Make the climate debate a part of our foreign policy
The climate debate in the Netherlands is bogged down in what we can change at home and does not touch on our actions abroad. And that is a missed opportunity. Precisely because our international trade model is both so influential and, at the same time, such a widespread cause of pollution, changes in that policy can have an immediate effect.
It's an image I can't shake off: Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte at the World Economic Forum, smiling with that well-known twinkle in his eye as he shakes the hand of Jair Bolsonaro, the new president of Brazil. It sums up the double agenda of the Netherlands' trade policy. We are full of talk about human rights, environment and climate but, in the end, economic interests are the determining factor of our foreign policy on all fronts.
The tension between the Netherlands' economic interests and our duty to respect human rights is attracting more and more attention, and rightly so. But the tone of the climate debate is different: it is bogged down in what we can change in the Netherlands and does not touch on our actions abroad. As an open and export-oriented economy founded on a neo-liberal trade model, we are causing exceptional harm to the environment.
The Netherlands is one of Brazil's major trade partners in the agricultural sector. As brand-new president, Bolsonaro makes no secret of the fact that the interests of large-scale agrobusinesses weigh more heavily than those of the Amazon and its indigenous inhabitants. His is not concerned that the Amazon is essential in preventing further climate change. And yet Rutte sees the new president as mainly offering opportunities for Dutch businesses.
Keeping climate well away from foreign policy
Foreign trade and development minister Sigrid Kaag's policy document confirms that this government wishes to keep climate well away from her foreign policy. The document, Investing in Global Prospects, says nothing at all about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while it is now abundantly clear that the Netherlands' export model is harmful for the environment. Not only through the large-scale import of soya for the production of meat, for which forests have to be cleared, but of course also through our worldwide activities relating to the extraction, processing and transport of fossil fuels.
It is not easy to find an estimate of the importance of the broad fossil sector for our economy, but there is little doubt that it plays an enormous role. According to Commodity, for example, 'refined petroleum' is our most important export product, accounting for 7.8% of our annual exports. That makes us the fourth largest exporter of refined petroleum in the world, with a share of 8.3% of the global market. In addition our 'maritime sector', with the Port of Rotterdam and Shell taking the lead, earns enormous amounts of money from oil extraction and building ships and ports for the transport and processing of fossil fuels.
Our foreign policy determines the way in which we do business. Precisely because our international trade model is both so influential and, at the same time, such a widespread cause of pollution, changes in that policy can have an immediate effect. Here are a few examples:
- According to a conservative estimate, the Dutch state supports the fossil sector with 7.6 billion euros a year. For example, Atradius DSB, which provides export credit insurance on behalf of the Ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs, covered the financial risks of fossil-related export activities worth a total of 7.3 billion euros between 2012 and 2015. Such public instruments can also be used to help sustainable Dutch entrepreneurs gain a foothold in emerging markets. That is not only in the interests of the businesses involved but also helps make the global energy infrastructure more sustainable.
- On 18 January, the government submitted a proposal to the House of Representatives for legislation to set up Invest-NL. This fund will manage 2.5 billion euros of public funds, a third of which is intended to support economic activities abroad. A quick scan of the text shows that the word 'climate' comes up only twice, both times in the name of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy. How is it possible that our legislature allocates funds in 2019 for a process of social transition without clearly stating that the money may not be invested in fossil-related activities? Or, in other words, how excellent would it be if Invest-NL were to be fossil-free, so that we could guarantee that sustainable businesses could benefit from this public capital?
- The Netherlands fiercely defends the system of investment protection, yet research shows that the system has an restrictive effect on the energy transition. Under this system, which enable investors to object if they are likely to lose out on future profits due to changes in policy, more and more cases are being brought against countries that wish to impose restrictions on the fossil sector in line with the Paris Agreement. What would happen if we were to abolish investment protection so that countries could act in line with the developing insights around climate change without being punished for it?
The good news is that there is growing interest in sustainability in the financial sector. APG, which invests the funds of our largest pension fund ABP, claims that it has already invested 60 billion euros in sustainable projects. Changes in the policy of the Dutch government and the areas in which it invests public funds would provide a fantastic lever for all investors who are ready to invest their money elsewhere than the fossil sector.
The government controls the market
The government, driven by the political system, controls the market whether it wants to or not. Policy, and especially international policy, determines the lines within which the market must operate. As long as there is no tax on climate pollution and we continue to give fossil activities our broad support, the price of oil, coal and gas will stay artificially low. If the government continues to support and protect twentieth-century fossil-related export activities, the transition that is possible and crucial in the twenty-first century will never get off the ground.
No matter how you look at it, the protection and support for the fossil sector is nothing less than regulation, despite how the government parties, led by Mark Rutte, try and convince us that they are in favour of deregulation. And with that dogma, he shakes the hand of Bolsonaro and leads a government that carelessly looks the other way so as to preserve the status quo. It is time that our politicians, and minister Kaag especially, took a more critical and creative look at our foreign policy. If they don't, we will miss an enormous opportunity as a country to move not only ourselves but also the whole world a step further towards finding an answer to climate change.
For more information
Read more about this subject
Blog / 19 September 2019
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.
Event / 27 September 2019, 13:00
On Friday 27 September, Both ENDS joins the Dutch Climate Strike and the march in The Hague.
This way we let our government know that there is no more time to waste and that it must take significant action in all policy areas to stop climate change.
More information on the Dutch Climate Strike can be found on https://klimaatstaking.nl/english/
Event / 10 March 2019, 13:00 - 16:00
On Sunday the 10th of March 2019 Both ENDS will be taking part in what is expected to become the largest climate march in The Netherlands as of yet. The march is organised by Milieudefensie, Greenpeace, Oxfam Novib, FNV, De Goede Zaak and the Woonbond and supported by Both ENDS and a large number of diverse civil society organisations. Together, we demand a safe future for ourselves, our children and for all people whose lives have already been or will soon be made almost impossible because of the effects of climate change such as droughts, disease, floods or food shortages.
