Speech State Secretary Van Veldhoven at Annual Symposium Netherlands Polar Programme

“The SEES expedition to Spitsbergen was a trip I’ll never forget. It showed one of the greatest strengths of Dutch polar research: the ability to combine high-quality research with communication skills that get the message across: to politicians, to artists, as well as to the general public. In that one week the SEES expedition must have made it into almost every Dutch living room. It clearly shows that Dutch polar research is both high quality and high impact.”

Those are the words of State Secretary Van Veldhoven on Friday 8 December 2017 at the Annual Symposium of the Netherlands Polar Programme.

Madame Chair, SEES expedition friends, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for the invitation to speak at this conference! It’s a great collaboration between the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research and the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists. I’m delighted to be here, for many reasons. 

First of all, it re-unites me with a number of people – friends – who I met on the SEES expedition to Edgeøa, Spitsbergen, two years ago. It was a trip I’ll never forget, because of the many amazing experiences we had. I feel privileged that – for 10 days – I was one of you and could witness your expertise. But also the hard, cold (!) and beautiful work that you do in researching the polar regions.

I got the chance to meet some extremely talented and dedicated scientists. They worked hard – not only to perform their experiments, but also to explain issues to people like me.   It was the best way to deepen my understanding of polar systems and the many threats they face.

But it also showed something else. One of the greatest strengths of Dutch polar research: the ability to combine high-quality research with communication skills that get the message across: to politicians, to artists, as well as to the general public.

On board the Ortelius there were not only 55 scientists from a wide range of disciplines. The passenger list also included journalists. A famous Dutch writer and poet. And policymakers like me.

This mix of participants attracted a lot of media attention. In that one week the SEES expedition featured on national tv 12 times. It was on national radio 14 times. And there were 24 articles in national and regional newspapers. The Spitsbergen expedition must have made it into almost every Dutch living room. It clearly shows that Dutch polar research is both high quality and high impact.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It feels special to be here today. Polar issues are very important to me. They already were before the SEES expedition. I’m happy that I can continue to make a contribution. No longer as a member of parliament, but in my new role as State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management.

The theme of today’s conference is the value of international collaboration and networks. Collaboration is more important than ever. And there’s no better place to illustrate that than in the challenging environment of the polar regions.

Evaluation of Dutch polar research shows that this collaboration and networking works well. With quite a modest budget, you are influential in informing policymakers, like in the Arctic Counsel. The active participation of Dutch scientists in Arctic Counsel working groups is well recognised and appreciated around the globe. It makes me proud to see that Dutch polar research is ranked third in the world for impact!

Your work relies on talent, on networks and research infrastructure. The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research has established a committee that will shortly advice on the Dutch polar research infrastructure. I hope this advice will lay the foundations for a robust and sustainable infrastructure in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions. This will enable Dutch scientists, early career or other, to continue the important work of discovering the secrets of the polar systems. And – almost as important – to continue guiding policymakers like me to help ensure their protection.

When it comes to water management many countries say ‘Bring in the Dutch’. But I say ‘bring in the world’! Bring in experts from every discipline and every country! Bring them together! Maybe not in the polar regions – because it would get too crowded… But in forums and symposiums like this one, all over the world. So that we can share knowledge and learn from each other.

Competition is good, but collaboration is better. Only by working together can we tackle the big challenges we face!

Thank you.