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The Nation: PM of the Netherlands Mark Rutte

On Newshub Nation: Simon Shepherd Interviews Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte

This week saw the first visit by a Dutch PM in 22 years. Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte was here to announce a bilateral collaboration on modern agriculture and climate change.

Simon Shepherd began by asking him why he chose to sign such a detailed agreement with New Zealand.

Mark Rutte: First of all, ambition, and we both want the world to move to a higher level of ambition based on the Paris Agreement in 2015. We have named it in the Netherlands’ climate diplomacy. Both in Europe and the rest of the world, we’re trying to nudge countries to do more than they have committed to already. But also, we can learn a lot from each other. We are so far apart, but at the same time, some of our problems are so similar.

Simon Shepherd: Like what? What would you say?

Like in the agricultural sector. One of the big issues, of course, is methane emissions in our cows. It’s a very practical problem, and how do we create clean cows, and what is the policy to get there to reduce the methane emissions? And we need innovation to get there. That’s the only way.

Do you think New Zealand, or do you think the Netherlands, should declare a climate emergency?

No. I think we should start doing stuff, because if we now declare emergencies, ‘Oh, and no plans.’ No, we have to start to get this thing rolling.

Let’s talk about some of the specifics that you mentioned in the commitment, particularly phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. That’s a major industry in the Netherlands. There’s a lot of fight back against that?

Yes, but what we have been able to achieve is a consensus – a broad base societal consensus by taking on board in the best Dutch traditions of our polder model. We brought more than 100 societal organisations, from unions to employers, from Greenpeace to the innovation sector. They were all involved in creating this plan.

OK, but you also had a massive company like Dutch Shell there as well. So, I mean, how are they reacting to this?

Well, they are on the forefront of this. Yes, Shell’s on the forefront. They are investing in clean energy. They know that their business model has to transform. It’s a massive transformation of that company, from an oil company into an energy company.

We’ve also agreed – and this is what you’ve outlined today – agreed to share a search on sustainable food production. So is that the end of cows? Is that more plant-based food?

No, but also cows. But then, if we can bring down the methane emissions, we can still look at these lovely animals and enjoy the fruit from what they bring forward, in terms of milk, and, of course, what we can produce from the milk, like cheese.

To bring down the emission, we’re talking about maybe changing the feed. I know Dutch companies are working on that, so you’ve got feed which will reduce the methane emissions. Is that genetic engineering?

Well, no, but what we’re trying to achieve is to bring this to a level of methane emission – lowering levels by 30%. But of course, it has to be in line with all the national legislations.

But in terms of more sustainable food production, I mean, does the Netherlands endorse genetic engineering for crops?

Well, genetic engineering is a very sensitive issue. It’s a sensitive issue, I think, in New Zealand. It’s very sensitive in Europe, in most of the European countries. So, what we need is innovation. Sometimes, you have to experiment, but you have to make sure that whatever you do, there is broad base societal support, and this issue still is very sensitive in our society.

Another area which has been outlined in the terms of co-operation is adaptation. Is that as protecting our shores? I mean, the Netherlands has 50% of its population at or below sea level. Is that what that’s about?

You know what they say – the gods created the Earth, and the Dutch created the Netherlands, because half of the country is below sea level, and Schiphol Airport, for example, the second biggest airport in Europe – it is four metres below sea level, and it means that we have to adapt. Now, we can also build this nature, create artificial islands which will break the problems that the sea is causing. We are helping out in the U.S., in New York, in Boston and, of course, Orleans, and all these hard-hit areas, and we are closely co-operating now with New Zealand on many issues.

That’s right. So, we have an eroding coastline. So how could the Dutch adaptation technology apply here?

What I know from a specialist is that sometimes, you can try to prevent the erosion of the coastline by, indeed, building artificial islands, by trying to influence the way the sea or the lakes are- the flows are taking place within the water system, and how to change that.

So we could use Dutch technology, perhaps, here?

Yes. I know that some of the Dutch companies are already active here, and they are partnering with New Zealand companies.

You mentioned that it’s taken quite a while to be able to get your climate change framework in place.


Why is that? Why is there such a reticence on behalf of populations to endorse this?

When we made it clear that what we want collectively as a country which is at ease with this theme, understands the urgency of now, but at the same time, for people to still own a car, still go on holiday, still live in their house. But when, at one or more points, when you have to buy a new car, when you are discussing doing a lot of construction to your own house, or when you’re moving houses, these are the moments where we try to influence people’s decisions on what they are going to do.

We’re also here debating cannabis reform legislation. Your country has tolerated personal use for decades. Has that been a good policy?

I think so, because it has distinguished between hard and soft drugs, and the amount of young people moving into the hard drugs is considerably lower than in many other countries because, to get to the soft drugs, and- OK, there’s a debate to be had whether the weed at the moment and the working stuff within the weed is now at a level that you might also think it is not any longer a soft drug. But officially, it is still a soft drug. And because they can purchase this not at the same point of sale where you have to purchase cocaine or heroin or whatever, we have been able to distinguish between these two markets.

Prime Minister, thank you very much for your time.

Thank you very much.

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