Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the opening of the 6th German-Belgian Conference “Climate change and energy transition: German-Belgian approaches to rise to the challenges of our time”

18.10.2022 - Speech

Our two countries are very close – at the beginning of my time in office, my colleagues here at the Federal Foreign Office used a little anecdote to illustrate just how close.

They said that German diplomats sometimes find not the German but the Belgian flag on conference tables and in press rooms during official appointments abroad.

Sometimes their counterparts then try to resolve this confusion quite discreetly by turning the flag around, upside down.

From the point of view of diplomatic protocol, this is an unforgivable faux pas, of course – but our colleagues take it with good humour and don’t berate our international partners.

Because we see it as an expression of the fact that it’s not just our flags that are very similar – but as a reflection of how close the people in our countries are. As a sign of how closely Belgium and Germany stand together:

internationally, at the many meetings we have as Europeans in the EU – but especially in NATO right now as well.

In view of Russia’s brutal war of aggression, we in Europe and in the transatlantic alliance have become even closer since 24 February.

And, as neighbours, we have an open border that thousands of people cross every day as a matter of course on their way to work, to university or to visit family and friends – without even noticing that they’re travelling back and forth between two countries.

Thanks to our companies, we have a trade volume of more than 100 billion euro each year – and you can see the closeness between our two societies especially in our cooperation in the scientific field, between universities and schools – and not just between our governments.

Forums like the German-Belgian Conference are a special expression of this closeness. They not only bring diplomats together. Rather, the German-Belgian Conference aims to strengthen the close relations between our societies. That’s why scientists and entrepreneurs, politicians, but also many stakeholders from civil society are meeting here today.

I would like to extend a very warm welcome to you all here at the Federal Foreign Office!

The German-Belgian Conference was established in order to deepen the exchange on key issues in which Germany and Belgium already cooperate very closely.

It’s therefore no coincidence that this year’s Conference will focus on climate issues and energy partnerships. After all, our countries have been working together on climate protection and energy policy for a long time.

We see the great challenges that we’re currently facing.

With a view to Russia’s brutal war of aggression and Europe’s vulnerability in the field of energy policy.

But also with regard to the fact that the climate crisis is now the greatest security threat of this century.

This Conference is therefore focused on the climate crisis and the green transition – also as a little prelude to the international climate conference COP27 in Egypt, which will start in a few weeks.

As industrialised nations, countries like Germany and Belgium have a special responsibility.

To reduce our emissions in order to get on the 1.5 degree path at long last.

And at the same time to make it clear to other countries and regions where the climate crisis is already the greatest security risk that we stand in solidarity with the people there and are by their side.

After all, these countries and regions have contributed the least to climate change – but they are already suffering the most from severe floods, droughts and storms.

The climate crisis and getting to grips with it is now one of the most important foreign policy issues for many countries in the world, especially in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

If the climate crisis is the biggest security risk for their own societies, then it is also a key issue for international cooperation.

That’s why it’s so important that we – the EU and countries like Germany and Belgium – also put climate policy at the centre of our foreign policy as opposed to treating it as a marginal issue, as was perhaps the case in years gone by.

Our talking points at the time read as follows: our environment ministers are the ones who will speak about climate issues.

But no, climate policy is also foreign policy when it comes down to it. If we give the impression that we’re not taking these issues seriously, then our counterparts around the world are right to ask us:

you’re asking us to stand by your side these days. But why aren’t you standing by our side when our greatest security risk – namely the climate crisis – is threatening us so greatly?

The issue of migration is also central to this. Because no matter whether you talk to foreign ministers from Iraq, Chile or Bangladesh – they all say very clearly that, when climate impacts arise, with floods or in other regions with drought and a lack of water – then people leave their homes.

Climate-induced migration is therefore a major challenge when it comes to security – and, of course, like CO2, this migration doesn’t stop at borders.

That’s why it’s so important that we enshrine climate diplomacy as a core part of our foreign policy. Not only for our international credibility, but also out of self-interest, because we have felt how fiercely the climate crisis is already hitting us in recent years and this summer.

That’s what this Conference is about.

It’s about how we ourselves can contribute to reducing emissions. It’s about how we can more closely dovetail our humanitarian assistance, development cooperation and climate financing in the future. And about how we can build climate partnerships with third countries to promote the further development of renewable energies. Not in the sense of charity, which we make available to others, but rather as energy partnerships, with green technologies, which we also use as an instrument of foreign trade. These partnerships are based on the Paris Climate Agreement – and always take into account the fact that we can only get on top of the climate crisis together.

You, Hadja Lahbib, are at the forefront of hydrogen and especially green hydrogen. In the future, green hydrogen could flow through the pipelines that currently supply Germany with gas from Zeebrugge in Belgium. In the current situation, they primarily ensure security against Russia’s hybrid warfare in the gas sector.

Together with the Netherlands and Denmark, we’re also working on the expansion of offshore wind power in the North Sea.

What is more, Hadja, the Belgian Foreign Ministry has recently made climate diplomacy a new cross-cutting issue of its development cooperation – perhaps we can learn something from you for our new climate diplomacy at the Federal Foreign Office. Our development cooperation is spearheaded by a different ministry, of course – but we as the Federal Foreign Office are working closely with the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development on the cross-cutting issue of climate change.

The former Belgian Prime Minister and great European Paul Henri Spaak once said: “There’s no lost property office for lost opportunities in politics.” This is especially true for international climate policy. If we do not act now, there can be no turning back. Once CO2 has been emitted into the atmosphere, we can hardly get it back again.

There are so many opportunities ahead of us for greater ambition, for greater solidarity and, above all, for even deeper cooperation – for the people in our two countries and especially around the world.

Let us seize these opportunities that lie ahead of us now together, especially in this crisis, with regard to the expansion of renewable energies and the green transition – at this Conference, on the way to Sharm-el Sheikh and in the years to come.

In this spirit, I hope that you have productive conversations today, that you will forge new contacts – and that the next time we bump into the wrong flag, we remember just how much we can change together.

Herzlichen Dank, merci beaucoup, and heel erg bedankt!


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