Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of The Netherlands (centre) seen during his visit to the UAE in September this year, with Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade, and Gerard Steeghs, Ambassador of the Netherlands to the UAE

What are going to be the focal points for The Netherlands at COP28?

The focus points for the Netherlands at COP28 will be threefold:

- Maintain the 1.5 degree target set in Paris. In view of the Global Stocktake (5-yearly progress report), to be discussed this COP28, that will be an increasingly difficult challenge. To maintain that objective we will need to scale up our efforts; we therefore need to reach more ambitious agreements on mitigation, adaptation and commensurate financing.

- We need to come together on a Loss & Damage fund, that will be accessible to the countries that need it most.

- Finally, The Netherlands aims to form a coalition towards and during COP28 to reform international agreements on fossil subsidies.

The Netherlands is fronting a lot of initiatives on water scarcity, a key issue to be fronted at COP28. Could you elaborate on some of the initiatives being undertaken by the Netherlands and the UAE in this space?

The Netherlands is keen to improve safe and secure water for all, by setting firm targets in access to clean drinking water and sanitation and improve integrated water management worldwide.

Gerard Steeghs, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the UAE Image Credit:

In order to achieve this, water scarcity has been a persistent challenge to tackle, especially in the Middle East and North Africa region. Nowadays however, we see that water scarcity also affects many other parts of the world, accelerated by factors including climate change, population growth and continued economic development. We applaud the UAE’s determination to raise global awareness on this issue and to help mobilize a decisive and coordinated international response to the threat that it poses to humanity.

During Expo2020 Dubai, the UAE, Jordan, and the Netherlands issued a trilateral declaration affirming their commitment to supporting a nexus approach that optimises resource use, and calling on other governments to join them in acknowledging the interdependent relationships between water, food, and energy. Although water is scarce in the UAE, the country has a high water consumption per capita. With the desire to become increasingly self-sufficient in food production and nature conservation high on the national agenda, the UAE is ready for a change. Dutch expertise to make the most the little available water is part of the solution. This was also showcased within the Netherlands Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, where we presented our country by means of fully circular biotope.

Today, we see Dutch companies such as Hatenboer Water, Holland Water, LG Sonic, Desolanator, Hydraloop, Metito, Deltares and consortia of companies within the agritech sectors and hydrogen supply chains working closely with the UAE to find solutions together.

In this regard and introducing the COP28 connect, please shed some light on how the Netherlands will be serving as a Water Champion at COP28.

In follow up to the results of the UN 2023 Water Conference, the Netherlands is proud as former co-host to serve as water champion during COP28, together with the Republic of Tajikistan and UAE. COP28 will elevate water on the climate agenda and seek to drive forward progress and raise ambition.

As water champion, the Netherlands will work also during COP28 trough events and presentations on conserving and restoring freshwater ecosystems, enhancing urban water resilience, and bolstering water-resilient food systems. The Netherlands is committed to put water at the heart of climate action, as people experience the impacts of climate change through water. For this water transition, political leadership (from local to global), strong public institutions and massive investments are essential.

A few highlights of the ambitious water agenda are the Water Presidency Session during the World Climate Action Summit, Water and Nature event (‘‘Water for Climate Action: Scaling finance and investment for people and the planet’’) during finance day, and unique UNFCCC high-level ministerial meetings on urban water resilience, freshwater ecosystems and water resilient food systems.

What are the major sustainability initiatives that the Netherlands has fronted since it launched its Sustainability Agenda in 2011? How much of this has had global impact?

International cooperation is a cornerstone of our climate policy. Working multilaterally, we strengthen alliances, educate communities and actively reach out to governments, institutions and organizations. Together we can create solutions, build sustainable value chains, forge climate resilient investments deals and empower societies worldwide to protect our planet and achieve economic prosperity today and in the future. The Netherlands focuses on the following climate change initiatives:

- Ensuring a sustainable supply of clean and renewable energy. Our advanced energy sector offers extensive knowledge and experience in wind, biomass, hydrogen, and solar energy. We are currently exploring cooperation opportunities in the hydrogen supply chain.

- Accelerating the transition to sustainable food production The Netherlands is involved in various partnerships to fast-track sustainable food production and fine-tune methods to grow and produce food with less water, energy and raw materials. For example, by using satellite technology and data to restore soil quality and improve irrigation. We have been working closely with UAE players to promote sustainable and commercially viable local food production by means of various trade missions and MoUs.

- Water management: this ranges from water efficiency for food production and climate adaptive construction projects in coastal, port and river engineering and maintenance.

- Circular economy, as 45% of the total global greenhouse gas emissions are related to the extraction and processing of materials, a circular economy has great potential to reduce our carbon footprint.

While the UAE is pioneering sustainability initiatives for the Middle East, the Netherlands has been recognised as an early adopter. How are the 2 nations collaborating on sustainability and climate change and how much of this will see tangible results over the next decade?

During COP28, we renew our commitment to a shared vision of a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable world, rooted in the Water-Energy-Food Nexus, and strengthened by our deep and lasting partnership with the UAE. Our efforts during COP28, by means of Ministerial visits, the programming of our Blue Zone based European Investment Bank BeNeLux (a contraction of Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg) Pavilion, contributions to the COP28 Water for Climate Pavilion and the COP28 Food for Climate Pavilion as well as a series of events set up by our teams locally highlight this commitment to our shared interests in water, energy and food.

The Netherlands and the UAE have enjoyed strong bilateral relations over the decades. How do you see this friendship growing through trade and cultural exchanges in the long term?

The UAE-NL Relationship dates back to 1972 and is a solid one. We have similar characteristics, and need each other. We have an intensive and long standing trade and economic relationship rooted in the important distribution and transport positions both countries enjoy. The UAE furthermore plays a crucial role in the Dutch energy strategy, both for existing demand and for the energy transition (involving e.g. green hydrogen).

The Netherlands offers the UAE top notch technology and expertise when it comes to food security, an area of strategic importance in the UAE. Apart from that, there are many other areas where the economic relationship is flourishing, expanding and already making history – think of Dutch dredgers creating the “Palm Tree” island in Dubai. But we also look forward to a widening and deepening relationship in diplomatic, educational and cultural directions, exemplified by frequent visits from both sides, including the visit of PM Mark Rutte in September 2023 and Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra to Abu Dhabi in February 2023 and the frequent consultations we have had in recent weeks on the latest regional developments.