February has had its fare share of extreme weather scenarios in the Netherlands. Going from country-wide ‘code red’ warnings for snow drifts and blizzards near the beginning of the month to the start of a record-breaking run of mild days just two weeks later. With average annual temperatures on the rise, it might be a good time to ask whether the Dutch government is on track with the climate targets that were set in May 2016. Five years on, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had the same thought and requested Statistics Netherlands (CBS) to investigate this by charting the progress made so far. The report is now in.
It is official that 2020 was the warmest year on record for Europe and globally it tied with 2016 (fact). Closer to home, the website of the Dutch Weather Institute (KNMI) shows evidence of the annual temperature in the Netherlands having increased by more than 2 °C since 1900, with a much more rapid increase in the last 30 years (view here). Plus, we already know that the Dutch weather has been a bit haywire for the start of 2021. Before the end of February even hit, KNMI announced another record: for the first time ever, we have had five consecutive mild days (15 °C or more) in February. The second warmest February day was also recorded in De Bilt, 18.7 °C.
These extremes in temperature we have been experiencing can definitely be a trigger to consider how we can go about tackling the climate crisis and we can be in some way thankful that climate is on the Dutch government’s agenda. “None of us can escape the consequences of climate change. None of us can turn a blind eye to what is happening right now, and what will happen in the future,” commented prime minister Mark Rutte. “All of us have a responsibility to tackle the causes of climate change and adapt to its impact. All of us – together. Now we must take climate adaptation to the next level.” His comments came as the Netherlands hosted the Climate Adaptation Summit 2021 in January, a 24-hour global event to accelerate efforts to adapt to climate change and facilitate joint action on climate adaptation. Then, on 15 February, CBS delivered its new report to the House of Representatives that charts the progress made by the Dutch government since committing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2016.
Dutch government’s commitment to the SDGs
With the launch of the 17 SDGs in 2015, all member states of the United Nations pledged to work towards a sustainable future. The new CBS report ‘Five years of implementation of the SDGs in the Netherlands (2016–2020): monitoring and reflection’ (available here, in Dutch only) focuses on the indicators for achieving those targets by 2030 and uses the two approaches of the Monitor Broad Prosperity and the SDGs: the direction of the trend and the position of the Netherlands in the European Union. Jan-Pieter Smits, project manager of the monitor of well-being and the SDGs at CBS and professor of measuring sustainability at Eindhoven University of Technology commented: ‘What is unique to this report is that we have linked the 17 SDGs to policy measures introduced by the government. At CBS, we are careful to maintain a distance between our work and government policy, but sometimes a dialogue between the two domains can produce useful results. Not to encroach on each other’s territory but to complement each other.’
Input from ministries
CBS annually monitors indicators in terms of national trends and, for this new report, there was a different level of analysis. A key point is that it was established which ministry is responsible for each SDG goal. The results were then analysed with input from the ministries. Sandra Pellegrom, the Dutch national SDG coordinator, explained: ‘This approach has delivered much more detailed information that the annual SDG-monitor, namely the current state of play in the Netherlands on each target. This is important because behind each of the 17 SDGs there is a variety of ambitions. We can now see that concrete policy has been introduced in the domains of each of the 169 targets. That is a positive. In combination with the information from CBS on the progress towards the goals, it gives us many insights. If challenges arise on any of the targets, we can see exactly what policy has been put in place. This is a very good starting point for further action.’ She cites the energy transition as an example: ‘Now we can see a change in the right direction. At the same time. we can see a surge in policy initiatives around this goal.’ (see related eH article here)
It is evident from the report that a number of the SDGs interrelate, such as links between policy in the areas of energy transition, climate transition and spatial planning. Though there can also be impacts for the various SDGs relating to different policies that have been put in place, with one example being SDG 10 that aims to reduce inequalities. Pellegrom explains: ‘Green policy can be at odds with social policy: for example if an environmental tax has an impact on low-income households. We have to remain alert to avoid increasing inequality. This report will help us to monitor this reliably.’ CBS representatives make it clear that now the report has been submitted with information that could help determine where policy can be linked more directly to the SDGs and where there might be challenges, it is now up to the politicians to translate this into specific Dutch policy goals moving forward.