News
15 Feb 2019, 12:24
Benjamin Wehrmann

German President Steinmeier retraces Humboldt’s journey to warn against climate change

Clean Energy Wire

Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has set out on a tour of South and Central America that retraces the steps of the famous 19th century journey by German natural scientist and early climate researcher Alexander von Humboldt, to warn against environmental destruction and the effects of man-made climate change. In a speech in Ecuador’s capital Quito, Steinmeier said Humboldt, who had been dubbed “second discoverer of America” and who would celebrate his 250th birthday in 2019, had set out to conquer the world. “Not in that well-known and fearsome manner, not armed with a shotgun or machete, but with a barometer, telescope, hair hygrometer and other measuring instruments,” to “observe and to survey, to discover and to understand.” Steinmeier said Humboldt had shown that “humans are important in nature and shoulder responsibility for nature” and that the preservation of nature is a precondition for peaceful coexistence. Steinmeier noted that in the year 1800 in Venezuela, the internationally revered scientist had been one of the first public figures to warn that “human intervention could change the climate.” The German President said the impact of greenhouse gas emissions and of other human activity, such as plastic littering of the oceans, could be “felt all over the world” and that Humboldt’s insight that "everything is interaction" should be reflected in environmental policy. 

Germany has made raising awareness for the urgency of climate action a centrepiece of its foreign policy in recent years. While it struggles to bring its own carbon emissions in line with national climate targets and the Paris Agreement, the country aims to use its two-year term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council to make the effects of climate change a key issue for international security policy strategists.  

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