Dutch climate agreement has the Greens fired up

Edition 1 February 2019,  by Johannes Visser

The Netherlands has a new climate agreement. There is just one problem: the green side of the negotiating table, made up of the main environmental organizations and Dutch labor union FNV, refuses to sign the agreement, because “it does not go far enough.”

The climate accord, which is the Dutch implementation of the international Paris climate agreement to keep the global rise in temperature below 1,5 degrees, was presented just before Christmas last year. More than one hundred organizations from across society had negotiated the deal during five ‘climate round tables’ held in 2018, including the government, employers’ and employees’ organizations, Greenpeace, Milieudefensie, Natuur & Milieu, MVO Nederland (Corporate Social Responsibility) and various youth movements. Throughout the year, there seemed to be great hope for a positive outcome, but one day before the presentation of the agreement, the environmental groups and FNV concluded that the plans do not go far enough and are too vague because of a lack of real data. They also lamented that the greatest polluters do not pay, but instead receive the greatest financial incentives, and that the industrial sector gets off the hook with temporary stopgap measures like storing CO2 in the soil.

Six hundred points of action

The responses to the climate accord in the Netherlands were not altogether negative though. In fact, there were warm words from all political parties right of center, with the exception of Geert Wilders’ PVV. Employers’ and industry groups too stated their support for the agreement, where they had fought similar provisions in the past. The most important outcome of the 200-page climate agreement, which contains 600 points of action, is that by 2030 CO2 emissions in the Netherlands should be down 49% compared to 1990 levels.

Other measures include:
• The government wants all homes to stop using natural gas by 2050. All municipalities will have to announce in 2021 which neighborhood(s) they will start disconnecting and when.
• Homeowners going off gas, who will need to make drastic changes to their homes, can obtain a cheap and building-bound loan, which stays with the house when sold.
• Taxes on gas will increase and those on electricity go down. People on lower incomes will see a four-year rise in their energy tax refund. • Housing corporations will receive large sums of money to make homes more energy efficient, if they can cover 30.000- 50.000 houses a year.
• Landlords are obliged to make their houses more environmentally- friendly. The energy performance of homes will strongly influence maximum rents.
• Buyers of electric car will receive a 6000 euro subsidy from 2021 onward, which will gradually go down by 400 euros per year to 2299 euros in 2030. • Petrol- and diesel-powered cars should be mostly gone by 2030. The purchase and motor vehicle taxes for petrol and diesel cars will increase from 2021 onward by a few tens of euros each year. Petrol and diesel taxes will increase by a few cents.

Industry

To the dismay of many environmental groups, there will be no CO2 tax across the board. Instead, several measures have been proposed:
• Industries will have to pay more energy tax and make plans to emit less CO2. Those that do not comply will be fined. All fines go to a fund for financing projects to lower CO2 emissions.
• Coal- and gas-fired power stations will still receive a CO2 tax, albeit lower than previously agreed by the coalition government.
• By 2030, all coal-fired power stations in the Netherlands must be closed.
• Many more large offshore wind farms will be built; onshore wind farms will be further expanded. Many more solar panels will be installed on roofs and in fields.

The door is still open

Those refusing to sign the climate accord include the main environmental groups, like Greenpeace, Milieudefensie and Natuur & Milieu, as well as the FNV, the Democrats (D66) and MVO. They say they cannot support these plans, which they say suffer from “serious design errors” and seem to benefit heavy industry in particular. According to these groups, the ball is now squarely back in the court of the government.

In a country where consensus rules sovereign (it’s called the poldermodel), this is seen as a major setback. After almost a year of negotiations, following years of planning, there were high hopes for an agreement with wide support across the country. Now that the environmental groups are out, it’s highly unlikely that leftist political parties like GroenLinks, SP, PvdA and PvdD will back the agreement.

But no worries: in Holland polderland there are never any absolutes or absolutely nots. It’s simply not in the Dutch national DNA. The Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, Eric Wiebes, does not consider the latest negotiation tactic by the environmental organizations and FNV to be the end of their involvement. “I am looking for the broadest possible support and my door is always open. They can always come back when they want to.”