The Netherlands contemplates the world’s toughest climate law: A new Dutch proposal would put climate at the center of national politics


Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands
 Jack Taylor/Getty Images

A coalition of seven Dutch political parties recently unveiled a climate policy proposal that is breathtaking in its ambition. If it becomes law, it will codify the most stringent targets for greenhouse gas reductions of any country in the world.

There are still several steps between the proposal and passage, including debate in both houses of Parliament, and lawmakers may make changes. But given the broad political support — the parties involved control 113 of 150 seats in Parliament — it is widely expected to pass in something like its current form by late next summer.

It would be the world’s eighth national climate law (after the UK, Mexico, Denmark, Finland, France, Norway, and Sweden), but it boasts a few features that make it particularly notable. 

It’s bipartisan! Or rather, heptapartisan.

Here in the US, we’ve grown depressingly accustomed to climate battles breaking down along partisan lines: Democrats push (inadequate) solutions; Republicans deny that the problem exists or that anything needs to be done about it.

In contrast, the Dutch proposal is supported by a coalition of parties ranging from the far left to the center-right, together representing a large majority of seats in the Dutch Parliament. (One notable absence: the right-wing populist party, Party for Freedom, led by notorious Islamophobe Geert Wilders.) The current prime minister, Mark Rutte, leads the center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which is one of the bill’s primary supporters.

Views Of The Dutch Parliament Ahead Of The General Election
Dutch Parliament  Carl Court/Getty Images

The proposal represents a degree of social and political consensus that is almost unthinkable in the US — not only that climate change is “real” (an absurd debate only the US is having), but that it’s urgent and that national policy should support the goals agreed to in Paris. Those goals obligate developed countries like the Netherlands to virtually eliminate carbon emissions by mid-century.  It would be like John McCain throwing his weight behind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s climate policies.

It’s ambitious AF!

If passed as proposed, the Dutch law would be the world’s most stringent, putting into statute the following targets:

  • 49 percent reduction in greenhouse gases (relative to 1990 levels) by 2030
  • 95 percent reduction by 2050
  • 100 percent carbon-neutral electricity by 2050

The targets are based on a report last year from the country’s environmental agency, which revealed that the Netherlands (like every other country on Earth) would not accomplish its portion of the Paris targets with current policy. Paris targets imply that all developed countries need to be at or near carbon-neutral by 2050.

Hitting these goals will involve a wide range of investments in everything from district heating to carbon sequestration. The new government has also committed to phasing out coal by 2030, which will mean shutting down three coal plants that only finished construction recently. 

It ensures climate will get ongoing attention

Under the bill, every year, the Dutch Parliament and the Cabinet will discuss and debate the year’s progress toward decarbonization goals. With independent advice from the Council of State, they will adjust programs as necessary to stay on track, in something analogous to a yearly budgeting process.

Then, on the fourth Thursday of October — “Climate Day” — the government will issue a public memorandum reviewing progress toward climate goals and laying out plans for the year ahead.

If nothing else, yearly reviews will keep climate in the forefront of Dutch politics, and in the public eye.

Queen Maxima and King Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands Visit Germany
Queen Maxima (yes, that’s her name) of the Netherlands contemplates a wind turbine at an exhibition in Hamburg, Germany.
Christian Augustin/Getty Images

Every five years, the climate law will be revised and updated, to ensure the country stays in alignment with Paris targets.

It’s a miniature Paris agreement

The climate law does not specify any policies — only targets and timelines — and it says nothing about legal enforcement mechanisms to guarantee that targets are met. It implicitly relies on the power of transparency to do the work of forcing future governments to implement actual policies.

The assumption is that governments will be embarrassed and suffer politically if they report inadequate progress year after year. The Paris agreement relies on a similar dynamic: the power of reputational risk to do the work of accountability.

That aspect of the proposal has drawn some criticism. Dennis van Berkel of the Dutch NGO Urgenda, which sued the Dutch government in 2013 for failing to address climate change, told Green News that the law is a “paper tiger.” A legally binding target for 2030 was removed from the initial draft, he said, along with short-term carbon budgets.

“What remains is unfortunately a largely symbolic act which only ensures that a yearly climate debate is organised which reports on the route towards the 2050 target,” he said, “but which gives very little assurance that real action is taken.”