News / 14 March 2021
A number of our colleagues at Both ENDS made a lot of noise at various locations around the country today, as part of the national Klimaatalarm (Climate Alarm) campaign. Annelieke Douma gave a short speech in Haarlem on the major role played by the Netherlands in climate change and environmental degradation beyond our borders. She made a number of suggestions that would immediately make Dutch foreign policy a lot more climate-friendly. Below is the text of her speech.
In 2015, the member states of the United Nations committed themselves to the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Unlike their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the SDGs recognise the importance of equality within and between countries, of decision-making processes in which all people are included and heard, and of legal systems that are independent and accessible to all.
News / 31 March 2020
In these past months, the world has been rocked by a new major threat, in addition to climate change: the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus. Large efforts are being made in many places to deal with this crisis and, understandably, the concerns about the climate have, faded somewhat into the background. We don't know what the future holds or when the COVID-19 crisis will be behind us, but unfortunately it is certain that global climate change has not stopped by then. This is why, even though so many urgent matters have to be dealt with, we continue to support global climate action.
This Friday April 3rd, global online climate actions will take place. We call on everyone to join and share these actions.
News / 26 November 2019
No fewer than 55 NGO's, foundations and associations, many of whom do not normally deal primarily with climate change, express their concern about the dangers of climate change for everyone and everything in the statement 'The climate belongs to everyone'.
They call for urgent action and support the international Climate Strike taking place this Friday, November 29. In cities all over the world, young and old will take to the streets again. In the Netherlands too, climate strikes will be organised in many cities.
News / 25 September 2019
52 charity organisations, community groups, foundations and NGOs, many of whom are not primarily concerned with climate change, have come together to express their concern about the dangers of climate change for everyone and everything in a joint declaration. They call for urgent action and support the Climate Strike this Friday 27 September in The Hague.
News / 17 September 2019
On September 20 and 27 the global climate strike takes place. Both ENDS joins the Dutch Climate Strike on September 27 in The Hague. This is why.
Blog / 13 May 2020
You can't eat gold, copper and gas
"The virus is spreading quicker than the information" – that was the first we heard in the Netherlands about COVID-19 in many African countries and the measures they were taking to tackle it. While states of emergency were announced, borders were closed and we saw image after image of violent police and army responses, many people outside the big cities did not know that what was going on. When the situation became clearer, serious concerns arose about the consequences of the measures that had been taken: the informal economy coming to a standstill, food shortages and internal migration flows.
Event / 20 September 2019, 19:30
Last June, after months of negotiations in five different 'climate roundtables', the Dutch government presented its Climate Agreement . Negotiations had taken place in a roundtable for 'industry', for 'built environment', for 'electricity', 'mobility' and for 'agriculture and land use'. Climate measures that the Netherlands can take within its borders are pretty much covered by these climate roundtables. But the Netherlands also has a huge climate footprint outside its borders. It seems we have forgotten about the 'International' Climate Roundtable.
Blog / 2 February 2021By Eva Schmitz
Last week the Netherlands hosted the Climate Adaptation Summit in which world leaders discussed the need to adapt to the rapidly changing climate. While this is without doubt an incredibly urgent matter, I think it is of equal importance that the world's leaders also keep their promises on climate change mitigation measures and the protection of the remaining intact ecosystems. The Covid-19 pandemic has once again showed us that healthy and intact wildlife habitats and ecosystems are vital to the survival of our societies.
Press release / 26 August 2020
Dutch pension money is invested heavily in companies that contribute to deforestation in the Amazon region and the Cerrado savanna in Brazil, such as soy, animal feed and beef companies. This is concluded in a report published today by Profundo, commisioned by the Fair Finance Guide, Hivos and Both ENDS. All ten pension funds that were examined invest in these types of companies, with the ABP pension fund and Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn on top with investments worth EUR 580 million and EUR 383 million respectively.
Publication / 26 August 2020
Publication / 17 November 2019
News / 16 August 2019
Today, an op-ed by Nathalie van Haren and Stefan Schüller was published in the Dutch national newspaper De Volkskrant about the IPCC's latest report "Climate Change and Land". Below you find the English translation.
Blog / 16 April 2020
In this time of crisis-driven reflection we can read telling analyses of past and present on all sides which are being translated into agendas for action. Many of the analyses address issues like inequality, climate, the financial sector, health care, education and women’s rights. They talk about ‘what’ and much less about ‘who’ or ‘how’.But a different future can only be built together with everyone, young and old, men and women. This future will not simply happen to us; we ourselves have a hand in it. It is time for new faces around the table, with new voices. It is time for a new future.
News / 7 October 2018
We are very proud that our director Daniëlle Hirsch has been included again in the ‘Sustainable 100’ (an annual ranking list published by Dutch newspaper Trouw), and has gone up more than 40 spots compared to last year! Danielle was included in the list because of the many things she does with her organisation as a whole, but she got the higher ranking for the way she combines her criticism of the destructive role of the Netherlands as a trading nation and large cause of CO2 emissions in the world (often supported by the Dutch government), with a constructive attitude when it comes to finding alternatives and solutions.
Publication / 11 November 2020
Blog / 5 May 2020
Today the Netherlands is celebrating freedom. Our freedom goes further than living in peace. We have the freedom to discuss policy to our hearts’ content on, for example, ending the lockdown on television, in the press and on social media. We can do that freely because we know that our rights to freedom of expression are well protected. But how different that is in countries where authoritarian leaders are grasping the crisis as an excuse to throw these rights out with the trash and rule with an iron hand.