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Dutch envoy Marcel Beukeboom on balancing climate and the economy

Date:26 September 2018
Author:Celia Castañón Lagunes
Marcel Beukeboom, Climate Envoy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, addresses the opening of FEB's academic year
Marcel Beukeboom, Climate Envoy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, addresses the opening of FEB's academic year

When Marcel Beukeboom was a student, diplomacy was like a chess game: two governments, working one-on-one on a particular problem.

Nowadays, the Climate Envoy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands describes diplomacy as looking ‘more like a Jackson Pollock painting’.

That’s what Beukeboom told the gathered staff and students of the Faculty of Economics and Business in his address at this year’s festive opening of the academic year. He explained his work as a representative of the Netherlands, attending United Nations meetings to negotiate the next steps on the landmark Paris Climate Agreement.

He sees 2015 as a vital year for diplomacy, because the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by the world. In this example, work was still done government-to-government, but much key progress was achieved by a variety of parties, including actors in the private sector.

The Sustainable Development Goals balance social and economic goals on the one hand, and the planet and its resources on the other. At the core however are the fundamentals: climate, water, and life on land.

Climate change is not willing to wait for governments to reach agreements. It was clear across the globe this year, from fires in California and Sweden to the uncommonly hot weather here in the Netherlands. We are reaching a point of no return, Beukeboom said: action is required.

The Paris Agreement says we have to limit global warming to 2 degrees celsius, but this is a political compromise. In fact, we need to limit change to 1.5 degrees celsius. However, scientists warn that these objectives are slipping out of reach if we do not act now.

Former Mexican president Felipe Calderón, who is Chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, has said that economic growth and climate action go hand in hand: economic growth over time is only possible with climate action. This message is hitting home more and more in the private sector, and luckily also within the government circles that are working to implement the Paris Agreement.

Beukeboom pointed to the words of the Bank of England governor Mark Carney. In an inspiring speech in London 2015, just a few months before the Paris agreement, he warned climate change posed a risk to “long term prosperity”.

Climate is a business, the climate is an economy, and it is generating a lot of employment, for example in the energy sector, Beukeboom pointed out. In the global figure, many jobs will be created during this transition to a sustainable solution. Action is beginning to happen on climate in the Netherlands.

He left us with three things to keep in mind.

The first is perspective. If you zoom in a particular problem you might find a solution, but if you zoom out you will see the bigger picture. An action that could seem risky may not be if we look at the bigger picture.

The second is to keep in mind the long term and the short term. What are the implications of your actions now, and what might they be in 30 years?

The third and final tip is to bear in mind your own role. Wherever you are, in the government, in the private sector or in academia, you can make the transformation on climate real.