Statement by Mark Harbers, Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, at the High-Level Dialogue Conference (HLDC) of the China Europe Water Platform (CEWP), 21 March 2023, 16.00 uur

‘We need to better align our plans, approaches and policies around disaster prevention. We need to share weather and water data to better align disaster prevention and water management, in policymaking and in decisions on de-risking and investment, at all levels. We need to invest in water and infrastructure’. This said minister Harbers at a panel discussion of the High-level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water and Disasters (HELP), 21 March, New York

Minister Harbers spoke at a session of the China Europe Water Platform at the UN Water Conference on 21 March, New York. ‘For decades, the Netherlands has fostered international cooperation, especially on such a cross-cutting theme as water. Because working together is key in tackling the enormous challenges we’re facing, in all areas. Whether the issue is too much or too little water, or polluted water.’

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, I’d like to thank our colleagues from the European Commission for receiving us here in New York for this special edition of the High-Level Dialogue Conference. 
Special, because it’s taking place in the context of the UN Water Conference. It’s an honour and privilege for the Kingdom of the Netherlands to be co-hosting the first UN Water Conference in almost 50 years, together with Tajikistan.

With this High-Level Dialogue Conference, China is reaffirming the tremendous importance of effective cooperation with Europe in the field of water.

And the presence of the EU Commissioner and other European colleagues here today shows that this conviction is shared by us all.

For 30 years now, China and the Netherlands have been working together closely on water. A few weeks ago, we signed an MoU to continue this bilateral cooperation. 
Our relations in this field have grown over the years, evolving from capacity building to an equal partnership based on mutual benefit. Together, we’re focused on finding solutions to shared problems. Like managing and maintaining dikes, for instance.

We do this by twinning – working together in areas facing similar challenges. Like our cooperation on the Huai River [gwaai] in China and the Rhine in the Netherlands. Our partnership is also innovation-driven, based on applied research and demonstration.
The Dutch participation in the China Europe Water Platform is a logical extension of this. It enriches our bilateral work with China. 

At bilateral level I’d say that small is beautiful. Because of the exchange of experts, which benefits both our countries. 
And when it comes to the China Europe Water Platform, I’d say that big is powerful. Because when EU countries, the European Commission and China work together we can generate more support and achieve impact on a bigger scale.

Within the Platform, the Netherlands is heading up efforts on ‘Water and Urbanisation’. The focus here is on water resilience in urban environments.
It’s a theme that links up water management, urban planning and liveability, with an emphasis on climate adaptation. 

A good example of this is the China Europe Cooperation on Sponge Cities, which delivered policy recommendations last year. 
This project clearly demonstrates the added value of Chinese-European cooperation. 

We can learn a lot from each other in the way we design our cities, with spatial planning playing an integral part in dealing with the effects of climate change, like extreme weather, flooding and subsidence. 

In the Netherlands, population growth means that we’ll have to build almost a million new homes in the years ahead. 
Through projects like Sponge Cities we can gain knowledge together and apply it in practice, in accordance with the recommendations in the project report. 

One of these recommendations is for spatial design to always anticipate the effects of extreme rainfall. For example, by connecting green, grey and blue infrastructure. This includes nature-based solutions, such as adapting sewers and investing in water storage and green roofs.

Another key recommendation is to take a multidisciplinary approach to spatial planning and research. 
In other words, put planners, ecologists and water experts together in the same room from day one. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Connecting and aligning the outcomes of the CEWP with the Water Action Agenda is one of the goals of this High-Level Dialogue Conference. We want our platform to contribute to the Water Action Agenda that the UN 2023 Water Conference is aiming for.

To this end, we’ll jointly sign a Ministerial Declaration today, in which we look ahead to our continued cooperation. In doing so, it’s important to consider how we as a platform can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals. Like SDG 6 – clean water and sanitation for all – that will play a key role in the Water Conference, which will start tomorrow. 

The CEWP is now entering a new phase. The Netherlands sees our cooperation in a positive light and looks forward to continuing our work together. 

I believe it’s also important that we put climate adaptation at the heart of our platform and that we broaden our collaboration from water management to a nexus approach. 

By that I mean forging links between water and other issues, like water and food, water and urbanisation, and water and ecosystems. 
This will also be the Netherlands’ main message at the UN Water Conference: water is connected to everything, so investing in water is investing in food supply, ecosystems, health, the economy, and so on.

To conclude, I’m confident that we’ll have an interesting and fruitful dialogue here today. A sound basis for laying down the outcomes and specific agreements in a clear CEWP Declaration.
For decades, the Netherlands has fostered international cooperation, especially on such a cross-cutting theme as water. Because working together is key in tackling the enormous challenges we’re facing, in all areas. Whether the issue is too much or too little water, or polluted water.

Thank you.