Koenders attends Obama’s climate summit in Alaska

Today, foreign minister Bert Koenders took part in an international climate summit which was held in Alaska under the leadership of US President Obama. Participants from all over the globe came together to discuss the impact of climate change on the Arctic and the repercussions of these changes for the rest of the world. ‘Melting icecaps are a problem for the whole world, including the Netherlands. I’m glad President Obama and Secretary Kerry made a point of organising this conference,’ said Mr Koenders. ‘We have an obligation to take what we know about climate change and turn it into an ambitious climate agreement in Paris. The Netherlands must continue to take part in polar research – our efforts have been widely praised here – and our companies should think about joining the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Oil and Gas Methane Partnership, which we discussed here.’

Minister Koenders aanwezig op klimaattop in Alaska
Image: Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

The day before, Mr Koenders visited the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, where a Dutch expedition had conducted research on the human impact on the polar climate. ‘In both climatic and geopolitical terms the Arctic is one of the most vulnerable regions on earth,’ said the foreign minister. ‘The Netherlands is not an Arctic state, of course, but given the universal impact that the degradation of the North Pole will have, everyone needs to be involved in this discussion.’

Joint declaration

In the joint declaration that closed the conference, the attending ministers and representatives of the US, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, the UK and the EU recognised the wide-ranging effects of climate change and committed themselves to reducing the speed with which global warming is occurring by working for an ambitious outcome of the Climate Change Conference in Paris at the end of this year. As Mr Koenders put it, ‘Alaska is the stepping stone to a meaningful agreement in Paris.’

The participants called for more research and information-gathering. ‘On Spitsbergen I saw how important ongoing investment in scientific research is. Scientists must have the resources to keep their finger on the pulse of this issue, and perhaps even more important, governments must take their cue from what the science tells us,’ Mr Koenders remarked, following President Obama’s closing speech. Climate change is a threat, but at the same time it offers an opportunity to develop new, innovative technologies and create new jobs, as the president affirmed in his speech.

Scientists’ warnings are taken seriously. Temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice as fast as anywhere else on earth, and the whole planet is suffering the consequences: rising sea levels, floods and extreme weather patterns. There are, of course, also consequences for the Arctic itself: forest fires, erosion-related infrastructure damage and the thawing permafrost. Environmental changes are also having an impact on traditional ways of life of the region’s indigenous people.

The conference participants recognise the importance of the Framework for Action on Black Carbon and Methane, and urge the business community to take part in the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Oil and Gas Methane Partnership. ‘The Netherlands has committed itself to this too, and will continue to ask Shell to participate,’ said the foreign minister. ‘We’re about action, not just words.’

Climate and security

The minister also raised the issue of security in the context of the climate debate, in recognition of the far-reaching geopolitical effects climate change can have. ‘Climate change is one of the biggest influences on global security. We cannot afford to approach these two issues independently of each other,’ Mr Koenders pointed out.

‘I saw it in my last job, in Mali,’ Mr Koenders went on to say. ‘The increasing drought in the Sahel magnifies poverty, migration and social tensions between people who have to make do with less and less water. Climate change can fuel radicalisation and terrorism. It also plays a role in triggering refugee flows and political instability. These are issues the international community needs to take action on. With a view to putting the security impact of climate change on the international agenda, the Netherlands is now organising an annual Planetary Security Conference.’

The first edition of this conference, which will feature around 200 participants, will be held at the Peace Palace in The Hague on 2 and 3 November, Mr Koenders announced in Alaska. ‘The climate of our planet is changing rapidly, and this can have repercussions for our security,’ he remarked. ‘Just think about all the people being driven from their homes by droughts or forest fires. We need an annual initiative where participants can reflect on climate and security.’ Mr Koenders remarked.

The first edition of the conference will be devoted to issues like migration, drought, Arctic security and the impact of the rise in sea level on low-lying urban areas. As Mr Koenders stressed, ‘For centuries the Netherlands has been a pioneer in water management. The Hague has a strong tradition of peace and security. This makes the Peace Palace the ideal location for this conference.’


The Netherlands is also organising the first major international follow-up to the Climate Change Conference in Paris: the Adaptation Futures Conference, to be held in May 2016. Mr Koenders announced this at the conference in Alaska. Around 1,500 scientists, policymakers, experts and businesspeople will come together to talk about the practical implications of the Paris agreement, with the aim of ensuring that countries have the knowledge and capability to achieve sustainable economic development, despite the impact of climate change.

‘The Netherlands has a lot of know-how in this field,’ said the foreign minister. ‘Even when forced to fight the elements, the Netherlands has always managed to grow economically. We are keen to share this know-how with other countries. At the same time we have to stay open to new knowledge ourselves, incorporating climate models and predictions into our policies – if only to keep our feet dry in the Netherlands.’