Climate | Environment | Emissions Reduction

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our modern time: Prime Minister of the Netherlands

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our modern time, Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte has told a CEDA audience.

Speaking in Melbourne as part of the Prime Minister’s Australia and New Zealand tour, Prime Minister Rutte discussed finding solutions to the climate challenge.

“My answer to the challenge is international cooperation, innovation, and innovation particularly focusing on sustainability,” he said.

“Part of that fight is the circular economy, we tried to get a circular economy running in the Netherlands as soon as possible. It is a necessity as part of our climate strategy.

“With Scott Morrison we decided to come to an MOU between the Netherlands and Australia about the circular economy because there are many challenges.

“In total we know in the Netherlands in the workforce of 10 million, 420,000 jobs who are directly or indirectly connected to our circular economy.

“I would say that even if you don’t believe in climate change, I believe climate change is happening to be clear, but even if you are not absolutely sure that climate change is happening, there is a business case to get the thing rolling.

“My question to you will be how can we move towards a circular and a sustainable economy and at the same time, expand our economic ties?”

Speaking on AI and innovation, Prime Minister Rutte shared how the Netherlands is overcoming disruption and anxiety around new technologies.

“At the moment we have unemployment at just over three per cent, we are coming close to two per cent, that is in a large part because we decided 10 years ago to focus on a few key top sectors like IT, agricultural (and) water management,” he said.

“That’s helped us to focus research, development, innovation – challenging companies, challenging the system from outside.

“But it has to go hand in hand with job growth and growth in GDP so people sense that this is the way forward, otherwise they will become conservative and basically move against these changes because they are afraid it will change their livelihood without seeing the benefit.”

Prime Minister Rutte also highlighted the importance of collaboration with industry to form the foundations for legislation.  

“AI might be more transformational than the internet some think. If that is true, then we better get the governance thing right at the start,” he said.

“We want to become the AI hub outside of the US.

“We launched our AI strategy last week but a crucial issue here is the governance and privacy laws etc.

“We decided we cannot do that ourselves, we need industry to be part of that debate.

“You cannot require me to come up with legislation or governance on an issue which we don’t understand fully. You have to help us, we have to do it in co-creation.

“At the end of course, it is the government and democratic system which then has to decide. But that input also needs to come from industry and it will also force them to look at this from various angles not just a profit-making point of view…but also what it means in terms of indeed privacy or main issues of personal lives for all of us.”

Discussing the rise of protectionist policies, Prime Minister Rutte shared how Australia and the Netherlands can work together.

“We are the middle powers. Australia is 14th biggest economy in the world, Netherlands is the 18th biggest economy in the world – both in the top 20. We are not Germany or Japan or China or the US but we have size, we have an impact,” he said.

“We have only got there because we know we need to work together worldwide.” 

Also speaking at the event was The University of Melbourne, School of Social and Political Sciences, Jean Monnet Chair ad personam Professor Philomena Murray, who echoed this sentiment.

“There is a possibility for middle powers to do an awful lot more than they have been doing in the past,” she said.  

“I think Australia and the Netherlands could work together in what we in academia sometimes call ‘mini-laterialism’.

“The Netherlands has always been a leader within the European Union of the ‘non-big countries’ shall we say, it trains its diplomats terrifically and it really has got a good understanding of niche diplomacy which is where I think Australia and the Netherlands could work together.

“I think they could work together on promoting values, values around humanitarianism, values around maintaining good governance, but also about inclusiveness.”

Invest Victoria Chief Executive Officer Chris Barrett discussed the role Free Trade Agreements (FTA) have in creating opportunities for economic growth.

“The kinds of low hanging fruit that you can get from FTAs is so important to that growth story in a world that’s searching for growth in so many different places,” he said.

“There is literally $17 trillion globally that is experiencing negative yields at the moment, so the search for growth through trade is incredibly important.

“We’re going through this process of trying to form a free trade agreement with the EU which is an incredibly important process for Victoria and Australia.

“According to one of the EU scoping studies in 2017 a FTA with the EU could deliver a windfall of between $4.1 billion and $6.4 billion for Australia in GDP by 2030.

“My day job is to think about investment – it’s not just the EU FTA – it’s the FTAs that Australia for example has in our region – with China, with Japan, with Korea, with Malaysia. Those are magnificent opportunities…for Dutch firms, for other firms to invest here in Australia and avail themselves of those FTA’s we have.
“We’re in the right time zone, we’re in the right part of the world to do that exporting so that’s a magnificent opportunity for businesses to come.”