Interview with Arctic Council Observer: The Netherlands

10 August 2020
The Netherlands have had Observer status in the Arctic Council since 1998. As an Observer, the Netherlands can contribute to the Arctic Council through meeting attendance, providing scientific expertise to Working Groups, project proposals and financial contribution (not to exceed financing from Arctic States, unless otherwise decided by the Arctic Council’s Senior Arctic Officials) and statements. We spoke with Carola van Rijnsoever and Liz ter Kuile at the Netherland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We asked them about the Netherland’s interests in the Arctic, the Arctic Council projects the Netherlands are involved in and the country’s key actors that engage in Arctic work.

Arctic Ambassador Carola van Rijnsoever (left) and Arctic Official Liz ter Kuile (right).

One of the first questions that comes to mind when thinking about the Netherlands as an observer country in the Arctic Council, would probably be: why are you an observer and what is the Netherlands’ interest in this region?

Even though our national borders do not cross the polar circle, we do have a strong connection to the region that many of you call home. Our ties go back to 1594, when Willem Barentsz started an expedition in search of the Northern passage. The Arctic is of unique value for humankind and for ecosystem earth. Unfortunately this area suffers to a large extent from the consequences of climate change. Global warming leads to ice loss and puts pressure on biodiversity. We see it as our joint responsibility to make sure the Arctic’s value will be maintained.
The developments in the Arctic also have direct consequences for the Netherlands, such as sea-level rise, more extreme weather conditions, changes in biodiversity and shifting economic opportunities. That is why contributing to polar research and international cooperation in the region also serves a direct Dutch interest.

How do you work with the Arctic Council to tackle pressing issues in the Arctic?

We were present at the signing of the Ottawa Declaration in 1996. Since then, we participate in Arctic Council meetings as an Observer to learn about the priorities and policies of the Arctic States and Permanent Participants. But being an Observer first and foremost entails active contribution in the Working Groups. Dutch scientists are part of the Conservation of Arctic Flore and Fauna (CAFF), the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG), the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) and the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME). We consider the work that is done within the Working Groups as indispensable for sustainable and knowledge-based policy making.

Dutch Arctic research is considered to be of high-quality. The Dutch Arctic Centre – based in Groningen, the ‘Dutch High North’ - is specialized in many of the themes central to the Arctic Council Working Groups. One of our areas of expertise is Arctic migratory birds. Many migratory birds that winter in the Dutch Wadden area and in the delta’s in Zealand brood in the Arctic. Furthermore, Dutch research initiatives like the upcoming SEES expedition - that will embark in August 2021 - provide researchers with relevant knowledge and data to share within the Arctic Council Working Groups.

What are you currently working on?

One of the pressing themes that deserves attention and action is marine litter. For this reason we participate in the PAME Expert Group on this subject. We contribute for example through the “Arctic Marine Litter Research Project”. In this project, researchers use forensic technologies to find out about the origin of marine plastics that end up in the Artic. As a country, we agreed to make our economy fully circular by 2050. This research supports our efforts.

Similarly, we are active within SDWG. One of the most concrete examples of our efforts is the linking of SDWG partners to Dutch experts on land-water management and renewable energy in the AREA project. And last but not least, we are getting increasingly involved within PAME on shipping. The Netherlands supports sustainable development of the Arctic and securing responsible shipping is highly important to protect the Arctic environment.

Also on a national level, we support Arctic research initiatives, for example those that combine science with art. One unique example of such a cooperation was a project of the Dutch Research Council (NWO) together with three Dutch Arctic artists at the Rotterdam Photo Festival. An obsolete research container was used as a small photo gallery. How is that for a circular initiative!

Who are the key actors in the Netherlands engaging in Arctic Council work?

Together with the Dutch Research Council and Dutch scientists from institutions like the Arctic Centre we execute the Dutch polar policy. Also we have a regular meeting with the responsible case officers within the relevant Ministries – e.g. the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science - chaired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as coordinating Ministry of the NL Polar policy. In these meetings we discuss the most pressing policy and research issues.

In the Dutch Arctic Circle stakeholders stemming from government, private sector and science get together. A typical example of what we call “polderen”: the cooperation between different types of actors to achieve a common goal. It is also with these key actors that we will be developing our renewed Polar Strategy (2021-2025) this year.

We look forward to continuing our cooperation and hope to see many of you during the next (virtual) Arctic Council meeting!

To learn more about the role of Observers and the criteria for admission, click here. You can learn more about the past and ongoing work of Arctic Council Observers through their activity reports and reviews.