One week ago, De Volkskrant published two stories a couple of hours apart, the first analysing the plan in the coalition outline to prevent advocacy  organisations “of an ideal nature” from suing the Dutch government because they do not represent the views of the general Dutch population.

The second announced that an independent review of the plan had concluded that the government owes such lawsuits to itself for failing to fulfil its own agreements.

In the week since these stories came out, many other news pieces have been written about how such a proposal is a dangerous attack on democracy and how it obstructs justice.

From our perspective as environmental psychologists, what has not yet been said enough is that climate action is very much representative of people’s values and concerns.

The stated logic behind the proposal is that idealistic organizations like climate action groups are somehow a niche interest, insinuating that they are not broadly socially relevant and only reflect the beliefs of a small group.

The suggestion that groups advocating for faster climate action are on the fringes of society is completely false. Many people, worldwide and in the Netherlands, are concerned about the consequences of climate change, not only in the future, but right here, right now.

Whether the proposal is enacted or not is now up to the newly sworn-in cabinet. But this attempt to restrict the right of environmental interest groups to sue the government already sends a clear signal to society: these politicians do not consider climate action an important issue.

That signal may demotivate Dutch citizens from behaving in environmentally friendly ways, because if the government doesn’t care, why bother? Government policies may cause people to see themselves as less environmentally friendly, despite the fact that the majority of citizens do care about climate change.

In 2022, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication asked people around the world how concerned they are about the effects of climate change on them and future generations. A majority of respondents in most regions said they believe that climate change will harm them personally. The Dutch agency SCP recently found similar results in the Netherlands.

Many other studies further show that people want more climate action, not less, and that people are generally motivated to behave in environmentally friendly ways. In fact, the number of climate-related lawsuits is skyrocketing globally: 233 were filed in 2023 alone.

But research also shows that the general public feels less committed to climate change when they see these kinds of signals from the government, and those who are deeply concerned are deterred from taking action. It gives the impression that the government isn’t going to do anything anyway, and it’s not something other people care about.

At the end of the day, the ideals of any given group suing their government being  representative or not is beside the point: the lawsuits are filed (and won) to hold them accountable to their own agreements and laws made in a representative democracy.

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