Koenders to visit the Arctic

Foreign minister Bert Koenders is to visit the Arctic at the end of August. His trip will begin on Friday 28 August on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, where he will meet members of the largest-ever North Pole expedition from the Netherlands. After this, Mr Koenders will travel to the American state of Alaska at the invitation of the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, for an international conference on climate change and the Arctic on 30 and 31 August.

Looking ahead to his journey, Mr Koenders said, ‘The North Pole is a unique area of vital importance to the ecosystem of our planet. The rapid changes taking place there have an impact all over the world. That’s why we need to hold talks and make agreements at international level about treating this region in a sustainable manner.’

Mr Koenders believes that responsibility for looking after the North Pole is not limited to the countries bordering the Arctic Circle but extends to the international community as a whole. He commented, ‘This is why the Netherlands contributes an annual €3.7 million to polar research. We also play an active observer role in the Arctic Council.’ The Arctic Council is a consultative body made up of the eight Arctic states.

Mr Koenders will officially welcome the Dutch North Pole Expedition (SEES) on 28 August in the Norwegian village of Longyearbyen. The expedition, involving over 50 scientists, is being jointly organised by the Groningen Arctic Centre and the Willem Barentsz Polar Institute. After two weeks of research, the team will return to the Netherlands. ‘This expedition will give us a greater understanding of how human activity and climate change affect the Arctic,’ said Mr Koenders. ‘It will also help us to be responsible in our dealings with this vulnerable region.’

The minister added that research conducted in the polar regions helps to foster international cooperation and boost ongoing dialogue about these areas, which are strategically important to the Netherlands and the world at large. Mr Koenders added, ‘The Arctic is attracting more and more international interest for ecological, economic, social and geopolitical reasons. We must do everything we can to extend the constructive international cooperation on the North Pole region up to now. In this regard it helps to have scientists from all over the world working side-by-side.’

Mr Koenders will also visit the Dutch research station in Ny-Ålesund and join in a symposium where the researchers discuss some of their findings. He will also have bilateral talks with his Norwegian counterpart Børge Brende.

After his visit to Norway, Mr Koenders will travel to Alaska for the international GLACIER conference. Delegates will discuss the consequences of climate change for the Arctic and also how the changes in the Arctic region affect the rest of the world.

‘It’s not just a matter of ecological change, such as the rise in sea level, but also the economic and social repercussions,’ Mr Koenders said. ‘Increasingly, issues like migration, political stability and international relations will be influenced by climate change. This is something we need to think about now at international level.’

Mr Koenders’ visit is taking place ahead of the publication this autumn of the new Dutch polar strategy for 2016 to 2020.