Where are the opportunities for Minister Kaag?
More than six months after the Dutch elections took place, a long period of debates, negotiations and incertainty has finally come to an end. The new coalition of center-rightwing parties was sworn in last Thursday the 26th of October. Having Sigrid Kaag of the liberal-democratic party D66 as the new Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation in the third Rutte government (Rutte III), we can look forward to where the opportunities lie in the new coalition’s plans to make the world fairer and more sustainable. The Coalition Agreement, which tries to build a bridge between the political centre and the centre-right, is a smart piece of work in terms of reaching compromises. In the current international climate of societies progressively growing apart, that is a striking achievement.
Because the Agreement does not specify very much explicitly, it gives the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation a lot of elbow room to make a difference in international policy. That presents the Netherlands – which, as an open economy, has a great impact on people and the natural environment far beyond our own borders – with many opportunities. But there are also serious threats lying in wait.
The Netherlands, its people and its businesses
Minister Kaag is faced with one main challenge: the Coalition Agreement focuses almost exclusively on the Netherlands and its people. Rutte III does not appear willing to recognize that it is now responsible for a Netherlands which – as the world’s 17th largest economy, as a provider of services to the fossil industry and as an essential link in a globally destructive agricultural model – has an enormous impact on people and their living environment throughout the world. Rutte III’s approach threatens to be a continuation of that of previous governments, which also seemed to consciously ignore the Netherlands’ global role and our worldwide impact.
To prevent this policy from leading to further violations of human rights and destruction of the natural environment, it is of the greatest importance that – together with businesses, members of parliament, scientists and civil society organizations – Minister Kaag ensures that existing international agreements on human rights and environmental protection are upheld. As an international diplomat who knows the UN like the back of her hand, she will understand the fundamental importance of global agreements on human rights and the environment.
The minister can ensure that funds provided by the Dutch government comply with international standards. The institutions that bear an important responsibility to safeguard this – the OECD National Contact Points, regional human rights committees, the ICC – must be supported actively and in the long term. The importance of this support is underlined by the fact that Rutte III rightly identifies promoting the rule of law as one of the four spearheads of its policy. The Netherlands will therefore have to continue to invest in strengthening the international legal order, so that businesses and financial institutions can no longer violate human rights with impunity.
Green and sustainable
The Coalition Agreement seems to be responsive to the enormous social pressure to take climate change seriously. As the Netherlands is one of the EU member states that consistently fails to comply with climate agreements, this is in itself an urgent step in the right direction. The reactions from opinion leaders, civil society organizations and businesses show, however, that the words of Rutte III are not convincing.
Despite the surprisingly optimistic ambition to store our climate waste in the ground, it is very striking that the Coalition Agreement does not mention one of the most important keys to achieving sustainability: making our own government budget fossil-free. The fact that there is nothing about this in the Agreement offers opportunities, as the discussion on the 8 billion euros in state support for the fossil sector is just starting to gather momentum. Debates have been planned, motions have been adopted that demand greater transparency in this area, and the Dutch Central Bank (DNB) is increasingly insistent that climate risks have to be made more visible.
So there are certainly opportunities in the coming years to put an end to the billions of euros that the Dutch government provides to the fossil sector in the form of subsidies, tax benefits and export credit insurances. Many of these instruments fall directly under the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation. If Minister Kaag makes her budget fossil-free in the coming years, it will give the renewable energy sector and other climate-relevant sectors an enormous boost. And that would considerably reduce the harmful consequences of extracting and transporting oil, coal and gas for people and the environment in vulnerable countries and regions. It would also help Rutte III to fulfil its ambition to achieve the climate goals agreed in Paris.
Human rights and climate funding
Both ENDS is pleased that the government intends to allocate more money to protecting human rights and to strengthening the network of embassies and consulates. These two ambitions are strongly linked: embassies can play a prominent role in supporting civil society actors – organizations and individuals – who defend human rights, especially in respect of the human right to water, food and a safe living environment. Local civil society organizations must be able to contact embassies with suggestions and engage in a dialogue with them to identify violations promptly. Dutch embassies also have an important role to play in informing and supporting investors and businesses in respecting these rights.
Rutte III is making additional funds free to finance climate initiatives in other countries, so that they can prepare themselves for the effects of climate change. That presents an enormous opportunity to change the current international reality of climate funding, which has until now largely been focused on large-scale projects which benefit Western companies and banks at the expense of the people most directly affected by climate change. That money must be used to fund local actors, including municipalities, farmers’ cooperatives, women’s groups and indigenous groups. That can be effectively achieved by allocating money through 'small grants funds'. Only by meeting the actual needs of people themselves in this way will the additional climate funds to be allocated by Rutte III properly supplement existing forms of international climate financing.
