AMSTERDAM — The outgoing Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, told delegates at the COP28 United Nations climate conference his country is “committed to accelerating our efforts” to tackle climate change.
Whether that happens in this nation — large parts of which are under sea level and protected by dikes — depends on talks that are underway to form a new ruling coalition.
Rutte's potential successor wants to trash the country's climate policies.
One of far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders’ pledges ahead of the Nov. 22 election his PVV party won set alarm bells ringing at environmental groups.
“The climate law, the climate deal and all other climate measures will go straight into the shredder,” his PVV party’s election manifesto said. “No wasting billions on useless climate hobbies, but more money for our people,” it added.
“Wilders really denies climate change as something that the Netherlands should worry about. Which is interesting given that a large part of the country is below sea level,” Rem Korteweg, a senior research fellow at the Clingendael Institute think tank, said after the election.
Greenpeace agrees. A day after the election, activists hoisted banners outside the prime minister’s office in The Hague that read: “No climate denier as our prime minister.”
“He is a climate denier,” said Greenpeace campaigner Meike Rijksen. “He wants to take all climate policy and put it through the shredder. That’s climate denial. He’s denying the urgency of the climate crisis and what we need to do in the Netherlands.”
She fears that such messages are spreading across Europe as the continent puts in place plans like the Green Deal and Fit for 55, aimed at tackling climate change head on.
“We do see this trend of populist, far right political parties on the rise. And ... we’re worried by that because they often are climate deniers. They’re not telling the truth. And that’s ... very unhelpful in this crucial decade for climate action.”
Wilders' party beat a center-left alliance led by former European Union climate czar Frans Timmermans into second place.
In April, the Dutch government unveiled a package of measures to slash carbon emissions by promoting clean energy, sustainable homes and industry and the use of electric cars.
Climate and Energy Minister Rob Jetten said the package would cost a total of 28 billion euros in coming years and lead to a 55%-60% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 benchmark levels.
Wilders is advocating an end to the package, but he may have to tone down his climate policy and other pledges in his election manifesto if he wants to secure the support of other parties to form a coalition.
The process of forming a new government after the election has only just begun, but as the largest party, Wilders’ PVV is in pole position to lead the next coalition with other right-leaning parties, including one that was born out of massive protests by farmers against government plans to slash nitrogen emissions.
That could also mean that plans to reduce farm pollution get scrapped or watered down. The Netherlands began moves to clamp down on nitrogen after Dutch courts ruled that the country needed to do more to meet European Union rules on protected nature areas.
Wilders' sweeping election victory — his party won 37 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament, more than double its previous total — came days after tens of thousands of people marched through Amsterdam in the biggest climate march ever seen in the Netherlands calling for more action to tackle global warming.
And less than a week after the election, the country’s official statistics agency reported that 76% of adults in the low-lying Netherlands are concerned about the impact of climate change on future generations.
But despite climate activism and concerns, Wilders won the election and now gets to call the shots in coalition talks. What stays of his climate policies after talks with potential partners remains to be seen. The last Dutch coalition talks took nine months.
“If Wilders was the only party in the Netherlands, it would be very disastrous for the climate," said Greenpeace's Rijksen." But fortunately, we live in a coalition country, which means that Wilders needs other parties to form a government and to take those kinds of steps. We don’t think that will happen. There are a lot of parties who do want to continue with climate action."