Blog / 19 September 2019

A forgotten opportunity worth 1.5 billion euros

Reward high-risk international business projects investing in a green future and stop support for the international fossil industry

The climate is 'hot'. Everyone is talking about it. 'Everyone needs to do something' calls the government in its recently started public campaign. Good plan. Let's really do something. For a start, we can stop supporting international trade in fossil energy by our own multinationals. That would free up 1.5 billion euros which we could use to combat climate change on an international scale and at the same time give our own innovative businesses a boost. Today's Vergeten Klimaattafel (Forgotten Climate Roundtable) will discuss the opportunities for the Netherlands to have a real impact. And those opportunities are enormous. Because our big money and our influence lie beyond our borders.

Everyone in the Netherlands regularly feels the need to 'do something' for the climate but, at the same time, feels that a small country like ours can't make a real difference. But you can do more that you think. Amidst all the talk about climate agreements and climate tables, we've forgotten the part we play in international trade chains. For centuries, our small country has been a leading player in international trade. Our multinationals are active all over the world, from the burning forests of the Amazon to the flooded deltas of Asia. In all those areas, our government helps these companies invest by giving them subsidies and guarantees. And that's where the opportunities lie.

That the Netherlands has a large fossil footprint is beyond doubt. The PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency has calculated that our climate footprint is as large beyond our borders as within them. And that's based only on emissions from our production and consumption. It doesn't take account of, for example, our financing of oil and gas extraction or the construction of fossil infrastructure. Promoted by the Port of Rotterdam, we build ports all over the world that often have close contacts with the fossil sector. Our shipbuilders are experts at building vessels to transport gas and oil. Our agriculture, and especially the agricultural model promoted by the Netherlands, makes an enormous contribution to climate change. We can only guess at the contribution of our financial sector to the fossil industry; we have no idea of how much banks have invested in fossil fuels, but we do know that the ABP pension fund has invested at least €15 billion in fossil companies.

Our biggest opportunity abroad lies with the activities we implement or finance ourselves. Let me give an example: the Dutch government issues an estimated 1.5 billion euros a year to companies active in the international fossil industry. Doing business abroad often involves serious financial risks. If the project is large enough, the Dutch government is willing to provide insurance against payment risks. Without such insurance, banks are not prepared to provide financing. The insurance is provided on behalf of all of us and is, in theory, available to all sectors of the economy. In practice, however, it mainly supports fossil initiatives like new oil and gas projects abroad.

Next week, the government is organising a meeting on greening export credit insurance. But to encourage companies to become greener, we need to provide insurance for green rather than grey projects. That means turning off the gas not only in Groningen but in many other places as well. Let's stop supporting companies active in the fossil sector and help high-risk investments in innovation.

The two main questions to be addressed at today's Climate Roundtable are therefore: "how do we stop supporting the fossil sector both at home and abroad?" and "what should we invest in?" Without answering the first question, we will not be able to solve the climate problem. Let us use our innovative knowledge and activities to grasp the opportunity to lead the innovation the world needs. We should pick the low-hanging fruit, starting with export credit insurance. And only reward high-risk international business projects that work towards fossil-free future.


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