Friday 29 May 2020

The Netherlands not too small to make big climate effort: D66

Wind power and heavy industry in IJmuiden. Photo:

With just 11 years to halve CO2 emissions, the draft climate agreement presented on the threshold of 2019 came not a day too soon. But defeatism is rearing its ugly head, says D66 parliamentary party leader Rob Jetten.

The recent agreement bore all the hallmarks of Dutch ‘poldering’. There is no country in the world that includes so many parties and interests in the quest for a broad consensus.

Hundreds of experts, social organisations, unions, and energy companies gathered around the negotiating table. Left wing leaders Diederik Samsom and Kees Vendrik worked cheek by jowl with former VVD leader Ed Nijpels on hundreds of measures to combat climate change.

The last week of the year saw another typically Dutch phenomenon. Before the financial implications of the agreement could even be determined, opposition parties and opinion makers from left to right went into full attack mode.

Their criticisms were partly aimed at the role of industry but then a new argument came to the fore: for the Netherlands to tackle climate change would be an exercise in futility.

Bigger polluters

The reasoning is simple. The Netherlands is responsible for 0.5% of global CO2 emissions. Forum voor Democratie leader Thierry Baudet pointed out that China, with over 10 billion tons of CO2 and almost 30% of global emissions, is a far bigger polluter.

The editor of the Telegraaf wrote that the Dutch impact on climate does not justify the severity of the ‘sacrifices being asked’. Trouw columnist Sylvain Ephimenco even talked of ‘Green Khmers’, an unfunny reference to the Khmer Rouge regime which killed two million Cambodians in the 1970s.

These comments are reminiscent of the climate scepticism of some years ago, when self-appointed climate experts said there was insufficient evidence for climate change and therefore we should do nothing.

That is now being replaced by climate defeatism, a surrender before the battle is fought. Yes, it is very strange to sit on a sunny beach in October. Yes, extreme weather is a threat to life. But what can a small country like the Netherlands do? Let’s just strike the colours and forget international agreements.

Global economy

It is undoubtedly true that the Netherlands with 0.2 % of the world population is not the biggest CO2 producer. Yet, we do come 18th in the global economy rankings and our emissions per head of the population are three times the global average. If the Netherlands won’t bother with the Paris agreement then why would countries with smaller economies even try?

Remarkably, it is the conservatives who are most affected by climate defeatism. But let’s have a look at another guarantee of our security. The Dutch contribution to NATO is less than 1%. What use is that? If the conservatives are turning against the efforts to improve the climate, they would have to oppose defence investments as well.

Lead by example

The Netherlands wants to lead by example internationally. Al Gore praised the Dutch climate agreement and MPs from all over Europe are looking on in awe at the draft agreement and are exploring ways to adopt the ‘Dutch model’.

Climate opportunities are irresistible: cleaner air in our inner cities, a decent income for farmers, food produced with respect for nature, lower energy bills, comfortable housing, safety for the people of Groningen, thousand of jobs in climate improvement related sectors. And the biggest innovations we have seen in our lifetime.

Thanks to the climate agreement we are one for the first countries to apply ‘Paris’. We will be looking at the financial implications critically and see to it that the burden is divided fairly. Industry will have to get involved. What we mustn’t do is to let professional pessimists infect us with their defeatism. Big oaks from little acorns grow.

Translation by This article first appeared in Dutch in the Volkskrant

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