News / 21 December 2023

The Netherlands is certainly not more Catholic than the Pope

The Netherlands is well on its way with the energy transition at home, but our country continues to encourage Dutch investments in fossil projects elsewhere. This is obviously not in line with the climate goals and, moreover, these kinds of projects cause major problems in the countries where they take place. What can a new cabinet do to reduce the Dutch footprint abroad? Ellen Mangnus discussed this with several experts: today part 2.

This time an interview with Linda van Dongen, Head of Climate at ASN Bank, and Niels Hazekamp, senior policy advisor at Both ENDS and a specialist on Dutch support for businesses operating internationally.

Dutch foreign trade and investment regularly lead to human rights violations and harm to the environment. What should the Netherlands do to prevent that?

Van Dongen: "Businesses are not taking sufficient action in terms of climate and human rights. The legislation on International Corporate Responsibility (ICSR) is very important in forcing them to do so. But the Dutch parliament has unfortunately put off introducing the legislation until the new government takes office."

Hazekamp: "It is also important for the financial sector as a whole to be more strictly regulated. Banks are still investing billions of euros in fossil projects and that is not compatible with the climate goals. I think that legislation can make a significant contribution to reducing these kinds of investments, by making it compulsory that they are screened for compliance."

Van Dongen: "The Ministry of Finance requires that all financial institutions draw up a climate action plan to make their CO2 emissions transparent. For ASN Bank, emissions are related to the financing and investments we are involved in. We have been reporting on these emissions since 2015. Banks have also had to draw up a transition plan with the ultimate goal of net zero emissions by 2050. ASN Bank wants to achieve this goal by 2030. Net zero means reducing emissions as close as possible to zero. Those that cannot be completely reduced to zero can be compensated for by funding CO2 capture. This is an obligation, and the Ministry of Finance takes real steps to enforce it."

Hazekamp: "Not all financial institutions are doing as well as ASN, nor is the government enforcing the legislation strictly enough. That is good reason for Milieudefensie, the Dutch branch of Friends of the Earth, to instigate climate-related legal proceedings against a bank, insurance company or pension fund."

What do you think of the argument that the energy transition is bad for the Netherlands' international competitive position?

Van Dongen: "At the climate conference in Dubai, the Netherlands took the initiative to phase out international fossil subsidies. Now we need to set an example by stopping subsides completely and encouraging other countries to follow suit."

Hazekamp : "Research shows that investing in solar energy supports three times as many jobs as investing in gas. That is because the renewable sector is more labour-intensive. And there are a lot of people who want jobs that are meaningful and offer a future perspective."

Hazekamp: "In Glasgow, the Netherlands and a whole load of other countries agreed to stop fossil exports. Now it's time for the next step: to bring all export support in line with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5oC. At COP28 in Dubai, the Netherlands had the chance to join other countries in committing to this goal, but didn't take it. Time and time again, the Netherlands shows that it will only take action if the pressure is really high. We saw that in Glasgow, too. Without that pressure, our country continues to dither and hang back with the stragglers. But if you hang back, you ultimately compete yourself out of the market."

Van Dongen: "Emissions are mainly caused by Western countries, while the damage they cause is mainly felt in the Global South. That's what made this a significant issue and breakthrough at COP28. But it by no means goes far enough. Some parties want the Netherlands to be climate-neutral as early as 2040. I think that Western countries owe that to the world. We can, as the Netherlands, make a statement in that respect."
Dutch companies and the government often argue that if we are more Catholic than the Pope, other countries will take over our international activities.

Hazekamp: "Do you know the Pope's new book? He says that the world we are living in is on the verge of collapse and is perhaps reaching a tipping point. If there is someone who is aware of the West's role in global climate damage, it is the Pope."

What should the new government do first?

Van Dongen: "The new government should take urgent action on ICSR legislation, so that the frameworks in which Dutch companies can operate internationally are clear."

Hazekamp: "And that also means that the government must do all it can to ensure that the financial sector complies with the climate goals. We need a proactive government that sets out and enforces the course towards a climate-neutral footprint, not one that sits back and waits until other countries take the initiative. That wait-and-see attitude is disastrous for the world and ultimately for us, too."

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