As Germany’s director general for nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources at the Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), Christiane Paulus is a champion for landscape restoration and conservation not only on her home front but also abroad. The landscapes that fall under her purview range from degraded peatlands to her beloved beech trees, the conservation of which is not a “luxury,” she says, but a necessity for the sustainability of human life.
Why does the German government invest so heavily in environmental conservation and restoration?
It’s very obvious that there isn’t much nature left in our country. For example, we have spoiled 95 percent of our peatlands, and we have a totally human-formed landscape in Germany. We have to deal with the relationship between nature and human beings, and in a very industrialized country, I think it’s a task for us to find a balance between the needs of human beings and nature. We have really gone a long way in finding [that] balance in nature conservation and sustainable use, so it’s a long tradition in Germany to restore landscapes.
Why does Germany also help other nations restore and protect their landscapes?
The real biodiversity is not in the middle of Europe or in Europe [at all] but elsewhere in the world. If you start thinking about nature conservation, you cannot oversee the fact that everything relates to everything, that biodiversity elsewhere in the world is under severe threat, and that this will also have impacts on the biodiversity in our country. So it’s our duty not only to think about the situation in Germany but also to work with other countries and support them in finding their way.
What advice would you give to other governments that want to expand their environmental efforts?
We have to understand that nature conservation is not luxury – [it’s not] something we do when we have time and when the economic situation is better. We have to understand that we are really dependent on nature and that the protection and restoration of ecosystems is also an economic value. So the advice would be to reach out to other sectors to mainstream the ideas of biodiversity protection into other sectors, to [promote] the understanding that it’s not about recreation or tourism but about the sustainability of the lives of all of us.
How is the youth movement affecting Germany’s environmental policy?
The youth is something really amazing in the political debate. We have been fighting with other sectors for a long time about the awareness for nature conservation and climate change. There was a standstill, there was a blockade, and since the youth [has been] on the road, it’s [been] very much a game-changer in the political arena. We feel that people who have not been willing to listen to us are now willing to listen. I think it’s very impressive, the young people in the streets in Germany – we had very big demonstrations – and I also think the way the youth is asking for participation and for their rights is very [impressive]. The good thing is that young people also speak to their parents and grandparents, and that will also have an impact on the whole situation in society.
What landscape is most precious to you?
My favorite landscape is the German beech forest. There are some very old beech forests in Germany with broken trees lying around and fungi growing over them; this is absolutely my favorite place to be. I also like newly growing beech forests because they’re very bright, the light comes in. This is really my favorite landscape.