Minister Harbers sprak bij 41ste ICAO Assembly in Montréal, Canada


Minister Harbers spoke about the sustainable challenges for the aviation industry and safer skies. He also adressed the tragic downing in 2014 of flight MH17. 'We also believe the ICAO Council has full competence to address this matter and order the Russian Federation back to the negotiating table.'

Madam President, Mr President, Secretary-General, Your Excellencies, distinguished colleagues,

It is an honour and a pleasure to be here at the start of the 41st Assembly.

At the present time, we are dealing with the heart-breaking consequences of a major disturbance in world order, triggered by a premeditated act of unprovoked and unlawful aggression against a free and independent state in Europe – which we strongly condemn. The Chicago Convention recognises that every contracting State has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory. Sadly, some among us appear to have lost sight of this fundamental principle. Let peace prevail.

This Assembly comes at a pivotal point in history, in which we must demonstrate leadership and courage, and take some key decisions on the future of international aviation – and indeed the future of the aviation sector as a whole.

This Assembly also marks the end of the three-year period in which the Kingdom of the Netherlands was proud to serve on the ICAO Council. Little did we know what unexpected challenges we would be facing. Nobody could have predicted the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ICAO has worked hard to provide guidance and support to both States and industry, to help them weather the storm and lead us on the path to recovery. I also wish to commend ICAO for its ability to adapt to changing demand, embarking on a transformational journey of the Organisation itself. I salute your good work, Mr Secretary-General.

The Netherlands is a firm believer in multilateral cooperation, and we need ICAO to be fit for purpose. Revision of the ICAO Ethics Framework has been a clear focus of the Netherlands during these past three years, and we are relying on you, Mr Secretary-General, to ensure its effective implementation.

High moral values and a commitment to international law and order are of critical importance at all levels of this organisation, including its governing body. Surely this must be at the forefront of our minds when we take decisions later this week that are closely related to good governance.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The dramatic effects of the climate crisis are becoming more and more evident every day. There is no time to waste. We need to act now by speeding up the energy transition. Every industrial sector must shoulder its responsibility. This of course includes aviation.

This means setting clear goals and working towards achieving them. We all know that the aviation sector, known for its pioneering outlook, can set ambitious targets for itself.

At this Assembly, I call upon all States to show corresponding grit and determination by agreeing a long-term aspirational goal for CO2 reduction in aviation.

In this context it is also absolutely essential that we do not water down CORSIA, the only global policy instrument for tackling aviation CO2 emissions and to which we remain fully committed.

It is encouraging to see how all stakeholders are looking for ways to contribute to this transition, and how the industry itself has already mapped out how best to achieve the proposed long-term aspirational goal.

We are seeing initiatives in the Netherlands, and in many other states across the aviation community, to develop and scale up sustainable aviation fuels. Furthermore, companies around the globe are working on electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft.

In addition, in the Netherlands we are considering other ways of reducing the carbon footprint of our own aviation industry. Taxation is one option, but we are also exploring the concept of a ‘carbon emissions ceiling’ for aviation. Of course, policies like these will only be truly effective when rolled out at global level, especially in this global industry. So today I call on all colleagues to join me in developing a flexible toolkit of policy instruments to tackle the climate challenge in aviation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The second topic I want to touch upon is safer skies.

The Netherlands acknowledges the extraordinary value of the work done by ICAO since the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in 2014 to mitigate the risks that conflict zones pose to civil aviation operations.

We remain fully committed to seeking truth, justice and accountability for the victims of the downing of flight MH17 and to supporting any action designed to ensure that tragedies like MH17 do not happen again. We are confident the Joint Investigation Team, consisting of experts from the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium and Ukraine has yielded compelling evidence of the disconcerting role played by the Russian Federation, thus breaching its obligations under the Chicago Convention. We also believe the ICAO Council has full competence to address this matter and order the Russian Federation back to the negotiating table. This is an important priority for us and we count on your support.

Furthermore, our firm commitment includes unequivocal endorsement of the Safer Skies Initiative taken by Canada after the 2020 downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752.

Through the creation of the Safer Skies Consultative Committee in 2020 and the annual Safer Skies Forum, Canada, the Netherlands, and our international partners, have established a truly global platform. In this platform we share best practices, facilitate the exchange of information, and recommend global standards and guidance on mitigating the risks that conflict zones pose to commercial aviation.

I am very proud that my country – together with Canada – will host the next Safer Skies Forum. You are all most welcome to attend. It will take place in The Hague in June 2023.

I would like to conclude by thanking ICAO for the opportunity to speak today and I wish you all a very productive and successful meeting.

Thank you for your attention.


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