Speech by Mark Harbers, Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, Ministerial Roundtable on the Protection and Restoration of Freshwater Ecosystems (Fresh Water Challenge) COP28 – Dubai

‘It’s great to see that the COP28 Presidency has made freshwater restoration and conservation one of the key priorities of the conference’s water agenda. And that it aims to build on the outcomes of the UN 2023 Water Conference.’

Said Minister Harbers at the COP28 in Dubai.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Freshwater is one of the most basic needs of every single human being on our planet – a vital condition for all life.
Freshwater is not only important for drinking water, irrigation and biological diversity. It’s also important for our power supply, shipping and industry.

Climate change manifests itself in water. Rainfall, the source of all freshwater, is becoming more erratic. This in turn causes floods and droughts.
Water is connected to many of the challenges facing the Netherlands too. We need freshwater to keep the soil from subsiding, to maintain the stability of our dikes and to prevent saltwater intrusion in coastal areas.
And then there’s the fact that one-third of the world’s wetlands have been lost over the past 50 years. Freshwater systems are under threat.
So the Freshwater Challenge is needed now more than ever.

It’s great to see that the COP28 Presidency has made freshwater restoration and conservation one of the key priorities of the conference’s water agenda. And that it aims to build on the outcomes of the UN 2023 Water Conference.

Thank you to the initiators of the Freshwater Challenge for creating the international momentum needed for the protection and restoration of freshwater ecosystems.

I’m pleased today to announce the Netherlands’ support of the Challenge. And this is why:
A healthy water policy requires close cooperation between countries worldwide.

  • Restoring and protecting natural freshwater ecosystems enables water to be saved for drier periods and reduces the impact of flooding.
  • As a consequence, societies, economies and ecosystems will become more climate resilient.
  • This is at the heart of adaptation critical for mitigation and essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • We need to halt the depletion of groundwater.
  • We also need to switch farming practices to stop soil degradation, moisture loss and adjust to more saline conditions.

Nationally, restoring and protecting freshwater ecosystems is a key priority.

Let me give you a clear example:
The Netherlands is a beautiful delta. The millions of people living there below sea level are safe for now, but climate change is knocking on our door. And that makes us vulnerable.

So the government of the Netherlands has decided to make water and soil lead considerations in our policy decisions on spatial planning and agriculture.

Our aim is to maintain a safe delta, with healthy soils, sufficient and clean water and rich biodiversity.
As a delta country prone to flooding, we became champions in draining water as quickly as possible. Now we’re learning to work with nature to store water for dry periods.

Rains are more intense so we also use our floodplains as water storage capacity for flood water.
In other words: to transform the Netherlands from a sieve into a sponge.

As all of us – worldwide – seek for ways to respond to new challenges that come with climate change, it’s clear that we have to work together.
The Netherlands is keen to learn from other countries. And we’re ready to share our knowledge and experience on, for instance, access to freshwater-related data for early warning for floods and droughts.

And to put our money where our mouth is, we’re investing 55 million euros in Water at the Heart of Climate Action.

This is a unique partnership between international organisations: the World Meteorological Organization, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Netherlands Red Cross and the Systematic Observations Financing Facility.

The aim of this partnership is to mitigate the impacts of water-related risks and disasters and to boost the resilience of the most vulnerable communities.

We stand ready to work further with you to restore and protect freshwater ecosystems through the Freshwater Challenge.

It’s time to take freshwater and soil seriously and to make water the engine of climate action.

Thank you.