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Sefa Room for Discussion – Dutch Ambassador for the Arctic Council Rene van Hell

On Monday, February 7, 2022, the Dutch Ambassador for the Arctic Council, Rene van Hell, was interviewed by Sefa Room for Discussion. He discussed topics relative to why the Dutch government has an ambassador in the Arctic Council. He also talked about climate change issues and discussed how the Arctic Council plans to tackle this issue from both a diplomatic and scientific standpoint. From the Ambassador’s behavior and avoidance of specific questions, it was clear that the main point of tension at the moment is the behavior and the interests of Russia, which, as we were given to understand, does not share the same attitude on climate change as the countries which are part of the Arctic Council. The issues the Ambassador discussed are relevant inasmuch they tackle the problem of climate change, and it is reassuring to learn that some countries are taking concrete steps in the right direction to ensure that the climate situation is kept under control. Even though countries are taking action against climate change, it was essential to learn about the diplomatic tensions that are currently present from someone who works with them first-hand.

The interview mainly revolved around how the Arctic Council is handling problems related to climate change, specifically in the arctic territory, which is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, ice defrosting, and the well-being of the local fauna.

First of all, why is there a Dutch ambassador in the Arctic Council? The reason dates back to when the Dutch had interests in finding a North-Eastern passage to facilitate commercial routes; therefore, the Arctic territories are close to Dutch interests.

The Arctic Council comprises eight countries plus some “observers,” one of which is the Netherlands. Indigenous organizations are also a big part of the Council since they are the ones who are actually and most heavily affected by changes in their environment. On the topic of climate change, it is also essential to observe that the Netherlands itself is pretty vulnerable when it comes to it because of its proximity to the ocean.

At the moment, the primary concern of the Arctic Council is the fact that Arctic territories share borders with Russia, which has quite a lot of interests and stakes in the Arctics and does not share or take account of rising concerns on climate change and the impact that specific actions may have on our planet.

The Arctic Council’s priority is that the Arctic territory stays as intact as possible, and it pursues this goal by encouraging sustainability.

The Ambassador continuously stressed during his interview that the Arctic Council is purely based on science and uses a scientific approach to tackle issues regarding climate change and political controversies that inevitably originate with economic powers such as Russia. By stressing the need for scientific evidence, the Council can ideally have a more substantial base to take action.

Some essential facts to keep in mind are, for instance, that last year, the world’s most giant iceberg (named A-76) melted, and a record temperature of 38° Celsius was recorded in Arctic territories.

The Ambassador shared what could be considered a favorable opinion: that climate change is not irreversible, considering recent events and the point at which we are at right now. He mentioned the necessity to be optimistic about the situation: this is something that could be considered almost a nonconformist approach to climate change, since when we hear or read about climate change and its consequences talked about in mainstream media, we almost always have a negativist perspective, and the future is presented as bleak and hopeless.

Despite being optimistic about climate change, the Ambassador still stressed that we need to act quickly to improve the situation: at the moment, world temperature is rising by 2.2/2.3° Celsius every year, and the aim would be to keep it at around 1.5°. The rising temperature has a significant impact on the sea level, which is, as previously mentioned, very strong in the Netherlands because of its proximity to the ocean. About this topic, the Ambassador also stressed the importance of countries making up 80% of the world’s economy committing to reaching 0 emissions by 2050.

There are plans in different parts of the world, such as Africa, to use renewable energies such as solar or wind energy to avoid using raw limited resources such as oil. The exploitation of natural resources is also one of the main issues with Russia because the country has plans to keep extracting fossil fuel in the upcoming years, as the Arctic Council no longer supports fossil fuel extractions.

Local populations in the artic are aware of the damage to their ecosystem, and one of the most crucial points is for them to cooperate and create new strategies to preserve their environments.

At the moment, the focus of the Council is on cooperation amongst different countries and international institutions to find the best and most effective solutions to accommodate climate change. Sustainability is one of the main goals, especially when it comes to poorer nations with fewer resources: it is helpful to take advantage of the European Union’s economic opportunities to help those impoverished countries.

The Ambassador reiterated multiple times that the Arctic Council mainly focuses on scientific evidence to fight climate change and does not (mainly) promote the single countries’ economic interests. When it comes to the Netherlands, for instance, despite having different stakeholders in the Arctic, it does not proactively try to encourage Dutch companies to invest in the Arctic resources. On this topic, the Council looks at economic activities to ensure that they are carried out sustainably.

The main questions and issues raised when talking about the interests of the Arctic Council revolve around how the Council manages to balance the different countries’ economic interests with the preservation of the Arctic and the fight against climate change. The Ambassador talked about how they are keeping an eye on biodiversity without necessarily impacting the local population in terms of how they live their lives: for instance, they must still be able to carry on with fishing and hunting activities which form a big part of their culture and livelihood. The conversation about the ice melting and climate change must be framed by scientific evidence rather than fake news or speculations.

Another point that the Ambassador raised is that the Netherlands (like the other nations involved) is a free country with economic interests, but there is a need to involve Dutch companies in a dialogue about environmental issues.

Finally, which changes have to be made to reach environmental goals to reduce the impact of climate change?

First of all, stopping the extraction of fossil fuels is essential to avoid the exhaustion of natural resources; the focus should be on finding renewable sources of energy that can be effectively used by the growing world population, especially in underdeveloped nations. The Ambassador also mentioned the need for a regulation of European law that bans the selling of products made unethically from deforestation.

Overall, the most exciting and crucial point that can be taken out of the interview to the Dutch Ambassador for the Arctic Council concerns the views we currently hold on climate change: if we keep up a positive and constructive attitude about it, we will be able actually to see some improvements.


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