Just Transition

Climate change is the greatest single challenge that humanity currently faces. In order to bring climate change to a halt some major changes are going to be necessary. Our agriculture, how we move around, how we heat our homes – everything is going to necessarily change. We will only be able to accomplish this if everyone participates and is able to participate.

Milieudefensie’s director, Donald Pols, recently used a South African proverb to illustrate the dilemma: “If you want to speed things up, you’ll end up going it alone. If you want to go the distance, you go together.” Milieudefensie is convinced that, unless we ensure that everyone participates and can participate, the transition to a sustainable society will only be further delayed.

Just Transition in the Netherlands

Eradicating climate change will require significant investments of capital. What we are trying to do in the Netherlands is to ensure that the distribution of the costs of the transition between the people and the corporations is more equitable as well as that between the wealthy and those with more modest incomes. At this point, the wealthiest corporations pay very little, while ordinary people in the Netherlands bear a disproportionate share of the costs. Most of the subsidies, for instance, continue to go to corporations, while lower-income households receive very little to almost nothing by ways of compensation.

Milieudefensie would like to significantly alter this scenario. We believe everyone needs to do his or her part if we are going to solve the issue of climate change. For instance, everyone should have the means to install solar panels, insulate their homes and buy sustainably produced food. We believe that polluters should pay for these improvements. We call this a ‘just transition’.

Just transition on the political agenda

In 2017, Milieudefensie presented research that showed that there is a climate gap in the Netherlands. The study, commissioned by Milieudefensie and conducted by CE Delft, reveals a notable gap between large corporations that barely contribute anything to the resolving of climate change, and the ordinary citizen who pays significantly more. This gap, the research revealed, will only continue to grow unless something is done.

Milieudefensie has warned of the potential risks: If we choose to do nothing, this will undermine support for climate policy among significant portions of the population. The CE Delft study, meanwhile, prompted a Parliamentary debate and gained a great deal of attention in Dutch print and broadcast media.

In 2018, Milieudefensie increased the pressure by presenting two new studies. One study focused on the high upfront costs of decoupling Dutch households from natural gas and called for financial support from the government. The second report analyses the distribution of energy and the carbon taxes across various groups of citizens and corporations. It states that while citizens pay high carbon taxes, the large corporations contribute almost nothing. The plans of the new Rutte III cabinet will actually widen the gap, making it even more unfair. These studies have also generated a lot of media attention.

To increase the impact of our message even more, we placed advertisements in some of the Dutch national newspapers and we were also very visible in the central stations of major cities.

Just transition on Climate Agreement agenda

A major part of our efforts in the first half of 2018 are focused on negotiating a new ‘Climate Agreement’. It will be a typical Dutch ‘polder’ process where many stakeholder groups including a green alliance of NGOs, employers and unions will try to come to an agreement. The goal of the process, which was initiated by the Dutch government, is a package of measures and instruments that will reduce Dutch greenhouse gas emissions by 49% by 2030 – and will ultimately be enacted in a climate law.

As a result of the aforementioned studies and advertising campaign, we have managed to successfully place the ‘just’ element onto the Climate Agreement agenda. This amendment will emphasize a more equitable distribution of costs and benefits between citizens and (large) corporations.

Coal jobs

We will forge partnerships with the various unions wherever possible. We are in frequent contact with the major unions, especially when it comes to the issue of ‘coal jobs’.

How do we, for instance, ensure that employees at companies that will eventually vanish are retrained or are allowed to retire early?

It is important for us to invest now in the (re)training of employees, because there is already a serious shortage of skilled professionals needed for this transition. This is just one of the recommendations to the government included in a Social Economic Council (SEC) proposal. The SEC is an advisory body of the Dutch government, which includes entrepreneurs, employees and independent experts (crown-appointed members) such as, among others, Milieudefensie.

Gas extraction

One unexpected recent development in the Netherlands has been the accelerated reduction of natural gas extraction in the northern province of Groningen. This is as a result of the increasing frequency of earthquakes caused by the extraction of natural gas from the underground gas fields. This has caused great concern among the people of Groningen and has led to high-profile and successful actions to put an end to gas production. This has in turn led to increased awareness among the general population that the household and industrial use of gas needs to be rapidly phased out.

Just transition internationally

We notice, however, that there is a gap between the scope and impact of economic forces and actors, and the capacity of societies to manage the resulting adverse consequences. Low- and Lower-Middle Income Countries (LLMICs) in particular have been the victims of this governance gap. The Fair, Green and Global Alliance (FGG), together with nearly 300 civil society organisations (CSOs) in LLMICs, is working toward overcoming this gap.

The FGG is an alliance of six civil society organisations. Both ENDS is the lead agency of this alliance that also includes ActionAid, Clean Clothes Campaign, Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands), SOMO and Transnational Institute.

The Fair, Green and Global Alliance focuses on three leverage points, or Theories of Change – corporate conduct, trade and investment, and the financial system, which are all necessary to create socially just, inclusive, environmentally and sustainable societies worldwide.

To ensure ‘fair’ and ‘green’ development, the alliance works with groups – NGOs, CSOs, community-based organisations (CBOs), communities, and individuals – all of whom face challenges relating to labour issues and human rights, the management of natural resources, and the global financial system.

In 2015, the FGG was appointed as one of the 25 strategic cooperation partners of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the period 2016-2020.