News / 25 January 2024

'We can not have a transition when we do not talk about consumption patterns'

The parliamentary elections in the Netherlands are over, and the dust has somewhat settled. No matter what government emerges from the process, one thing is clear: in the Netherlands the main focus is on the Netherlands. Foreign affairs were hardly mentioned during the elections and the same applies to the process of forming a new coalition. More alarmingly, some of the winners in the elections want to cut themselves off even further from the world around us.

But the Netherlands is not an island: we are closely interconnected with the world beyond our borders. Our economy depends on international trade, and the energy that comes out of our wall sockets and the food on our plates often come from abroad. Moreover, decisions that we make can have far-reaching consequences in other countries around the world. The Netherlands’ international footprint is disproportionately large.

Both ENDS is looking at how Dutch foreign policy can be influenced in the coming years to reduce our footprint abroad and to work in the interests of people and planet. We will be doing that in four double interviews, each with an in-house expert and someone from outside the organization. The interviews will also be posted on ViceVersa online.

Pia Marchegiani is director of  Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, an Argentina based organization dedicated to environmental and sustainability issues. Marius Troost Senior Advisor Lobbying and advocacy  and Export credit insurance.

The Netherlands is a small country, but big in terms of trade and investments abroad. What could the Netherlands do to prevent damage to human rights and the environment?’

Troost: ‘The past years we have been working on stopping public support for fossil fuels. However the shift we now observe, from fossil fuels to resources needed for the energy transition, also has negative impacts for local communities and natural resources. As BothENDS we try to enhance public awareness to the implications of so-called ‘green transitions’.

Marchegiani: ‘For us it is not perse the Netherlands who is culprit, but more the EU in general. Europe has woken up to the importance of energy transition. The continent seems to realise that it is running behind China. The last few years a lot of effort has been done to become more self-sufficient in terms of: where to get the minerals. Geopolitical factors increasingly play a role. Many of the geo-political ideas are very much backed-up with regulations such as the recent corporate due-diligence legislation of the European Union and the Deforestation-free value chain law. Obviously when you look in practice there is a lot of contradiction. Governments promise to reduce fossil fuels use, but in practice they still support investments. In the practice energy transition is becoming an “energy expansion”.

Troost: ‘There is indeed an increasing body of laws and regulations to control and steer the Dutch/European impact abroad. However, in practice Dutch companies are still involved in human rights violations and environmental damage.’

Why is the energy transition as it unfolding now, problematic?

Troost: ‘We need to work out different business models. We all know that the fossil fuel era is coming to an end. We have to be careful not to repeat the same mistakes we made in the trade and investment system of the past. Currently we are cutting down the fossil fuels, but we use the same system to extract the resources from other places, so that we can make the energy transition. It is still the same unfair system. We’ve got used to a system were energy is cheap and abundant, whereas actually this cheap energy is harmful for people and planet.’

Marchegiani: ‘we see a lot of projects around Lithium. Argentinia,, Chile and Bolivia have 53% of worlds Lithium. Indigenous communities are not respected, their rights are violated. Lithium is mined in areas where water is very scarce, where there are salt flats. As a result over exploitation is going to shift carbon sinks to carbon releases. Argentina is the most open country in terms of economy. It has a huge debt to the IMF, for the government it is difficult to say no to investors. When you look at it from a justice point: vulnerable communities lives are at stake, because of a global northern consumption that is only increasing.’

What does a fair transition require?

Troost: ‘What it comes down to that we also have to revisit consumption patterns here in the Netherlands and the Global North. It starts with degrowth: you can not have a transition when you do not talk about consumption patterns. Material consumption always translates into energy consumption. Degrowth is becoming a polluted concept, but it is definitely part of the same debate.’

Marchegiani: a lot of subsidies are going to multinational companies that extract fossil fuels. Whereas in Argentina a lot of people do not have access to energy. The subsidies should be directed to people that need support, and not to big multinationals. We need to change the production and consumption system.

What message do you give to the new Dutch Government?

Marchegiani: ‘Be more conscious about the crisis we in Latin America are living. ‘Are more happy with more stuff? I don’t believe people want to be involved in human-rights violations. Be more conscious about the harm of consumption. Even if it is less comfortable, we all need to re-shape our lives.’

Troost: ‘The material costs of our consumption is been exported abroad. That is not the price paid at the shop. There is a lot of hidden costs. You don’t have to give a negative message, focus on the positive: everyone wants a more green, more sustainable cities and more free time. ‘

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