Speech by Lilianne Ploumen the HIER Climate Conference

Speech by the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen, at the HIER Climate Conference, The Hague, 3 April 2013.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to be able say a few words at the end of this conference. As experts on the subject, I probably don’t need to convince you that climate change is real. Or that poor people, particularly women, are among the hardest hit by climate change – even though they contribute to it the least.

But allow me to give you a heart-breaking example of how climate change affects life in the Bolivian Andes. In the mountains, about an hour’s drive from La Paz, lies the incredible Chacaltaya glacier. Some 18,000 years old, the glacier once boasted the world’s highest ski resort, a favourite weekend getaway for La Paz’s elite. For as long as anyone can remember, communities in the foothills have relied on the glacier’s meltwater as a source of drinking water. They also use it to irrigate their root crops and water their lamas.

But both the elite and the poor alike have witnessed a dramatic change: in a few decades, the glacier has almost disappeared, reduced to a sliver of snow and ice. Researchers say Chacaltaya has shrunk by around 80 per cent in just 20 years. The elite have been forced to find other sources of amusement for the weekend, but the poor have seen their entire lives and livelihoods change. Poor farmers in this area do not need scientists or climatologists to tell them the world is changing due to global warming.

Because there is so much less water nowadays, young people can’t make a living and so have no option but to leave the area. Most of the men in the local village have also gone, searching for work in nearby cities, eking out a living in urban slums. And the women that remain now have to spend hours hauling containers of water by hand from a nearby river to irrigate their fields – water that used to come from streams fed by the glacier. This is what climate change is doing to people in Bolivia, and you can see the stark difference in impact on the rich and the poor.
Let’s take another example, and look at what climate change is doing to women in Bangladesh. I had planned to visit Bangladesh in March, but strikes made that impossible. Climate change is making storm surges in coastal Bangladesh more frequent. In the aftermath of each cyclone, food security and sanitation have become the major concerns for women in this region.
In the southwestern part of the country, the process of salt water invading areas which previously contained only fresh water ─ in jargon: salinity ingress ─ is now a serious problem. During the dry season, salinity is more intense and the lack of safe drinking water becomes an acute problem for affected communities. Women and girls have to walk long distances to fetch drinking water, foregoing economic opportunities and education. On the other hand, during the peak monsoon season the floodplains become inundated. This not only increases the burden on women to find food and safe drinking water; the lack of sanitation also leads to severe reproductive health issues, such as urinary tract infections. These problems will only be made worse by climate change.
But the effects go beyond the individual. The retreat of Bolivia’s glaciers also has profound implications for the entire country’s water and energy supplies. Glacial melt provides 15 per cent of La Paz’s drinking water, and 40 per cent of Bolivia's energy comes from hydroelectric sources. In Bangladesh, ensuring food security and human dignity will be beyond reach if climate change continues unabated. I’m sure all of you here today have read the latest World Bank report ‘Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided’, which highlights the risks of a 4°C world marked by extreme heat waves, declining global food stocks and increasing food prices, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and a life-threatening rise in sea levels.
And while Bolivia and Bangladesh barely contribute to the world’s carbon emissions, they will bear the brunt of these effects. Of course, rich countries like the Netherlands will also face these problems. But we have the means to respond. We can build dykes, we can plan and insure, we can find alternative ways of farming. And we can pay for climate-smart technological innovations. But the people and countries most affected by climate change cannot. There is another side to the climate coin too, and that is our responsibility. It is the CO2 footprint of the Western world − and increasingly that of the BRICs − that is undermining global development efforts. It is our food, our water and our energy consumption that is largely responsible for what is happening in Chacaltaya.

And so we too must act − at local, national, regional and global level. We need to ensure that we avoid the unmanageable by significantly reducing our CO2 emissions. And we need to support developing countries to manage the unavoidable through smart climate change adaptation policies. This is as complicated as it sounds! It requires bringing together different forms of expertise, and working together to find smart solutions.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased that the present government has injected ambition back into our climate policy, at all levels. But actions speak louder than words. In my portfolio, which combines foreign trade and development cooperation, I see ample opportunity for improving the lives of the poor and creating climate-smart pathways. But that’s something I’ll have to achieve with less money, so I’ll need more creativity and closer collaboration with all of you here. That’s another reason I’m so pleased to be here today with representatives from different backgrounds – be it NGO, government or private sector.
The commitment by developed countries to climate action in the developing world is substantial – 100 billion dollars a year by 2020. Yet how we’ll reach that goal as a global community, let alone as individual countries, is still unclear. What is a fair share for the EU? What is a fair share for the Netherlands? And how much of it will be private sector investment? How can we best leverage the private sector’s contribution? What is the role of national governments ‘here’ and ‘there’, and how do we ensure mutual learning and knowledge-sharing on what constitutes a climate-smart development pathway? One thing is clear, however: we will all have to step up our efforts. So for the years ahead I have set five policy objectives related to climate change.

