Speech by Sharon Dijksma, Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, at the World Resources Institute dinner in The Hague

“Together we can make this big idea happen”. This is what Environment Minister Sharon Dijksma said during the World Resources Institute (WRI) reception in The Hague on 24 March 2016. Other attendants included members of the Dutch Sustainable Growth Coalition, Mayor Jozias van Aartsen, and several delegates from companies engaged in shaping the circular economy. In her address, following an introduction by Mr Andrew Steer (CEO of the WRI / formerly the World Bank), the Minister briefly touched upon the historical green agreement reached in Paris. Subsequently she spoke in more detail about the necessity of a circular economy and the opportunities this can provide to the Netherlands, Europe, and the world at large.

Ms Figueres, members of the WRI Board, distinguished guests,

‘Making big ideas happen.’ That is the motto of the World Resources Institute. And it’s no coincidence that this is precisely what we need to tackle the challenges facing the world today, including climate change, loss of biodiversity and resource scarcity.

Before turning to the circular economy, I’d like to mention an important recent milestone.

On 12 December 2015, green history was written in Paris. A fantastic result. For the first time ever, a legally binding climate agreement has been concluded by all countries. It is a balanced yet ambitious agreement. Not surprisingly, I am incredibly proud of the result. But as former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan – a hero of mine – said: ‘Paris marks the beginning, not the end, of the road.

It is now our collective duty to hold our leaders to account and to ensure that they turn promises into action.’

I am convinced that Paris was a tipping point. But indeed, the biggest challenge lies ahead. We must now focus on developing the agreement further and actively following up on it.

Over the past two days you have seen with your own eyes how our country has ‘made big ideas happen’.

You saw the Delta Flume at Deltares, which can generate the largest man-made waves in the world. You visited Rotterdam, with its floating pavilion and plazas that can store water when needed.

Also you have spoken to members of the Dutch Sustainable Growth Coalition. Some of them are here with us this evening. This coalition is proof that there’s a healthy business case for sustainability. The members invest not as a luxury, nor out of idealism, but because they believe that sustainability is the future. Globally, more is now being invested in sustainable energy than in fossil fuels.

This is also clear when you look at the circular economy. By creating a circular economy we do not only protect our environment, we also prevent wastage of raw materials, and in turn cuts costs for businesses and society.

We can even build new markets and business models by finding new uses for materials and switching from ownership to leasing. In short: there’s no such thing as waste.

Or: Trash is treasure!  

A study by the World Economic Forum found that sustainable companies that use a circular model are among the fastest growing in the world. More and more companies see opportunities here. Take the group of leading Dutch organisations that are joining forces to promote ‘The Netherlands as a Circular Hotspot’. Representatives of this group are also here this evening.

I believe we should link the issues of climate and the circular economy. Because besides saving us billions of euros and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, ‘going circular’ will also reduce our carbon emissions by tens of thousands of tonnes.

The private sector has a key role to play.
It is the job of the government to create the right conditions. By adapting regulations, sharing knowledge, bringing parties together, and encouraging innovation.

Sustainable value chain management is an essential factor in the transition to a circular economy: closing the loop and creating more value in the entire system.

Take the Plastic Value Chain Agreement, under which the Dutch authorities work together with companies and NGOs to tackle plastic waste.

Measures include redesign for plastics and encouraging the use of recycled plastic and a ban on free plastic carrier bags. Also cleanup is part of the agreement. End of this year we will start some tests in the North Sea in cooperation with the young entrepreneur Boyan Slat. He invented a promising method to clean up our oceans.  

Key is good collaboration between parties who are willing to share their knowledge. And speaking of coalitions, the more we work together – the more we actually ‘do’ – the better.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I realize we are on a tight schedule in between reception and dinner. So I will only mention just one perfect example of circular business out of the many I’d have liked to serve up this evening. This ties in well with the theme of your visit: water.

Until recently the Dutch water company Vitens spent almost two million euros a year disposing of residue. They realised they could – and indeed must – do things differently. So they researched and invested in innovative techniques. The result: one hundred per cent of their residue is now used by farmers for soil enrichment. That means less waste, a better environment thanks to less use of artificial fertiliser, and lower costs. All in all, making the company more competitive.

The transition to a circular economy in Europe will only succeed if governments and industry truly focus their efforts on it. This is something I truly strive for during the Dutch EU presidency. But not only Europe, the whole world should make this transition. With a global population forecast of nine billion by 2050, a circular economy is an absolute necessity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I hope that you – as board members of the World Resources Institute – will continue to help us take this further and make the transition to this new economy. Together we can make this big idea happen!

Thank you.