Rio+20 business and industry consultation

Opening speech by Minister for European Affairs and International Cooperation Ben Knapen, Rio+20 business and industry consultation, The Hague, 11 April 2012.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a privilege for me to welcome you to this Business & Industry Consultation, in the run-up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. In a few minutes, I will give the floor to the excellent speakers here on stage with me. Mr Sha Zukang, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs; and Mr Jean-Guy Carrier, the Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce. But please allow me to make some introductory comments first.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is fashionable nowadays to say that globalisation is making companies increasingly powerful. That governments are completely at the mercy of big business. My years at Philips taught me that the world does not work like that. A company, cannot control what happens in, say, China, Russia or Brazil any more than government can. It has to constantly improvise, adapt to new developments and respond to competition from emerging economies.

Last week I read that Philips is going to transfer its TV division to a joint venture with the Chinese firm TPV Technology. The Dutch will hold 30 per cent of the shares, and the Chinese 70 per cent. It will have its head office in Amsterdam, but – take note – it will have a television factory in Hungary, developers and support staff in Eindhoven, and techies in Bruges and Singapore.

One company, two shareholders, four countries, five nationalities – this is the upshot of successive waves of globalisation. It is an illusion to think that Philips foresaw these developments, let alone decided them. I think that businesses – like governments – mainly react to global developments. These developments are blind to national boundaries or company structures. In other words, governments and businesses are in the same boat.

This also means that today’s problems cannot be solved by government or business alone. We need to work together – companies, governments, NGOs, knowledge institutions, and so on. With everyone playing their own specific part. In my view, government should play a coordinating role. To put it another way, it should be a broker in international responsibility. Not only by bringing different players together, but also by using the aid budget to leverage private capital for development.

The new kid on the development block – namely: business – also has a vital role to play. Companies are crucial in the fight for sustainable development. Without you it is almost impossible to reach a sufficient scale and have a major impact. That is why the Netherlands attaches so much importance to this business and industry consultation in the run-up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

I want to form alliances – nationally and internationally. Only by joining forces can we promote sustainable development more effectively and efficiently. Let me explain how this modern international responsibility could work. Many companies worldwide are considering including sustainability as a key indicator in a new reporting system. Major accountancy firms are also thinking along these lines, though the details still have to be worked out.

Imagine that in five years we have sustainability rules similar to our present audit rules. International responsibility and coherence in development cooperation will then be a reality – for the public, governments and companies. This sort of accountability can only be achieved by working together. In other words, far more can be accomplished by joining forces than by individual players acting alone.

The conference in Rio de Janeiro gives us an opportunity to make agreements on sustainability. Let us seize it, for there is no time to lose. It is in everyone’s interest to go beyond fine words and take concrete steps to enhance global sustainability. This is not a time for ifs and buts; it’s a time for action.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Netherlands wants to be a pioneer, an agent of change. Last January, for instance, eight Dutch multinationals set up the Sustainable Growth Coalition. And it is no accident that as many as five Dutch companies are listed in the top 10 of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.

That’s not because we forced policies on them, but because they are feeling the heat of growing resource scarcity, and are preparing for future demand. Corporate green motivation is not a matter of corporate social responsibility in these companies; it has become core business, part of a corporate growth strategy.

Like Dutch companies, the Dutch government is committed to inclusive and green growth. We agreed that we should stop saying sustainability is expensive. We are investing in it because it is economically viable and rational. We agreed that we should stop saying environment and sustainability are politicised issues. They are neither left nor right – they are simply the correct thing to do. And we agreed that sustainability is what the public wants – if not now, then in the near future.

These agreements have led to specific measures. Firstly, in the field of innovation, because innovation is a key driver in an efficient transition to a green economy. So the Dutch government has introduced a new, demand-driven approach to industrial policy, based on cooperation.

In the new approach an integrated agenda will be developed for nine top sectors, such as agri-food, energy and logistics. It will include all relevant policy fields, such as education, the regulatory burden, research policy, development cooperation, infrastructure and ICT. The question of how further sustainability can be achieved in each sector is a key part of this agenda.

Secondly, the Dutch government is committed to Green Deals. These deals encourage the private sector, NGOs and the public to develop and implement plans for a more sustainable economy. We create partnerships, exchange information and help remove regulations that obstruct effective deals.

Good examples of this policy are a deal with the city of Amsterdam to build climate-neutrally by 2015; a pilot with a greenhouse company to store heat from their greenhouses in summer for use in winter; and a deal with the Dutch Dairy Association and the Dutch Federation of Agricultural and Horticultural Organisations to achieve a 100% energy-neutral dairy chain by 2020.

A third example of the Netherlands’ commitment to sustainability is public-private partnerships. The Netherlands is currently involved in 75 public-private partnerships of various shapes and sizes, entailing an investment of 750 million euros. The business community and other partners are contributing a total of almost 1.5 billion euros.

In this regard, I would like to mention the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative. This initiative brings together over 100 businesses, NGOs, trade unions and public authorities with a view to improving working and environmental conditions in the main supply chains of international commodities such as cocoa, coffee and soya.

I hope that the optimism of Dutch companies and the Dutch government will be heard in Rio de Janeiro. In Brazil, we and the EU as a whole will press for the principle of a sort of Green Economy Roadmap and a Capacity Development Scheme. We will also support the Sustainable Development Goals proposed by Colombia and Guatemala, provided the evaluation of the MDGs is taken into account and these goals form part of a broader package of social, economic and sustainable goals for after 2015. I hope to find you on our side on this.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me draw my talk to a close. It may be a cliché, but the world does indeed face serious challenges. Our climate, ecosystems and biodiversity are under threat. Our consumption patterns are putting the earth under more strain than it can bear. Our oil, gas and other natural resources are becoming exhausted.

At the same time, 925 million people go hungry every day. Two billion people lack the nutrients needed to live a long and healthy life. And unfortunately, the problem is growing. By 2050 nine billion people will be living on this planet, for whom a 70 per cent increase in food production is needed, whereas the available farmland will increase by only 15 per cent.

To tackle this problem, we need inclusive and green growth. This type of growth demands new opportunities, new markets and new jobs. It is vital to our future prosperity. It requires a business climate that allows entrepreneurs to seize opportunities, and to join forces with each other and different stakeholders. But bear in mind that such a transition entails significant adjustment costs.

To move towards inclusive and green growth, we need a new framework for growth. A framework that takes account of the environment, along with an economy that can adjust, and innovation to reduce the adjustment costs. This will ensure a smooth transition.

Let’s make things better – as Philips’ old slogan used to say. Let’s take the first steps towards more sustainable business today. And let’s take a big leap towards sustainable business in Rio de Janeiro.

Ladies and gentlemen,

My time is up. I am happy to give the floor to two excellent speakers. First up is Mr Zukang. The second keynote speaker is Mr Carrier.

Thank you for your attention.