This article was given as a speech by Mr Kofi Annan on 7 September 2017 at the ‘Making Waves’ conference in Afsluitdijk, the Netherlands.
I can’t think of a more symbolic and inspirational location to promote innovative solutions around water, food and energy than the iconic Afsluitdijk. The dam is a masterpiece of Dutch engineering and a symbol of the country’s centuries-long fight against flooding from the sea. Early on, Dutch engineers understood that one would have to work with nature rather than against it by simply holding back the ocean. This innovative dam guarantees the safety of land and people while allowing for the rise and fall of the tides, which is crucial for the ecosystem to function normally. Its construction also led to the creation of a major fresh water lake that guarantees drinking water supplies, and a huge area of very fertile land for agriculture from the former sea bed. Above all, the dyke – together with the UNESCO World Heritage Site, “Wadden Sea”, to its North – has become a major tourist magnet, contributing to the socio-economic development of the regions nearby.
The Afsluitdijk is bringing substantial benefits in all three sectors that we are discussing today – water, food and energy. Stresses on these precious resources are sharply increased due to global population growth, rapid urbanization, and changing diets driven by economic growth. It is estimated that by 2030 the global population will need at least 40% more water, 35% more food and 50% more energy. But our planetary boundaries are already reaching their limits. For we are exploiting finite resources at an alarming rate and causing huge damage to our environment. Our predominant model of development is encouraging wasteful production and consumption patterns.
It is a moral outrage that 30% of food produced for human consumption is spoiled or squandered every year. Even if just one fourth of it could be saved, it would be enough to feed the 870 million hungry people in the world. Hundreds of millions of our fellow human beings also lack access to both water and energy, which are cornerstones of economic progress and poverty alleviation. The growing impact of climate change is exacerbating these challenges and risks pushing millions more into abject poverty and hunger. And as always, it is the world’s poorest who are paying the highest price.
The challenges we are facing are huge, but fortunately, we are not starting from scratch. With the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, world leaders have adopted a compelling vision with ambitious goals. The role of governments is vital in implementing those commitments. But it is not governments’ responsibility alone. It requires cooperation and partnership between every sector of society. No one has all the answers, but let me set out a few priorities as I see them.
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