Toespraak van minister Harbers bij International Symposium for Next Generation Infrastructure

Toespraak van minister Harbers (IenW) tijdens het internationale symposium Next Generation Infrastructure op 12 september 2022 in Rotterdam. De tekst is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Picture the scene: you’re driving into a town. Destination: Beursplein 37. You don’t know the way. Oh, and smartphones have yet to be invented and TomTom is still working with MS-DOS, as it were….

Up until 25 years ago, you’d find a well-thumbed book of town and village street maps in nearly every Dutch car. Most Dutch people here will still remember them. Finding your way around with a big book on your lap is almost unthinkable now. It wouldn’t even be allowed. Much too dangerous…

The world can change enormously in the space of 25 years. And it seems to me we’re now in the eye of the storm of change.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Welcome to Rotterdam!

This great port city, and my home town. It’s also home to the world’s largest floating office, the headquarters of the Global Center on Adaptation. A globally operating solutions broker that seeks to accelerate, innovate and scale up action for a climate-proof world.

You have a full, 3-day programme ahead of you. It centres around 3 themes:

1.    Sustainable and resilient infrastructure;
2.    Smart and integrated infrastructure;
3.    Social value and infrastructure governance.

I’d like to add a 4th:
4.    Sustainable, resilient, smart and integrated infrastructure and social value and infrastructure governance. 

Because of course all these things are closely linked. The premises on which today’s world was built are rapidly changing. If we want to protect the things we cherish, we need to change a lot too.

Mobility is a human right, a way for every individual to express freedom. But we can’t take this for granted.

What’s at stake? Let me briefly address six global developments from a Dutch perspective:
1.    The climate is changing: we’re experiencing drought, heat, heavy rain and sea level rise.

A large part of the Netherlands lies on what used to be the seabed. If we slackened our efforts to protect ourselves from the water, even for a day, a quarter of our country would be flooded.

The days we shaped our environment at will are behind us. We face new, powerful forces that are compelling us to adapt. Spatial planning is taking more account of water and soil systems.

Extreme heat and droughts are placing new demands on our roads, railway tracks, tunnels and bridges.

2.    We’re joining with global efforts to create an emissions-free future in which renewable green energy is the norm.

Not just by having all Dutch trains run on wind power, for example. But also by requiring all major government procurement to be sustainable.

3.    The population is growing. It’s a worldwide trend, and the Netherlands is no exception. In the next decade, we expect to be joined by a million new compatriots.

This means that more demands will be placed on mobility. In an effort to find solutions, we’re taking a fresh look at our existing infrastructure.

The basic set-up is over half a century old. We maintain, and add new innovations: moving our mobility system to a smart, sustainable future.

And we’re making new homes accessible, using modern insights and technologies.

4.    Cities are continuing to grow. And the density of urban populations is increasing. Those one million new Dutch people I just mentioned: 70 per cent of them will be living in cities.

Cities and regions will be linked in different ways, a process that will be helped by new transport systems
Public transport nodes will become logistical hubs where amenities are clustered together, minimising transport movements.


For some time now, urban infrastructure has no longer focused solely on cars, but also on pedestrians, cyclists and public transport. Car sharing is becoming increasingly common in busy city centres.

              These are all well-established trends.

5.    Smart mobility used to be the domain of digital startups and whizz-kid programmers. Not anymore!

Data from navigation services, service providers, emergency services, cars and road authorities provides a wealth of information that helps traffic to flow more smoothly and safely.

Smart mobility creates a host of possibilities on roads, railways, airways and waterways. And in turn, those combinations represent new opportunities.

Thanks to new technology we can respond much more efficiently to demand by always choosing the best and fastest transport option: bike, train, car or a combination.

And smart mobility is also about smarter logistics and goods transport. About new, cleaner ways to provision busy city centres.

This has all been about what we’re doing. On Friday you’ll be hearing about how.

6.    Then the focus will be on social value and infrastructure governance.

Spatial planning and infrastructure: these are the joint challenges facing the public and private sectors.

Hybrid solutions to mobility issues require public-private partnership.

Entrepreneurs are already factoring climate change risk – both national and international – into their business cases: public objectives, private considerations.

And the focus has long shifted from purely economic motives. Prosperity is a broad concept. It’s also about a healthy living environment, future prospects and social cohesion.

Ladies and gentlemen,

An immense task lies before us. I don’t know how this era will go down in history, but surely as a time when we had our hands full! It’s paramount to join hands, to closely work together!

That’s why this symposium is so important! You’ve come here from all over the world, and that alone is a very important sign. Your knowledge and personal experience will be valuable in developing new insights. In shaping the Next Generation Infrastructure.

I’m heartened by the wealth of expertise you represent. Your know-how and creativity will make a difference. Not just now, but also in the future. We have no time to lose.

But we know the world can change enormously in the space of 25 years. And we can change it for the better if we join forces. If we share our problems. And if we have both the will and the capacity to solve them.

A lot rests on your shoulders, but I am confident this issue is in capable hands. Unfortunately I can’t stay for the rest of the programme, but my thoughts will be with you in the days ahead.

I look forward to the symposium’s findings!

Thank you.