I get why Dutch climate campaigners want to keep the pressure on (that’s their job), but this seems a bit uncharitable. Since only the 2050 target is legally binding, it would be possible for Dutch politicians to fritter and fail for the next 30 years, to do nothing but have annual meetings to no effect, but to believe that will happen is to completely dismiss the power of transparency and democratic accountability. Politicians don’t want to be seen as failing!

The bill will ensure that climate change is put in the spotlight every year. And it contains an unambiguous long-term target, with required adjustments every five years. If Dutch politicians do fail on climate goals going forward, they won’t be able to hide or downplay it. The failure will be extremely public. That matters.

British Prime Minister Attends The European Council
Netherland’s Prime Minister Mark Rutte speaks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
 Jack Taylor/Getty Images

The Dutch are now pushing Europe forward

Along with the newly aggressive domestic policy has come a newly aggressive posture toward European Union climate policy. Rutte recently called upon the EU to revise its collective carbon target up to 55 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. (Germany’s outgoing environment minister dismissed the call as “unrealistic.”)

Alongside the UK, which also recently signaled that it might aim for a zero-carbon goal, the Netherlands is going from laggard to leader on climate at a dizzying pace.

I wasn’t sure I’d live to see it, but it looks like a substantial bloc of nations is forming that is taking climate change science seriously and making policy around it. The more nations that put carbon neutrality on record as the appropriate mid-century goal, the more difficult it will become for other industrialized nations to justify planning otherwise.

Meanwhile, as countries across the world plot a course toward a sustainable future, US policy falls farther and farther behind. America, increasingly alone among nations, still clings, eyes shut tight, to the dirty past.

The Netherlands presents ambitious Climate Law

Today, seven Dutch political parties present a highly ambitious Climate Law. The seven political parties – GroenLinks, PvdA, SP, D66, ChristenUnie, VVD and CDA – represent a large majority in the Dutch parliament. The Climate Law sets clear greenhouse gas reduction targets and introduces an innovative mechanism of an annual review to ensure that these targets are met by the Dutch government. The Law also introduces a ‘National Climate Day’ every fourth Thursday of October. On this day the government will report the level of greenhouse gasemission reduction and announce – if necessary – additional measures to meet reduction targets. The Climate Law is an initiative of the Green Party (GroenLinks) and the Social Democrats (PvdA), which is currently widely supported by both left- and right-wing parties. The Law is the world’s eighth actual climate law, and sets the most ambitious targets of all.

Jesse Klaver, leader of the Green Party: “The Paris Agreement was groundbreaking for the world. The Dutch Climate Law is groundbreaking for the Netherlands. For more than 25 years my party has been fighting global warming. Today seven parties, with a wide range of political ideologies, agreed on a Dutch Climate Law, currently the most ambitious Climate Law in the world.”


  • Greenhouse gas emission reduction target of 95% for 2050 (compared to 1990)
  • Greenhouse gas emission reduction target of 49% for 2030 (compared to 1990)
  • 100% carbon neutral electricity in 2050

Climate Plan

The Climate Law stipulates that the Dutch government will present a Climate Plan every five years. This plan will contain the main climate policy topics for the following years. Furthermore, it will state the measures needed to stay on track. The plan will be evaluated every two years and revised if necessary. Every fourth Thursday of October will be National Climate Day.


Although the Netherlands set greenhouse gas emission reduction targets before, these never had the intended effect. The new Climate Law will change this. The system of five-year plans and annual reports on the progress will ensure that the government will adjust its policy if necessary to meet the set climate targets. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What does the Climate Law state?

This new law ensures that the Netherlands will meet carbon emission reduction targets, and introduces a mechanism through which climate policy will be monitored and adjusted on a yearly basis. This mechanism includes an annually published climate- and energy study on, among other things, greenhouse gas emissions. Once a year, on the newly introduced Climate Day, the Parliament and the Cabinet will have a debate on climate change. Every five years a new Climate Plan will be drawn up concerning the climate policy for the following five and ten years.

