Speech by Hugo de Jonge, Deputy Prime Minister, at the presentation of the 2018 International Four Freedoms Award to Christiana Figueres

Speech by Hugo de Jonge, Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport and Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands, at the presentation of the 2018 International Four Freedoms Award to Christiana Figueres in Middelburg on May 16, 2018.

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highness, Your Excellencies, esteemed laureates, members of the Roosevelt family, ladies and gentlemen,

Ms Figueres,

If you live under repression, in war, or in extreme poverty, freedom is what you want above all else. Yet even for the most fortunate among us, freedom is fragile too, though we don’t always realise it. Freedom isn’t something to be taken for granted. It’s a value that needs to be defended, nurtured and fought for every day.

Today we are here to celebrate the achievements of the laureates of the Four Freedoms Awards. Their actions have helped obtain or safeguard people’s freedom. Each of you laureates have stood up for one or all of the four freedoms we honour today. President Franklin D. Roosevelt identified those four freedoms as essential conditions for democracies to function. Today, 77 years after his historic speech to Congress, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear remain out of reach for many people all over the world.

Today we celebrate your achievements here in the province of Zeeland. A significant part of this province lies below sea level. And although that’s a scary idea for some people, let me assure you: we are perfectly safe! But this wasn’t always the case.

Sixty-five years ago, Zeeland was hit by a major flood. It reminded the Netherlands yet again that nature can be ruthless. And that rising sea levels are a never-ending challenge for this country. After the flood, we built a unique storm surge barrier.  It was an enormous project. And it took guts, perseverance, and above all a stable democracy to get it finished. To make sure people living near the dike could sleep easily at night, knowing they were safe – even as the waters rose.

But it isn’t the world’s stable societies that suffer most from the effects of climate change. The worst affected are the poor and vulnerable, living in unstable countries. The small entrepreneur keeping his family afloat in Dominica, until hurricane Maria demolished everything he’d worked for. The nomadic family in the Sahel that has to travel further each year to feed their livestock. Until finally, drought forces them to travel even further, to a refugee camp. On the dry lands of the Sahel, climate change sows fear and poverty, and reaps injustice.

The Paris Climate Agreement aims to put a stop to that. In 2015, no fewer than 195 countries made a deal. Together, they – we – will take measures to keep the global temperature rise this century to well below two degrees Celsius above the levels before the industrial age. What’s more, those countries agreed to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further, to one-point-five degrees Celsius.

Ms Figueres, you are here today as the embodiment of that agreement. As the embodiment of every country, every negotiator and every party that was willing to take responsibility for today’s world. And for tomorrow’s world – the world in which our children and grandchildren will grow up. As chief negotiator, you guided the parties to an agreement that is ambitious and forceful, and unites all 195 countries in a single goal. We are the last generation that can truly put a stop to climate change. I’m glad that, under your guidance, we have agreed to do so.

The simple fact is, we can no longer close our eyes to climate change. And the Paris Agreement showed that a lot of people – a lot of countries – recognise this.

I hope that one day in the future, our children and our children’s children will look back on that day in December 2015 and recognise it as the day we finally managed to turn the tide. By turning our agreements into concrete action, and by making a genuine difference to the lives of those most affected by our changing climate, all around the world.

I feel privileged to be part of this ceremony. And to see you honoured, Ms Figueres, with the International Four Freedoms Medal. Ms Perrin Roosevelt Ireland, could I now ask you to please come and join me onstage?

Thank you.