First, together with the other members of my government I will do my utmost to work towards a global deal on climate change in 2015. Climate change affects individuals from Bolivia to Bangladesh, and from the Maldives to Malawi – but we need a global solution with ambitious goals. Creating a more effective financial architecture is a key part of this solution. An architecture that doesn’t only focus on the mitigation challenge, but also allocates dedicated resources to adaptation, as this is what poor people – and especially vulnerable women – need most. In the Netherlands, climate finance is now part of the development cooperation budget. That provides me with an extra challenge at a time when resources are already strained – but also with a great opportunity. In my climate change policy I will focus on poverty, and I will try to ensure that the Green Climate Fund supports the world’s poorest and improves the position of women.

Second, our development programmes need to be as climate smart as possible. Climate change is closely connected with water, food and energy issues. These are priorities in Dutch development cooperation but are also part of the Netherlands’ top-sector policy. The key to getting it right for women in Bangladesh is to integrate climate into our water and food programmes there, through drought-resistant crops and geodata on cropping, for example. We are currently working on our climate mainstreaming strategy, which is built around the OECD’s Rio markers. I will tell you more about that strategy later this year.

Third, partnerships must be central to our strategy. We have long excluded the private sector from our climate change policies – but it is high time that changed. Businesses too are feeling the impact, and they are ready to act. Unilever estimates that climate change last year caused it losses in the region of 200 million euros – from warehouse flooding to tropical storm damage. The private sector has a key role to play by reducing the carbon footprint of its products – through increased awareness, innovation and built-in incentives. Take Microsoft, for example, which has imposed a corporate CO2 tax. Trade alliances and trade instruments should also contribute to climate-smart development. And we want to promote voluntary emission limits at sector level. The combination of trade and development offers a unique chance to fully involve the business community. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is a shining example in this field ─ the big companies Shell and Philips are involved. Another good example is Geothermie Indonesië, a public-private partnership for the use of geothermal heat.

Fourth, ladies and gentlemen, we need to focus on disaster risk reduction. Let me give you just one example. Over the past two decades, over 50 per cent of southern Asians – more than 750 million people – have been affected by natural disasters, with the loss of life estimated at more than 60,000, and damage exceeding 45 billion dollars. Now that the world is on a global warming trajectory of well over 3 degrees Celsius, according to the World Bank, we are facing the unprecedented consequences of more frequent and more intense droughts and floods, a decrease in agricultural yields, and a rise in sea levels. For Bangladesh, that means yet more flooding, as well growing concerns about sea levels. We need to allocate resources, both financial and technical, to help them prevent damage. That’s why I was so pleased to announce our disaster risk reduction facility on World Water Day 2013 last week. It’s a project I’ve been working on with Melanie Schultz van Haegen, the Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment.

Fifth, and I can’t stress this enough, we need a gender-specific approach. As I said earlier, women are crucial in the fight against climate change. So let’s mobilise their potential as agents of change. Women should be centre stage in our planning and programming ─ at all levels. We need to build on their coping strategies and enable them to participate in decision-making.

Ladies and gentlemen, the climate change challenges are bigger than any of us can bear alone. Creating synergies is essential. I’m looking forward to working with you in the months and years ahead. We have so much to learn from each other.

Before I finish, I would like to say a special word to all members of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. Cookstoves are extremely important to development. Today, 2.6 billon people still cook their meals on wood fires. This is unhealthy ─ for the people and for the planet. The distribution of cookstoves is a relatively cheap solution ─ cheap but effective. Thank you for your good work.

By the way, we’re also supporting other projects in this field. Projects led by SNV, Hivos and EnDev. Thanks to EnDev, 10 million more people now have access to sustainable energy, due largely to the distribution of better cookstoves. I am very proud that we have helped achieve this. But let’s not forget that 2.6 billion people still have no access to clean cooking. This problem calls for a concerted effort by all those involved. The Global Alliance and the HIER climate campaign are setting the example today.

So rest assured, ladies and gentlemen, that my government will do its part to promote clean cooking too. It helps empower women, improve livelihoods and protect the environment. And that’s exactly what our policy is about.

Thank you.