2. What is agreed upon in the Climate Law?

The Climate Law states three targets:

  • Greenhouse gas emission reduction target of 95 % for 2050 (compared to 1990)
  • Greenhouse gas emission reduction target of 49 % for 2030 (compared to 1990)
  • 100 % carbon-neutral electricity in 2050

In addition to the targets, mechanisms ensuring these targets will be met are agreed upon in the Climate Law:

  • Each year on Climate Day, the fourth Thursday of October, the government will present a Climate memorandum. This memorandum will be based on the published climate- and energy study concerning, among other things, greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Prior to the annual discussions concerning the relevant state budgets, a debate on the presented Climate memorandum will be held between the Parliament and the Cabinet. Furthermore, the Council of State will give independent advice on the memorandum.
  • The climate policy will be revised every five years. This Climate Plan corresponds with the systematics of the Paris Agreement and the Integrated National Energy and Climate Plans.

3. Why do we need this Climate Law?

Although the Netherlands set greenhouse gas emission reduction targets before, these never had the intended effect. In 2007, the Dutch government agreed on a greenhouse gas emission reduction target of 30 % for 2020 (compared to 1990 emission levels). Unfortunately, this target will most probably not be met. Actually, the greenhouse gas emission reduction compared to 1990 was only 13 % in 2017. Even earlier, in 1991, the Climate Change Memorandum set the target of 3 to 5 % carbon dioxide emission reduction in 2000 compared to 1990. Shockingly, greenhouse gas emissions increased in that time frame.

The new Climate Law will break with this pattern. The system of five-year plans and annual reports on the progress will ensure that the government will adjust its policy if necessary to meet the set climate targets and the Paris Agreement. This is beneficial not only for the climate, but also for business: the more predictable policy is for the long term, the better it is for investment plans.

4. Which other countries have a Climate Law?

This law is the world’s eighth climate agreement bound by law. In Europe, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland, France, Norway and Sweden preceded the Netherlands in establishing a Climate Law. Mexico also has a Climate Law. In addition, the German government agreed on a Climate Law to be drawn up. Nevertheless, the Dutch Climate Law currently sets the most ambitious targets of all with a greenhouse gasses emission reduction target of 95 % for 2050. A Climate Law puts an end to the discussion about whether an intervention is required and shifts the discussion towards how to intervene, which is extremely valuable for long-term continuity in climate policy.

Overview of other Climate Laws

  • UK, Approved in 2008, 80% greenhouse gas emission reduction target in 2050 compared to 1990
  • Mexico, Approved in 2012, 50% greenhouse gas emission reduction target in 2050 compared to 1990
  • Denmark, Approved in 2014, 100% renewable energy in 2050, 0% fossil
  • Finland, Approved in 2015, 80% greenhouse gas emission reduction target in 2050 compared to 1990
  • France, Approved in 2015, 75% greenhouse gas emission reduction target in 2050 compared to 1990
  • Norway, Approved in 2017, 80/95 % greenhouse gas emission reduction target in 2050 compared to 1990, might be met by decreased emission levels abroad.
  • Sweden, Approved in 2017, Net zero greenhouse gas emission by 85% greenhouse gas emission reduction target for 2045 compared to 1990, with decreased emission levels abroad.
  • The Netherlands

    Planned for 2018

    95% greenhouse gas emission reduction target in 2050 compared to 1990

5. With which process can the Climate Law be compared?

The process of Climate Law is comparable to that of the budget cycle: governments adapt their budgetary policy according to the economic position of the country. This process enforces financial discipline on governments.
A similar cycle, and therefore discipline, will be introduced to climate policy. Each year on Climate Day, an updated climate- and energy report will be published. Following this report, the government will write the Climate memorandum, stating what changes will be made to the existing policy in order to meet the Climate Law targets. Finally, the Parliament will have a debate on the suggested measures.

6. How does the Climate Law function in the United Kingdom?

The UK has had a Climate Law since 2008. The country found itself in a political crisis after the Brexit referendum in 2016: the Prime Minister resigned, Scotland was considering a separation from the UK and financial markets were unstable. Despite this turbulent period, the government introduced an ambitious set of climate measures because the UK Climate Law forced them to take action and work towards their set targets. Read more in this Guardian article.

7. When will the Climate Law come into practice?

The Climate Law is broadly supported by both left- and right-wing parties and will be advised upon by the Council of State. This advice is expected to be ready after summer. Based on this advice, changes might be made to the law. After that the law will be debated and voted on, first in the Dutch Lower Chamber, then in the Upper Chamber. The law can be enacted before July 1 2019. It will come into practice in 2019!

Press officer:

Noortje Jacobs
+31 6 11 51 54 78