The international climate conference was an idea of the then environment minister Ed Nijpels. He wanted to lay the basis for legally binding agreements to limit CO2 emissions.
Earlier, the world succeeded in phasing out CFCs – responsible for the gap in the ozone layer – in a few years under the leadership of the United States. Nijpels hoped that CO2 reduction could be achieved in the same way, although everyone realized that this would be a much larger task.
The United States sent environment minister William Reilly to the conference at Huis ter Duin. Reilly wanted to go far, but just before the conference he got someone from the White House to see to it that he didn't make too many commitments. That role was assigned to President George H.W's Chief of Staff. Bush, John Sununu.
Lobby oil industry
Sununu was an early climate skeptic with close ties to the oil sector. According to many people involved, he played a leading role in thwarting the climate conference in Noordwijk.
The American journalist Nathaniel Rich, author of the book Losing Earth, sees 'Noordwijk' as a crucial turning point. Until that time, optimism over the possibilities for reaching global agreements and thus preventing the worst consequences of climate change prevailed. But with the conference in Noordwijk, the lobby of the American oil industry in particular, and with it a counter-movement of climate skeptics and deniers, began, says Rich. Partly because of that, he was unable to reach agreements for many years.
In the 2015 Paris agreement it was agreed, on a voluntary basis, that the temperature could rise by a maximum of one and a half degrees until the end of this century. But experts doubt whether that is still feasible and speak of 'lost years'. They point out that since 1989, the year of the Noordwijk conference, more CO2 has been emitted than in the previous 250 years. And that the consequences of this will be noticeable for generations.