Climate policy must play a prominent and urgent role in the upcoming Dutch elections and new session of parliament. Researchers from the Environmental Psychology Groningen expert group at the University of Groningen – Professor Linda Steg and associate professors Goda Perlaviciute and Ellen van der Werff – share some thoughts about what they hope the new Dutch government will take action taken on:

1. What should be the role of climate change policy be once there is a new government cabinet?

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges we face, and urgent action is needed to ensure that the risks from climate change do not get any worse. We are already seeing drastic impacts, such as extreme weather, so actions are needed not only to mitigate the risks by reducing emissions, but also actions to better protect ourselves from the negative impacts that are already occurring. So climate change should play an important role in the Throne Speech, with an overview of concrete policies and investments that government wants to take.

2. How important are citizens’ councils for achieving climate goals?

Combating climate change is not exclusively a technical or economic task, it is a huge societal challenge because everyone is affected by climate change. Therefore, in order to pursue a just climate policy, it is important to take into account what is happening in society, what conditions people themselves set for climate policy, and what future they want, including for generations to come. Such questions can be answered together with citizens, like the recent Citizen Energy Council. But citizens cannot solve climate problems alone. Cooperation is needed between citizens who know what is going on in society, experts who contribute scientific knowledge and expertise, and policy makers, who can initiate effective climate policies.

3. What is actually needed to combat climate change and who should contribute here?

Everyone needs to contribute, consumers, government and businesses, the IPCC argues. Behavior change is not only the responsibility of the consumer, because what we (can) do is also determined by the context, and that is determined by choices made by companies and governments (e.g. what products are offered, legislation, pricing policies). Many people are motivated to act sustainably, but that needs to be made more possible and more attractive, and the benefits and burdens need to be shared fairly. So there lies an important task for governments and companies. You see all sorts of things are already happening, government (policy has already mitigated climate change), companies (e.g. offering sustainable products, sustainable missions), and consumers, but it is still insufficient to achieve the climate goals.

4. How can the government support consumers to act sustainably?

This can be done e.g. through pricing policy (subsidies, taxes on polluting behavior), legislation, information (e.g. labels on products, providing information on where we are going and that sustainable living does not mean that nothing is allowed anymore, but that it also has many advantages), infrastructure and facilities (e.g. good bike paths, recycling facilities). Further ensuring that transition is fair, i.e. that certain groups are not disproportionately affected, such as people with lower incomes who cannot pay the energy bill and cannot insulate their house or switch to a renewable energy source. In that case, people should be given adequate support to do so.

5. How should agriculture (specifically nitrogen emissions) and public transport be incorporated into climate policy?

A lot of changes are needed in different sectors. So energy (renewable sources, energy conservation), agriculture (less animal products, less food thrown away), mobility (less flying and driving, more public transport, cycling and walking), circular economy (buy less stuff, repair instead of buying new products, share stuff instead of buying everyone else, recycle). Individuals can also contribute by taking action for climate policy, say that they support climate policy, participate in a citizens’ council, talk with others about the importance of climate and what they (can) do, especially because people often underestimate what others do.

6. What can we expect from policymakers in the short term in terms of climate policy?

Climate has not been declared controversial, and a lot of parties, including science, businesses and NGOs have stressed that climate policy is urgent and must continue.

Professor Linda Steg and associate professors Goda Perlaviciute and Ellen van der Werff