Toespraak minister Van Nieuwenhuizen bij High-Level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water


“The pandemic has highlighted the correlation between climate change, water and health. Handwashing is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to prevent disease transmission and stop preventable deaths. Yet, it is impossible without water security.”

Dr Han, Minister Basuki, esteemed HELP colleagues,

‘The state of the planet is broken.’ In his landmark speech last week UN Secretary-General António Guterres was very clear. ‘We are facing a devastating pandemic, new heights of global heating, new lows of ecological degradation and new setbacks in our work towards global goals […],’ he said. That same day the World Meteorological Organization reported that this year is on track to be one of the three hottest on record.

These are not very hopeful developments. And yet, I’m convinced that human action can help solve the problem.

Global carbon neutrality is an essential goal. Hopefully we’ll get there by 2050. But in the meantime we must deliver a breakthrough on climate adaptation. Not in 2050, not in 2040 or 2030, but now.

COVID-19 is terrible, but let’s take this opportunity to build back better and create a more resilient world.

The pandemic has highlighted the correlation between climate change, water and health. Handwashing is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to prevent disease transmission and stop preventable deaths. Yet, it is impossible without water security.

At our last meeting, we adopted the Principles to Address Water-related Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) under the COVID-19 Pandemic. Important principles that need decisive action. Zero risk doesn’t exist – regardless of whether we’re talking about floods, health, or climate developments. Our goal is to be prepared for the unexpected.

In my opinion, water can serve as a connector. If we bring all the various factors together and tackle them as a whole, we’ll come out of this crisis greener and more sustainable.

Stand-alone COVID-19 recovery plans are not the solution. We should integrate them into resilient development plans for low-carbon infrastructure, renewable energy, nature-based solutions and resilient water and food security. Plans that are already there! So we can build on existing efforts. It’s all about knowledge, governance and cooperation.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization just published a highly recommended report on the importance of water in relation to food. Likewise, in my opinion, water can synergise with transport, with nature, climate, health, energy…

And I would very much like to add a subject. At our HELP meetings we often discuss floods and other disasters related to too much water. But at the moment, droughts are rapidly increasing in scope, duration and intensity. For example in the Mediterranean, southern Africa and northeast Brazil. Other regions are experiencing extremes at both ends of the spectrum simultaneously – like the lower Mekong River basin and central Mexico. Severe droughts and floods, making risk management and response increasingly difficult.

That’s why I’d like to propose we discuss the issue of droughts in greater depth at these HELP meetings.

Moreover, I think it would be a good idea to make droughts the central topic of our new flagship document. Let’s improve our understanding of droughts and define recommendations on how to manage them better.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Planet Earth is facing a major shift in its climate and we need to adapt to the new reality today. Mr Guterres suggested that before COP26, all donors and the multilateral and national development banks should increase the share of adaptation finance to at least 50 per cent of their climate finance support. I was very happy with that message! We must accelerate to larger-scale action.

To this end, the Global Commission on Adaptation initiated the Water Action Track. Its results will be presented next month, at the global Climate Adaptation Summit, hosted by the Netherlands on the 25th and 26th of January.

I hope to see you all at this first-ever summit of world leaders focused entirely on climate adaptation.

A virtual conference of course, streamed worldwide over 24 hours with anchoring events from capitals around the world.

This Climate Adaptation Summit will serve as a stepping stone towards COP26. And also to the 2023 UN Water Decade Conference, which will be co-hosted by the Netherlands and Tajikistan. The latter comes almost 50 years after the landmark UN Water Conference in 1977!

I am sure our HELP messages will find their way to these conferences and will be heard worldwide. Let’s ensure that our recovery from the COVID-19 crisis is a resilient one.

Thank you.


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