Toespraak bij de opening van de 4e International Conference on Renewable Resources & Biorefineries (Engelstalig)

Toespraak van de minister van Landbouw, Natuur en Voedselkwaliteit, mevrouw G. Verburg, tijdens de opening van de 4e International Conference on Renewable Resources & Biorefineries op 1 juni 2008 in Rotterdam.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

'Biobased is real'.

If I look at this room full of people today, I don't think there is a better way of putting it. It gives me great encouragement to be able to meet you here this evening. Each one of you is making a contribution to the new reality. Rotterdam with its Climate Initiative and Rotterdam Bioport. Chris Summerville with his contribution. Shell with energy scenarios till 2050. What will it be? Scramble or blueprint?

To set us off I would like to share my views with you. If I look at our position in the world, then we are doing a good job at keeping our heads above water. The Netherlands is a real frontrunner in terms of its agriculture. We are the world's second largest trader in agricultural products. We have a large chemical sector with many companies quoted on the stock exchange. We have our world port and a sound infrastructure with efficient logistics. Moreover, we are a country of engineers and builders who are not lacking in creative and innovative ideas. And we see that our knowledge, and ability to innovate are reflected in these industries. In changing times like these, such qualities serve to help us move forward.

Then, in our own liberal and tolerant manner, we tend to cause a commotion - sparking off a revolution which could have global consequences! It starts with one question: How can we develop a strong society in which economic and environmental interests are inextricably linked? On a large scale and reaching the smallest corners of town and village. That is one thing we could call 'real' today. This revolution, the green economic revolution, is essential. There are limits to our exploitation of fossil resources. The depletion of these traditional resources will be accompanied by further powerful developments which cannot be avoided. Climate change is just one of them. Population growth and the increasing affluence of India and China are others. We have to look for other solutions.

For one thing, we will have to safeguard our economic relationships in different ways. Not by functionality, but by sustainability. As far as I am concerned it also means that we have to use a different way of thinking. This new way of thinking and behaving will be driven by sustainability as this is our best guarantee for the future. Not the easiest option, but certainly the best for the three Ps, People, Planet, Profit. And one in which the government wishes to have a leading role. All activities in the economic chain come into it. From raw materials to production process, transport, consumption and further processing. The aim of the revolution is to 'close' the chains. But to be able to do so, we must first dismantle the old ones. So slowly but surely we make the transition to other raw materials. Sustainable raw materials. Green raw materials. It can be done. They are available. And moreover, they are considerably less damaging to the environment and public health. They are biodegradable so that waste flows will be reduced. And they will open the way to new, exciting economic activities.

The Dutch Government is active in the green economic revolution on three fronts: through consortiums, with innovative products, and by facilitating or commissioning research. Let me explain. In the Netherlands we have to rely on intelligent constructs. Not on more agricultural land, we have too little space for that and our country is too densely populated. That is why my Ministry is facilitating consortiums. In the two larges sectors in our country: agriculture and chemicals. To arrange matches between science, industry, business, government and sometimes Product Boards. Some of these matches are brought together for special projects. For instance, the Technical University of Delft, DSM and Shell have joined forces in the bio-based technology and innovation Park that is being built in Delft. Other collaborations are being formed at strategic level, like the High Level Core Group Biobased Economy that I established. This year the core group will produce a technology roadmap with concrete steps.

Then innovation. One good example is the Green Raw Materials Programme. The Ministry has already used this programme to develop biodegradable plastics and paints based on green raw materials. And because I believe that everyone should be able to profit from these innovations, we established a special programme for Small and Medium-sized businesses : the Small Business Innovation Research regulation. A programme based on an American model. Because small as well as large businesses must be able to profit fully from this market development.

The third aspect involves the area of unreclaimed knowledge: research and science. On the one hand we are supporting innovative projects of the bio-based products business unit of Wageningen University. On the other we are initiating research for the benefit of the agro and chemical sectors. Earlier this year we asked the Agricultural Economics Research Institute and Wageningen University to calculate the size of European market potential for green raw materials for high-value applications. The potential proved to be huge. In the EU there is growth potential of 80 to 120 billion euros. Especially if we are talking about green building blocks for chemicals and materials on the basis of biomass. At the end of this year I expect to receive the research results of a macro-economic study.

If, as a government, you wish to conclude a quality agreement, then of course there is a price to be paid. This government is going to invest a huge amount - 400 million euros - in innovation, research and technology. A large portion of this funding will be devoted to green raw materials. But we have a long way to go. There are still many issues to be ironed out and I am really looking forward to being able to do that with you in the coming days.

In my third point I referred to the large market potential for high-value applications. But I have more good news for you. News from our society: the cradle to cradle philosophy, which is based on the eternal recycling of refuse, is gaining in popularity. I am pleased to see that attention is being given to this concept. I also find it most encouraging to see how agricultural entrepreneurs are already creating new, inventive markets. Primary refuse - tree prunings and roadside grass cuttings - secondary refuse - beet pulp and sawdust and tertiary products - animal fats, garden waste and algaes, little by little they are finding their way into the penicillin and vitamin B2 products of DSM and BASF. Into plastic, into bio-ethanol. Composite. Insulated blankets. That is useful and welcome.

All the result of sustainable thinking and green action. The opportunities and the knowledge is there, the chances are there for the taking, the social climate is favourable, individual entrepreneurs and large businesses are inventive and creative, the government is offering its full support. Now it's down to character. Staying power. Will agricultural entrepreneurs continue to seek out producers of materials and chemicals and vice versa? Will the businesses who can convert their waste flows into electricity, petroleum or diesel continue to innovate? Do producers and consumers know how to make life sustainable, so that we can all continue to live on this planet? The government is aiming primarily for second generation technology. That is also set out in the government vision "Biobased economy in the energy transition'. This is concerned, for instance, with chemicals and materials that can be obtained through biorefinery. Coproduction of high-value applications. Biocascading. These applications are, I can assure you, triple R: Real, Revolutionary and Rewarding.

But of course this is not only about the Netherlands. Next week all 119 Member States of the FAO will be meeting to discuss bio-energy. This will be the springboard to broader UN effort in this area. I will press for agreements to be made on the use of biofuels and worldwide sustainability criteria. We will consider the production of biofuels as far as possible in an integrated manner. This means that we will have to involve the climate. And that we look at the old dilemma, once again topical thanks to high prices, the problem of food shortages. I do believe that an incorrect link is made between rice, cereal and soy cultivation and the production of biofuels. In this discussion we must continue to keep sight of the nuances. Biofuels account for one and a half per cent of agricultural land, a very small percentage. Food is then still a long way ahead of energy when it comes to land use.

And while we are talking about food: the power of innovation and structural investments is our strongest card here too. The Netherlands invests in this, too. My Ministry joins the Ministry for Development Cooperation to invest a sum of 50 million euros in agriculture in developing countries. We will work along 5 specific tracks. Research and innovation is one of these tracks.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The government is happy to shoulder the responsibility of seeking solutions. But relationships have changed and the government is no longer alone at the helm. With your efforts and expertise you can play a crucial role in the revolution. It is important that we continue to pose each other critical questions on these issues. I call that mental fitness. I believe that together we can make huge leaps forward. I am hoping for a boost of ideas, new partners, exciting collaborations. I invite you as chemical sector and as scientists to make the Netherlands a fine meeting place for bio-based developments. Our small country has the energy for it. We have our chemical industry, we have our agricultural sectors and we have our ports, the logistics. I wish you an exciting and informative conference and hope you will use this opportunity to offload all you questions and be inspired by the things you learn.

Thank you.