Staatsecretartis Sharon Dijksma verzorgt gastcollege op de Universiteit van Utrecht

Staatssecretaris Sharon Dijksma verzorgde op 6 juni 2016 op de Universiteit van Utrecht een gastcollege over klimaat en circulaire economie. Dit gastcollege vond plaats in het kader van het Nederlands voorzitterschap van de Europese Unie. Bijgaande spreektekst is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

I’m delighted to be giving a guest lecture here today! It makes a nice change from a roomful of grey suits or angry MPs. Today I would like to talk to you about climate change and the circular economy.

I’ll keep it short, and then you can fire your questions, ideas and dilemmas at me.

I don’t want this to be a lecture where you just sit and listen – you have enough of those already.

I want to start with a list of three things. Three things that sound completely unrelated:

  • A tailor-made suit,
  • a lamp, and…
  • a cheese sandwich.

What do these three things have in common?

The answer is the challenge they present – the challenge of how to use scarce natural resources. And how we can do things better.

What’s more, all 3 offer potential to achieve climate benefits with a more circular approach. That’s the big challenge.

Soon – by 2050 – we’ll have to feed 9 billion people. By 2050 we’ll have to cut greenhouse gas emissions almost completely.

So we must take a smart approach to the world’s resources to ensure a prosperous future, a healthy planet and a strong, sustainable economy.
The right answer needs the right question.

Sometimes more than one question in fact:

  • How do we stop producing waste?
  • How can we recycle residuals?  
  • How can we design products that last longer?

The answer is: we need to get out of the ‘take, make, waste’ mind-set. The circular economy is about doing things differently. For me, the circular economy is about more than just re-using and recycling materials.

It’s also about the energy needed to extract resources. About production. About transport.

Circular thinking isn’t just a passing fad. It’s the future. And it’s becoming more and more popular. But as you just saw in the film, we still have a lot of work to do.

Fortunately a lot of smart initiatives have been set up. By people who believe that the climate will benefit from a sustainable approach. A growing community, showing us that the circular approach has potential.

Potential for cutting our use of natural resources and energy. As well as boosting the economy and employment. Of course, the circular economy isn’t a magic bullet.

This approach alone can’t solve all climate issues. For that, more is needed. Like cleaner energy and fuels. But besides making smart use of materials, resources and residuals, the circular economy does lead to better energy use and is good for the climate.

The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research [TNO] has calculated that in a circular economy, we could cut annual carbon emissions by 10 per cent. And reduce the import of raw materials by a quarter. By saving on the production and extraction of resources, we can achieve enormous climate benefits.

Not just in the Netherlands, but elsewhere too. It’s no accident that the circular economy is an EU spearhead. Last December, the European Commission presented the EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy.  

This month the EU member states will be discussing the Plan in the Environmental Council. At the moment, the Netherlands holds the EU Presidency. In my role as chair of the Environmental Council, I hope we can speed up the Action Plan. So that we can make real strides with the circular economy.

Besides agreeing on ways to extend smartphone life, for instance, we need to find ways of making it more attractive to recycle phones. And we need to come up with rules that will foster good initiatives, without creating a jungle of new laws. I’m hoping we’ll get the results we want. That would be the crowning achievement of the Dutch EU Presidency as far as I’m concerned.

But let me get back to the tailor-made suit, the lamp and the cheese sandwich I mentioned at the start of my talk. Because a smart suit can also be sustainable.

You don’t have to buy a suit any more, you can lease one. After 2 years you give it back, and the wool is used to weave new suits. And if it needs mending, you can hand it in for repair. Just like a lease car.

Companies that want to supply this kind of product at a competitive price stand to gain from durability, reparability, low energy costs and fair production methods.

It’s an incentive for innovation. And we need innovative ideas like these. Interior lighting is also a good example. In a circular economy I wouldn’t buy any more light bulbs or pay for the electricity to power them.

I would sign up for a service: lighting when I needed it. Just like Spotify, which gives you music without having to buy CDs. Peerby is another great example. Why buy a new drill or have your dad drive over with his if you can use this app to borrow a tool from somebody in your neighbourhood?

Which brings me to the cheese sandwich.

Do you know how much food we throw away every day? Food production and consumption account for a big share of our carbon footprint. And a lot of that food and the resources used to make it end up as waste.

And don’t forget how many billions of people are involved. After all, everybody has to eat. So there’s a lot to be gained here. By preventing waste and by promoting responsible recycling of leftovers.

Let me go back briefly to the subject of the Environmental Council. Because the climate is also an important agenda item. Or, to put it in more concrete terms: how is Europe going to implement the Paris Climate Agreement?

When the Paris summit took place, I’d just become state secretary for the environment. It was a real milestone for me. Think about it: 196 countries had to agree with each other.Their target was ambitious: to significantly reduce the risks and impact of climate change worldwide. 
So they all agreed to work to limit the increase in global average temperature to well below two degrees Celsius and ideally to 1 and a half degree Celsius.

The next step was the signing of this Agreement at the United Nations in New York. I signed on behalf of the EU.

My thoughts took me back to 1991. When, as youth delegate of the Dutch delegation, I had the honour to address the UN on the link between population growth and climate.

'We must take care not to consume the natural resources of the world without a thought for the generations to come,' was one of the first things I said.

That was true then, and it’s even truer now. We are all responsible for the generations to come. And as state secretary I want to do my bit.

But when it comes down to it, we all have to do our bit. The first of those future generations is here in this room. You young people are ready to take the world by storm.

I hope you’re as eager as I was, at your age, to share good ideas and creative solutions. Your creativitity, knowledge and enterprise are incredibly valuable for the transition to a circular and climate-neutral economy. For a sustainable future. For all of us.

You are the thinkers, do-ers and decision-makers of tomorrow. That’s why I’m delighted that my ministry is working with Utrecht University.

Your knowledge, experience and fresh take on life equips to you discover new approaches. To ask the right questions. And speaking of questions, it’s time for a good discussion!

I hope the following questions will come up when we talk in a minute:

1. What issue do you think I need to tackle first?
2. What contribution do you plan to make to a better climate, sustainability and a circular economy?

Thank you!