WANT Original Content
Last week, President Obama made a startling breakthrough while on the world stage at the APEC Summit. After a bilateral meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, he announced an agreement with China around climate change, an issue of vital importance that has never managed to get the traction required for action. The gist of the agreement is simple — the United States has agreed to significantly lower carbon emissions by 2025 and China has agreed to lower them by 2030. At first glance this seems significant — two superpowers who have resisted sweeping climate change remedies in the past and whose diplomatic relationship has been frosty, agreed to a meaningful mutual step forward. But have the two countries really gone far enough? Compared to one small country, maybe not.
It’s interesting to look at the issue of climate change from the perspective of The Netherlands, colloquially known as “Holland.” When you think “Netherlands,” you might think of windmills, bikes, cheese, and picturesque villages filled with black and white cows. Yet, as greenhouse gas and carbon emissions skyrocket, glaciers melt, and sea levels rise, The Netherlands has a lot to lose. In Dutch “Nederlands” means “low country.” A country formed on land reclaimed from the sea, The Netherlands is already some seven meters below sea level at its lowest points, with half the country lying only a meter above sea level. A sophisticated system of high tech dikes and dams protect the country from the ever-encroaching North Sea. Water is everywhere, and every child in The Netherlands has to take a swimming survival certification course, proving by the end that they can swim while wearing street clothes and shoes.
Given recent climate change reports, experts are saying that the current water defenses employed by The Netherlands will not hold up. The level of the North Sea level is expected to rise three feet in the next 80 years. Having experienced a disastrous flood in 1953 that killed almost 2,000 people, the Dutch government doesn’t want to take any chances with the rising water levels. They have pushed the country to become climate change innovators and to tackle their looming problem head on.
The Netherlands already has more bikes than cars and the Dutch pride themselves on sustainable practices in everything from architecture to hospital designs. They have instituted a five-part strategy to improve their dikes and deltas and have set aside one billion Euros to combat climate change in the federal budget. These dramatic actions have wide public support and the Dutch people are happy to relocate when dike expansion products require land acquisition.
The government in the Netherlands recently launched a new sustainable climate innovation hub and university, where students are instructed about the latest technologies and how to safeguard their country’s future. They’ve even turned the environmental threats into a positive, developing a thriving business in the markets for water protection and sustainability, including installing bike paths illuminated by solar-powered lights to further encourage the use of bikes. The approach by The Netherlands sets a standard for the rest of the world. Even if a country is not currently struggling with water issues, every country bordering a sea or ocean will face these issues in the future. The Dutch people are committed to taking a leadership position on combatting climate change, as the misdeeds of other countries can have a serious negative impact on the climate in The Netherlands, and the world should take notice of the Dutch initiative, including China and the USA.