Underlying causes of poverty and migration
Rutte III acknowledges that underdevelopment has a great impact on migration flows and rightly states that the underlying causes of migration need to be addressed. Those causes lie mainly in lack of security, erosion of the natural environment and the destruction or expropriation of local living resources, a lack of public infrastructure and good governance, land and water grabbing by developers of large-scale infrastructure, mining and agricultural projects, and the consequences of climate change.
The challenge for Minister Kaag is not to take the Coalition Agreement too literally. At first sight, Rutte III seems to address the underlying causes of migration by providing facilities for migrants in their own regions and by increased border controls. That is, to put it mildly, a very one-sided view of migration, from the small-minded perspective of a Netherlands that does not feel itself to be part of the global community. We feel confident that, with her track record, the new minister will look further than the words of the Coalition Agreement and will generate synergy between the four spearheads of policy – agriculture, water, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and promoting the rule of law – and the complex issue of international migration.
Free trade and international investment
The Coalition Agreement continues the line of Rutte’s previous government, by seeing trade as an integral part of foreign policy. Its aim is to ensure ‘fair free trade’. That sounds simple, but it would call for a great change in the Netherlands’ current position. The trade and investment agreements that we currently conclude are everything but ‘fair’, limiting the development of poorer countries by not allowing them to protect their emerging industries. The agreements ensure, as they have been doing since the colonial era, that poor countries continue to supply the rich West only with primary raw materials.
The reality is that, under the current system of trade relations, developing countries will always get the worst deal. To make trade fair, the minister will have to impose binding rules on governments and businesses, so that all parties, as far as possible, have equal opportunities. To achieve this, she will have to, at least, pursue the line set out by the previous government. That means that the negotiations on trade and investment agreements will have to become transparent, that there will have to be thorough discussion on the desirability (or not) of investment agreements, and that efforts must continue to strengthen open dialogue with political and civil society organizations both at home and abroad. In addition, through international diplomacy, resolute steps must be taken to strengthen the international legal system, so that businesses no longer have only rights, but also a binding duty to respect all human rights, including those relating to labour, the environment and self-determination.
Like civil society organizations, the minister will also have to look further than the trade and aid agenda. If Rutte III really wants to promote free trade, it will have to ensure that Dutch and other international companies pay taxes in the countries where they get their raw materials from and where their production and often their markets are located. Only then can the governments in those countries create the public infrastructure required to develop their own economies in the longer term. Rutte III, however, is doing the complete opposite: it is relaxing the rules for businesses to report where they pay taxes and is not doing enough to reduce the key role played by the Netherlands in facilitating tax evasion.
Where are the opportunities?
The ecological and social footprint of the Netherlands’ international trade and investment activities is immense. This Coalition Agreement does not address measures to reduce that footprint, despite there certainly being opportunities to do so.
The soon to be set up INVEST-NL – the new window for risk capital, guarantees, export credit insurance and international financing programmes – is a good example. Around a third of the total of 2.5 billion euros to be set aside for INVEST-NL is expected to be reserved for activities abroad. The minister, who has final responsibility for INVEST-NL’s international activities, will have to take steps, on behalf of Rutte III, to help bring about a genuine transition to a sustainable society. INVEST-NL should not only be made fossil-free, but also impose strict social and environmental rules on investments, and on the provision of credit and cover for investment risks. Such rules are indispensable to ensure that these activities do not have harmful effects on people and the environment in the countries where they take place.
The Coalition Agreement leaves ministers a lot of elbow room, because it does not explicitly mention a number of strategic issues. That presents them, including our new Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, with enormous opportunities. To phase out state support for the fossil industry and its related companies, to make INVEST-NL a genuine transition fund with high environmental and human rights standards, and to get climate funds to the people who not only need them the most but who will use them most effectively. Together with our Dutch and international partners, Both ENDS will continue to engage in dialogue with the minister and her colleagues to achieve these ambitions within the new government’s term of office, which is crucial for the climate, environmental and development agenda.
Photo: by SOAS, University of London - YouTube; CISD Annual lecture by Sigrid Kaag, SOAS, University of London Still at 8:03 min, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63507028
Read more about this subject
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 / 27 May 2021
During the formation of a new Dutch government after the general elections in March, a group of concerned citizens is holding a wake in front of the Prime Minister's residence to remind the political leaders of the climate crisis. On Friday May 28, they will pay attention to the international aspect, initiated by Cordaid, Oxfam Novib, Care, ActionAid, WECF, Hivos and Tearfund. Both ENDS is happy to support the initiative.
Press release / 19 May 2021
Amsterdam, 19 May 2021 – On 25 March, a day after violent attacks in northern Mozambique, the Dutch state decided to provide dredging company Van Oord with export credit insurance worth 900 million euros for its activities in the country. The company is conducting dredging operations for a highly controversial gas project that, according to Mozambican interest groups, is playing a prominent role in the escalating violence in the region. Civil society organisations Both ENDS, Milieudefensie and Oil Change International and their Mozambican partners are alarmed about the situation and have called the Dutch government and Dutch export credit agency Atradius DSB to account.
