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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Netherlands threw its support behind a new NATO centre of excellence to study the security threats posed by climate change during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's official visit to Holland.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said during a joint media conference with Trudeau Friday that like many around the world, "NATO is also focusing more attention on the climate issue."
"And that's the reason why we are working on the NATO centre of excellence on climate and security, " he said, standing next to Trudeau.
"Canada has offered to host the centre. In the Netherlands' view, Canada would be the perfect home for this platform, given a strong profile and commitment to this important issue."
Trudeau first announced the intention to ask allies to support the development of such a centre during the NATO leaders' summit in Brussels in June.
The hope is to have the design and negotiation process take place this year and next, and start establishing the centre itself in 2023. Canada said the centre would help NATO members better understand, adapt to and mitigate against the security implications of climate change.
Earlier this month, the United States released climate security strategies from several departments, including Defence, Homeland Security and Commerce, to look at ways to deal with how climate disasters could force mass migrations of people, exacerbating conflict and starting new wars.
The Pentagon and British defence departments have been developing climate security plans for more than a decade.
The new Canadian centre would become a strategic addition to the more than two dozen such NATO think-tanks. The centres offer the military alliance expertise and research capability to develop doctrines and approaches to a vast array of global security challenges.
They are headquartered mainly in European countries, and are devoted to the study of civil-military operations, cyber defence, military medicine, energy security, naval mine warfare, anti-terrorism, cold weather operations, among others.
In recent years, NATO's cyber centre for excellence headquartered in Estonia has focused on fighting internet-based warfare that has included countering threats posed by Russian hackers aiming to disrupt Western democracies through disinformation campaigns.
Trudeau also took on such campaigns Friday in a speech to Dutch parliamentarians at the historic Ridderzaal.
Paying homage to the friendship between Canada and the Netherlands that rose out of the Second World War, Trudeau said the very values and security Allied forces fought to defend are in peril.
"It’s not just conspiracy theorists and marginalized, angry people online," he said. "It’s state actors, too, using disinformation, propaganda, and cyberwarfare to harm our economies, our democracies, and undermine people’s faith in the principles that hold us together."
Trudeau did not name any particular state actor, but more than one question from Dutch parliamentarians centred on the rising influence of China, a fact Trudeau said "poses tremendous challenges around the world to democracies and our trading systems."
And yet, Trudeau said China is too big a player to withdraw engagement entirely.
"We cannot pretend that China isn't there, just cross our arms and ignore it," he said. "It is too important a player in our economies right now."
Trudeau added that countries like Canada and the Netherlands have to engage China constructively on trade, on climate change, while challenging it on human rights, the situation in Hong Kong, the Uyghurs, Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Trudeau also pushed the Dutch parliament to ratify the comprehensive free trade deal between Canada and the European Union, known as CETA. While the deal is now largely in force, member EU legislatures are also expected to ratify.
Trudeau said CETA has opened markets while protecting the environment and labour rights, as he offered a sharp rebuke to opponents of the deal: "If you can't make a free trade deal with Canada, maybe you're not in favour of free trade at all."
Trudeau also visited the Canadian War Cemetery with Princess Margriet of the Netherlands Friday morning, where he laid a wreath and paid tribute to the 968 Canadians buried there.
Trudeau was thanked repeatedly for Canada's role helping liberate the Netherlands at the end of the Second World War.
He also held a roundtable with climate adaptation experts at the Global Center for Adaptation in Rotterdam, which Canada helped establish. His trip also included a question-and-answer session with university students in The Hague, and an official dinner with Rutte before he departing for Italy.
Trudeau will spend the next two days at the G20 leaders' summit, before flying to Scotland for the United Nations COP26 climate talks.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2021.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press