted as the conscience of their contemporaries. Today--and this shows their initiative--it is no different.

I feel honored, Ms. Werner, to receive this prize from your hands. Your involvement sets an example for others. We politicians could learn something from the charming and eloquent manner in which you solicit support for this cause. It is particularly on this issue of environmental protection that politicians must be nudged repeatedly by others; as a politician I cannot deny this.

Since my term as Secretary of the Interior, when, in 1971, I presented the first environmental protection program to the federal government, I have come to understand that ecological issues must be a priority in any kind of responsible political agenda for the future. Included in this political responsibility is a politician's capacity for learning, his candor, and his willingness to tackle the most urgent problems of our time, in spite of party opposition.

One such problem is man's continuous destruction of nature. When a rain forest the size of a football field disappears every second, when 25 billion tons of fertile soil are lost every year, when 20 million people are threatened by flooding as a result of the greenhouse effect, then it must be obvious to all of us that creation itself is threatened with extinction. This global problem concerns all of us and demands a thorough examination of our thoughts and actions.

Even as Secretary of the Interior I pleaded for protection of the environment to be established by law. This issue of survival must be embedded in the constitution so that all government decisions are oriented toward this goal.

As far as foreign policy is concerned, this will require greater international cooperation. We must draw up effective regulations which have worldwide support. This is one of the most important tasks of a new, global government policy. The United Nations must tackle it with renewed vigor.

There are already examples of decisive measures taken by the Community of Nations. The one which is uppermost in my mind is the 1987 Montreal Report on the protection of the ozone layer. Similarly, an agreement must be reached on the limit of carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute significantly to the greenhouse effect. The German government has already settled on a 25-30% reduction as a goal for the year 2005.

Any country wishing to contribute to worldwide environmental protection, must set an example at home. This year at the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, I suggested that sanctions could be imposed on those countries which do not abide by the basic principles of environmental safety. Just as we need an international court of law to prosecute those who commit genocide, so too could we bring to justice those who commit crimes against the environment. The oil fires which blackened the skies above Kuwait have made clear that we now stand upon the threshold of a new dimension of environmental crime. The United Nations, therefore, must do something if our hopes for a new world order of respect for nature and mankind is not to remain an illusion. We must not capitulate, either nationally or from a European perspective, to this ecological challenge.

Forty years of socialism in action have also left behind a devastating ecological legacy. An arrogant power machine, together with an economic system that could not even make an accurate assessment of the actual costs of production, systematically deceived the public and itself over the extent and seriousness of the harm done to the environment and to the people's health, consequences which are just now becoming clear.

An environmental cleanup, as part of the cooperative effort to revitalize the eastern portion of Germany, requires billions. Without such a cleanup, economic recovery cannot continue and our efforts to achieve a uniform standard of living throughout Germany will not succeed.

The collapse of the old GDR and the reforms in central and eastern Europe make possible for the first time the chance for a united European ecological strategy. It is urgent that Europe now make a unified effort to turn the lands within its borders into a common environmentally-protected area.

It is important, therefore, that the European Environmental Protection Agency, recently formed in Brussels, be able to begin its work soon, and that the controversy over its location finally be brought to an end.

The new German states also need their own institutions which are capable of tackling ecological problems efficiently. The foundation of a large ecological research facility in Keipzig is an important step towards this goal.

The principle of cause and effect must be firmly established in the economic system of the leading trade nations. Whoever claims the scarce environmental resources at the expense of others, must pay, even if they live in a completely different area or country.

Otherwise not only those involved in waste disposal, but also industries and energy producers, will engage in a competition of "environmental dumping," which no one wants, let alone will take responsibility for.

In light of our technical and financial superiority, the responsibility of the leading industrial nations towards the developing countries includes the duty to help and support these people in their efforts to cope with their own ecological problems. This is why the German government has taken the initiative in associating environmental protection with a reduction of debt, as well as creating a fund in the World Bank for environmental projects.

The German government also plays a leading role in the protection of the tropical rain forests. Over and above the considerable bilateral relief measures, the German government contributed 300 million marks in 1991, as in the previous year, to help finance the rescue of the tropical rain forests.

Progress and ecology must be inseparable. Where people are in need, there it will invariably turn out that nature is also in need. This is why environmental protection must go hand in hand with development and population policies. This is also the subject of the preparations for the 1992 "Ecology and Progress" conference of the United Nations in Brazil.

In Madrid, after a long struggle, there has finally been a breakthrough in the fight to protect the Antarctic, to preserve the "white continent," in the form of an ecological protocol. To preserve our "blue planet," we now need a similar global consensus, supplemented by a concrete plan of action and binding international agreement, at least in the areas of climate control and the preservation of species.

At the conference in Madrid, Germany showed itself to have taken the lead as an ecologically conscious nation. I consider it my personal responsibility to see that ecological issues continue to take priority in the foreign policy of a larger, united Germany.

Here above all--in this task of peace, rather than in the military realm which some mistakenly keep pushing to the fore--our growing responsibility must prove itself worldwide. I regard the bestowal of the 1991 Ecological Eagle as an obligation to give my utmost support to this important task in the future.

Thank you.

Translated from the German by Lynne Kvinnesland

Copyright 1996 PROMETHEUS
Reprinted with permission

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