News / 4 May 2021
Today, two independent experts brought out a legal opinion on the obligations of countries and their export credit agencies under international law in relation to export support for fossil fuels. According to the report, emissions by fossil fuels and the related infrastructure need to be reduced urgently.
News / 3 May 2021
Recently, Dutch media covered the publication of a new report, issued by WWF, stating the big role the Netherlands still has in global deforestation, mainly due to our soy and palm oil imports. To counter this alarming message, Paul Wolvekamp and Tamara Mohr wrote an op-ed about the possibilities the Netherlands has to change the tide, which was published in Dutch on the website Joop.nl. Below, you find the English translation.
News / 15 April 2021
On Wednesday, April 14, seven countries, including the Netherlands, launched an initiative called Export Finance for Future (E3F), in which they set a number of ambitions with regard to phasing out export support for the fossil sector. Many NGOs worldwide, including Both ENDS in the Netherlands, have been calling for such an initiative in recent years and we are therefore pleased with this step. However, to achieve results and contribute to the Paris climate goals, countries will have to commit to much more ambitious goals than those now set. Concerned civil society organizations, including Both ENDS, therefore prepared a statement detailing the weaknesses they felt in the policy proposed by E3F, supplemented with recommendations for improvements.
News / 15 March 2021
In 2015, the United Nations instigated the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These seventeen interrelated goals are intended to result, by 2030, in a better, fairer and more sustainable world in which no one is left behind. As a member of the UN, the Netherlands is committed to promote the SDGs and every year Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and the central government publish reports on the progress made. The initiators of 'SDG Spotlight Nederland' however believe that there is a need for an annual report on the Netherlands' performance on specific SDGs from a different perspective. Fiona Dragstra and Stefan Schuller of Both ENDS contributed to the report on 2020 and tell us here why they think it is so important.
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.
Blog / 16 February 2021
The Netherlands can contribute much to making agriculture sustainable – nationally and internationally
If the Netherlands wants to make its agriculture and livestock industry sustainable and to ensure that farmers get a fair price for their products, it will also have to look beyond its own borders. The Netherlands is the world's second largest exporter of agricultural products. We have a great impact because, through our trade relations, we uphold a system of intensive agriculture that destroys ecosystems and undermines local production. Partly due to our trade in agricultural products, the Dutch economy is has a large, and growing, footprint. That should and can be different: the Netherlands is in a good position to lead the required transition in agriculture. Fortunately, the party manifestos for the coming elections offer sufficient opportunities to set that in motion. A new coalition can thus take decisive new steps.
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.
Elections are soon to be held in the Netherlands. The political parties are sharpening their knives and have outlined their plans in hefty manifestos. Not surprisingly, they mainly focus on domestic issues. International themes are primarily addressed in terms of opportunities for Dutch companies and threats in areas like health, privacy and competition that we need to protect ourselves against. But if we want to make the Netherlands sustainable, we especially need to look at our footprint beyond our own borders and make every effort to reduce it. In the weeks leading up to the elections, Both ENDS looks at where the parties' manifestos offer opportunities to achieve that.
Publication / 12 November 2020
Publication / 11 November 2020
Press release / 18 September 2020
Boskalis doesn’t have to share documents on controversial project; fishing communities will not get crucial information
18 september - The court in Rotterdam today ruled that Dutch dredging company Boskalis does not have to make information on the social and environmental risks of its sand extraction operations in the coastal zone near Makassar, Indonesia, available to local fishing communities affected by the activities. Environmental and human rights organisation Both ENDS had initiated legal action against the company. The court declared Both ENDS inadmissible and did not consider the case. Both ENDS brought the action on behalf of Indonesian fishing communities after Boskalis had rejected repeated requests to provide information on the impact of its activities.
Press release / 1 September 2020
Both ENDS brings legal action against Dutch dredging company on behalf of fisherfolk in South Sulawesi
Environment and human rights organisation Both ENDS is bringing legal action against Boskalis, after the Dutch dredging company continually ignored requests for information on a controversial sand extraction project in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Boskalis is extracting sand off the coast of Sulawesi for expansion of the port in the capital, Makassar. The extraction activities are affecting fishing grounds, making it impossible for local fisherfolk to earn their livelihoods.
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
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 / 9 December 2019
At the end of November, the organisations WALHI South Sulawesi (part of Friends of the Earth) and Both ENDS filed a formal complaint with the Dutch export credit agency Atradius DSB. Despite the warnings from local communities for the negative consequences of a land reclamation project in the bay of Makassar, Atradius DSB advised the Dutch government to provide dredging company Boskalis with insurance for the execution of the project. The consequences for the fish stock, the beach and the lives of thousands of small-scale fishing communities are severe. Atradius DSB has not sufficiently investigated these harmful consequences beforehand.
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.