Symposium Water in Times of Climate Change. A values-driven dialogue

On 6 and 7 November 2019, the symposium Water in Times of Climate Change was held in Amsterdam. This symposium aimed to build dialogues between cities, activists, scientists, governments, businesses, NGO’s, and religious communities. It investigated issues related to water and climate change on four interlocking dimensions: science, politics, economics, and religion. The symposium addressed the challenges from the vantage point of three major urban areas: Cape Town, Jakarta, and Amsterdam.

Day 1: Wednesday Nov 6st

Symposium Day 1The morning session at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam started with discussing the four dimensions (science, politics, economics, and religion) on a global scale and included speeches by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, professor Jan Peter Balkenende (former Prime Minister of the Netherlands), professor Vinod Subramaniam (Rector Magnificus Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), professor Jeroen Aerts (international leading scientist in the field of water and climate risk management), professor Caroline Nevejan (Chief Science Officer at city of Amsterdam), a youth panel, Pieter van Oord (CEO Van Oord), dr. Iyad Abumoghli (United Nations Environment Programme), and Cardinal Turkson (Roman Catholic Church). Kadir van Lohuizen (award-winning Dutch photojournalist) shared his images of the consequences of rising sea levels across the world. 

The dilemmas, needs, and good practices presented in the morning were explored further in the afternoon through three cases studies of the cities Jakarta, Cape Town, and Amsterdam. Delegations from these three cities presented their city’s situation regarding water and climate change through the perspective of science, youth, politics, economics, and religion. Each presentation also contributed a cultural element, including a singing performance by Inke Prima Diyarni from Jakarta and a poem by a local poet from Amsterdam. The contribution from a religious perspective from Cape Town, expressed in a video message of Archbishop Thabo, can be found below.

At the end of the presentations, participants of the symposium joined a boat excursion through the canals of Amsterdam, which provided space for informal conversation and exchange on the topics raised in the day’s presentations. The day concluded with dinner at the IJ-kantine, a local restaurant situated on the IJ, Amsterdam’s waterfront.

Day 2: Thursday Nov 7th

Symposium - Day 2The morning sessions of the second day of the symposium took place at CIRCL, a pavilion part of ABN AMRO’s headquarters (financial district Amsterdam), designed and constructed according to sustainable and circular principles. Through two rounds of parallel workshops, participants investigated issues related to water and climate change, covering at least two of the three cities Jakarta, Cape Town, and Amsterdam or at least two of the interlocking dimensions of science, youth, politics, economics, and religion. Central question was: can we can bridge gaps between the different ‘worlds’ to gain a fuller understanding of problems at hand and provide better responses?

As a result from the morning session, each workshop came up with two concrete recommendations. The participants were invited to rank the total amount of sixteen recommendations, which were consolidated into an Amsterdam Agreement. During a ceremony in the closing session of the symposium this agreement was signed by representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, water utilities Amsterdam, Jakarta, and Cape Town, dredging company Van Oord, United Nations Environmental Program, ABN AMRO, Old Catholic Church, Soetendorp Instiute, Tear, Deltares, Water Institute Cape Town, Netherlands-Indonesian Consortium for Muslim-Christian Relations, and the Amsterdam Sustainability Institute (VU Amsterdam). In the coming months the recommendations of the this agreement e.g. on community building, nature based solutions, and radical uncertainty will be further developed.


Symposium - Day 3After the conclusion of the water symposium in Amsterdam, an additional one-day symposium with NGOs, academics, diplomats, journalists and
politicians was held in the Senate, The Hague. During this symposium participants explored the roles religion play and can play in the public sphere. Questions raised include how to foster a constructive dialogue between secular and religious actors and how to stimulate freedom of religion and of beliefs. The opening was given by Jan Anthonie Bruijn (President of the Senate). His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew shared his vision on ‘Religion and Peace’. Reflections were given by Jos Douma (Special Envoy on Religion and Belief), Ernst M.H. Hirsch Ballin (Professor of Human Rights Law, President of the Asser Institute and former Minister of Justice) and Azza Karam (Secretary General- elect Religions for Peace and professor Religion & Sustainable Development).

Take a look at the pictures for an impression of the symposium or watch the videos below.