Speech Minister Van der Wal for Nature and Nitrogen Policy at the opening of the International Economy Week 30 October 2023, The Hague

Ladies and gentlemen,

While the majority of my responsibilities are centered in the Netherlands, my work often takes me across the globe - from Berlin to Montreal, and from Rome to various other corners of the world.

And every time I’m abroad, I have the pleasure of meeting our colleagues from the embassy or consulate-general. You and your team prepare meetings, provide advice on local do’s and don’ts, and offer enormous support for delegations travelling from the Netherlands to the countries where you are based.

Thank you so much for all this excellent and professional support. 

Now you might think, hhmmmm, “the Minister for Nature and Nitrogen Policy at the start of our annual International Economy Week, isn’t that a bit off-topic?” 

Well, actually it’s not. In the coming minutes, I will present some compelling economic figures highlighting the importance of nature and biodiversity. These aspects are not only crucial for the planet, but also for our economy and its resilience.

For example, did you know that, according to the World Economic Forum, about 44 trillion dollars in economic value depends on nature?

44 trillion dollars: that is half of our global GDP!

That means half of our global economy depends on nature.

Another example. Various studies, including those focused on the EU, report that every euro invested in restoring nature  leads to a multiple of economic and social value (from 1:8 to as much as 1:38) through an increase in the quantity and quality of ecosystem services.

Nature-based solutions are often much more cost-effective than their man-made counterparts. To illustrate, reconnecting a river to its floodplain to manage excess floodwaters is significantly cheaper than constructing concrete storm drains further upstream.

Investing in biodiversity and natural resources is simply a smart and economically beneficial way to enhance overall prosperity.

Our Central Bank reports that Dutch banks, insurers, and pension funds across the globe have allocated 510 billion Euro’s in financing to companies highly reliant on one or more ecosystem services. This constitutes over a third of the portfolio studied.

However, biodiversity is in decline. Recent assessments of the state of biodiversity show that biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation continue at an alarming rate, both globally and in the Netherlands.

This loss in biodiversity poses an immediate threat to the well-being of society and the vitality of our economy.

Why? Because we are hugely dependent on services and resources provided by nature, such as ecosystem services: like crop pollination, timber production, carbon storage, water purification, and recreational opportunities.

So this means that as biodiversity declines, so does the ability of ecosystems to sustain these vital services.

Dear colleagues,

I have given you some examples of the economic importance of nature and biodiversity.

We cannot continue with ‘business as usual’ when it comes to biodiversity and our planet’s future. We must do better, we must do more.

The production of food, energy, building materials, clothes, infrastructure and transport must become more sustainable. On our way towards a circular economy.

As I have pointed out, this is essential not only to restore nature and biodiversity but also for the sustainability and survival of our economy and future income. 

I envision a promising future for entrepreneurs who wholeheartedly embrace the transition to sustainable, eco-friendly practices. Those who adopt novel, intelligent, and innovative approaches to collaborate with both nature and society.

It's imperative that we integrate nature into every facet of our lives, including education, agriculture, construction, finance, energy production, and daily living.

We must take collective action immediately. We need to collaborate with companies, universities, NGOs, and governments worldwide to address these global challenges. The shifting priorities, such as transitioning to clean energy, securing essential resources, and engaging in climate diplomacy, demand the formation of new partnerships.

For example, consider the necessity of climate adaptation, both in the Netherlands and beyond. By working closely with research institutions and businesses, we can gather expertise and exchange insights on water management, nature-based solutions, and climate-resilient agriculture.

The same goes when examining the challenges of transitioning to cleaner energy and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Hydrogen holds great promise as a technology, but it's a complex endeavor to shift an entire oil-based economy towards a more sustainable, green economy.

You have a pivotal role to play in this. Your unique know-how of local circumstances and your extensive network of contacts with companies, governments, and other stakeholders make you invaluable assets in our shared mission.

I am happy to hear that you work increasingly well together in the economic cluster at the embassy. For example, you’ve come up with an integrated annual economic work plan, complete with coherence and the strategy on trade, agriculture and innovation.

I see the increasing importance of attaché networks, for example through the Innovation Attachés network which greatly contributed to placing topics such as technology,  economic security and resilience on the map as political issues.

In the past, the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency used to work rather independent to attract foreign companies. Now, it has become a more integral part of the economic network, with a new strategy: “From Volume to Value”. With new opportunities for cooperation, including attracting small companies that can make a major contribution to the Dutch innovation ecosystem.

By the way, the Innovation Attachés celebrate their 70th anniversary this week. Congratulations, to all of you!

A very young branch on the diplomatic tree is the Education and Science Attaché network of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. They started two years ago in Beijing and London, are now also present in Washington, Berlin and Paris, and soon will start in Brazil, India and Japan.

This shows how our diplomatic network abroad continuously develops to tackle todays needs and requirement.

The way you promote trade, investment opportunities, and market intelligence is second to none.

Additionally, your expertise in economic diplomacy, crisis management, and navigating and facilitating government relations, all of which can be quite challenging, is essential for the success of Dutch business activities abroad.

At the same time, you identify trends and developments abroad from which we could learn and benefit in our own policies.

In a complex world with war and increasing political tensions, a modern and strong economic and diplomatic network is more needed than ever before.  

Ladies and gentlemen, 

Thank you for your efforts and dedication to your work, in sometimes very difficult circumstances.

I wish you a fruitful and pleasant week in the Netherlands.