Een delegatie van 25 ondernemingen was in aanwezigheid van premier Balkenende recent daar en hij gaf zijn visie op de grote uitdaging van een duurzame innovatie en energie-ontwikkelingen voor ons land en partnerland Canada.
You might think that my country, the Netherlands, is far away. But consider this. Immigrants of Dutch origin and their families make up the fifth largest population group in Canada. That group includes Alberta’s agriculture minister George Groeneveld. And the Dutch are the fourth largest investors. So we are closer than you might think. This is certainly the case today, with the many Dutch companies that are visiting here.
Sixteen million people live in the Netherlands, a country which is slightly bigger than Vancouver Island. It is located in the most dynamic part of Europe. The pressure on each square metre is great. And at the same time people in the Netherlands demand a high quality living environment. They want clean air, clean water, clean soil and beautiful nature. And they want protection from flooding. This is no small undertaking in a country where more than half the land is below sea level. We are also an energy producing country, with considerable gas reserves. The Netherlands was one of the first countries to exploit its reserves on a large scale.
These circumstances have forced us to be creative. We have extensive know-how that could be applied to the sustainable development of the energy supplies here in Alberta. Alberta is committed to developing its oilfields. It needs to do so to ensure energy security. Demand for oil and gas is rising sharply, while the global supply is only just sufficient. Alternative sources of energy are emerging all the time, but not quickly enough.
But we all know that there is a downside to oil extraction here in Alberta. Extraction from oil-bearing sand requires a great deal of energy and generates substantial emissions. The landscape suffers and large quantities of water are needed. This is not news to you of course. If the challenges on energy and climate can be seen and felt anywhere, then it is here in Alberta. Alberta is witnessing a fierce debate on energy security and sustainability. That’s why I am here, because I also see these as key issues. And because I’m convinced that we can do a lot for each other, that we can achieve more together.
First, politically. Yesterday I had a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. I told him that Europeans greatly appreciate Canada’s membership of the international coalition of countries pursuing an ambitious climate policy. Later today, I will also meet with Premier Ed Stelmach. He’s looking for new ways to make oil extraction more sustainable, and I’m very interested to find out more about that.
Second, we share a great deal of common ground in our research into energy and sustainability. I’ll be exploring this when I visit the University of Alberta later on. Third, there are lots of opportunities for cooperation with and between companies. That’s something we’ll be looking into at this meeting.
I’d like to highlight something Premier Stelmach said in April at a conference of the Canadian Energy Research Institute. He said that his government was stepping up its efforts to balance Alberta’s role as a key energy supplier with the equally important role of safeguarding the environment. He also said that he was committed to working with industry to find innovative solutions. That is an important message. It points us in the right direction.
Clearly not all oil-rich nations show this degree of political openness. Canada is one of the few that does. Canada wants to work constructively with others. To seek out new ways to combine energy security and sustainability. We have the same open standpoint in the Netherlands. We are a highly developed country: number five on the Human Development Index, one place below Canada. The question we now face is this: how can we stay at the leading edge, so that we remain successful in the future?
The answer is sustainability. We are convinced that we can make sustainability our strength. In economic terms too. After all, how will we earn a living in the future? Not by doing what everyone else is already doing. That’s a battle we can’t win. But by devising more sustainable solutions that enable continued development and growth. Smart technologies and innovative governance. That’s what the world will need. The future belongs to sustainability experts. My government has bold ambitions. By 2020, we want to cut greenhouse gas emissions at home by 30% compared to 1990. We also want to work with other countries, to see how we can move forward together. Not telling each other what to do, but helping each other move in the right direction.
We are doing this both through the EU and bilaterally. In the places where the challenges posed by energy and climate are most clear. Like Alberta. Innovation is the key. I am pleased to see a number of innovative Dutch entrepreneurs here today. Many Dutch companies are strong in the sectors that are so vital here. Let me briefly run through four sectors represented here today.
First, soil management and soil remediation.
This may sound strange, but a large part of the Netherlands is man-made. We are a nation of engineers. They have literally made our country what it is. This “can-do” mentality is in our blood. It starts at a very young age. The best present you can give a small Dutch child is a pair of rubber boots for playing in the mud and a spade for digging. Large parts of the Netherlands used to be under water. We understand the art of turning sea and lakebeds into fertile farmland. And transforming areas used for intensive livestock farming into woods and wetlands.
We have more than 30 years’ practical experience in the field of soil remediation. And we have learned that our most faithful ally is Mother Nature herself. Since the 1990s, we have increasingly been using natural processes in the soil to combat contamination. Ecosystems have the power to recover. If we only give them the chance. The ground can also help us to tackle climate change. The Canadian government is experimenting with carbon storage in depleted oil and gas fields. This could be an important way to achieve climate ambitions. The Netherlands wants to help by starting one or two demonstration projects in the near future. We should get together to work out where the opportunities lie.
The second sector I want to mention is water management and water treatment. The Netherlands is a land of water. We have had to cope with an abundance of water from the earliest times up to the present day. We are proud that our water management expertise is called upon all over the world. In Louisiana, for example, after Hurricane Katrina. In recent decades we have done a lot to clean up our rivers, lakes and canals. But we need to do more. That is why we are committed to developing new technologies, such as membrane technology and biological treatment of large waste water streams. They offer excellent prospects for further improving our performance. And they can help us treat water used in oil production.
The third sector in which the Netherlands has considerable experience is spatial planning. A hot topic in Alberta where enormous investments are being made. Tens of thousands of people are coming here to work and to live. That will radically change the landscape. These developments open a great window of opportunity for Alberta. It is important now to think about the future. To make plans that combine economic development, housing, transport, and a healthy and attractive living environment. To ensure that the people who come to Alberta today – and their children – will still enjoy living and working here in twenty years’ time. Alberta is fifteen times the size of the Netherlands. But the Netherlands has five times as many people. We have vast experience with spatial planning and sustainable solutions to maintain the living environment. And we want to share that experience with you.
The fourth sector I want to mention is waste management. More people means more waste. Is this a problem? No, it is an opportunity. In the Netherlands, we find a good use for over 80% of our waste. We recycle it, or use it to generate power. Back in the early 1980s, the rate of ‘green recovery’ was a lot lower. Half of our waste stream was not re-used. So we have made great progress in the last 25 years. Landfills have rapidly disappeared from the Dutch landscape. We have only been able to achieve this by adopting an approach in which the public and private sectors have joined forces.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In the past, governments and markets used to be on opposite teams. Regulations versus short-term profit. Those days are over. Our message should not be that economic growth is bad for the climate and the environment. Our message should be that the climate requires us to achieve growth in a different way. More cleanly and more efficiently. If we want to safeguard development and energy supply, we have to think in terms of sustainability. There are big rewards for the pioneers. So let’s be creative. And let’s work together to ensure that the right choices are made.