A Comparison between the approach to Climate Change in the UK and the Netherlands and the effect of Brexit

In August of this year we both made the move from England to Amsterdam to begin our Erasmus study abroad year. Amongst all the fun and excitement of exploring a new city it was evident from the beginning that our new home cared deeply about the environment and purely from first impressions, takes a better approach to climate change than back in the UK. As a country on the whole, the Netherlands is innovative, sustainable and are generally more conscious of the global problem. This was evident to us from very simple things such as almost every Dutch student using the same reusable water bottles, everyone biking everywhere, and the fact that many taxis here are electric Tesla cars.

Welcome to the Netherlands from the UK!

Although this was our original impression, through researching and writing this blog post you will discover that this hypothesis wasn’t entirely true. Although on the outset both countries have very different approaches, their input to combating climate change are in fact more similar than meets the eye. Throughout this blog post we shall try uncover why the variances in attitudes and practices exist.

Analysis of Survey Results

To begin our research we conducted a very short and simple survey amongst our international friends in order to gain a more general, global view on Climate Change and different countries’ perspectives on it. We received results from countries such as Australia, Hungary, France, USA, Egypt and Russia to name a few, alongside the Netherlands and England.

Do you believe that Climate Change is real?

When asked whether Climate Change is real, there was no surprise to us that 100% said yes, which is reassuring to know. However, when asked how pressing the issue is, we received a variety of results varying from the very top to the very bottom of the given spectrum. Therefore showing that although most believe climate change is real, not everyone believes it to be a problem that needs resolving, at least not straight away. A scary thought considering the state our world could be in if we continue living the way we are currently.

How pressing is the issue of Climate Change?

Interestingly the next question almost received a unanimous result once again. 85% of people do not think their country is doing enough to reduce CO2 emissions and combat climate change. However it is yet to be established if this is purely due to lack of understanding of their countries policies as we will discuss further on in this blog post. The 3 countries that voted yes were Australia, Finland and Norway. When collated with question 4; “If so please tell us of any actions being taken that you are aware of…” the provided answers surrounded the concepts of campaigning, incentives, high regulation/protection and education of society. This information was interesting and enabled us to get some idea of what the average person considers ‘doing enough’ means and what it entails.

Is your country doing enough to combat Climate Change?

Finally, participants were asked “Should all countries be equally responsible for combating climate change or should larger more developed countries take responsibility?”. This questioned produced the most diverse range of answers yet, however this could be due to the wide range of options provided. Nevertheless the answer that all countries should be equally responsible came out on top closely followed by larger more developed countries should take responsibility. This question was the most subjective of them all and hinders a lot on personal beliefs and morals so is hard to draw an overall conclusion as to why these decisions were made.

Who should be responsible?

From this survey we have discovered that although we may come from countries all around the world, the concept of climate change is universal. It is also refreshing to see from question 4 that when asked about actions being taken, every participant had something to answer ranging from simple things such as recycling to the Kyoto Protocol. No matter the size of understanding, most societies are aware of what is going on around them to help combat climate change.

Before we go onto consider the measures taken in the UK and in the Netherlands, it must be highlighted that every measure taken and planned by governments have co-benefits and also opposition. It’s rare to have a measure that is solely for the climate because it will never achieve a majority in parliament. The measure will always have co-benefits such as creating jobs in order for it to gain political support.

The UK

Despite our initial assumptions about the UK, in reality it (surprisingly) has ambitious goals to reduce its emissions and has many successful policies in place that we will explore. In the UK, many government departments are concerned with Climate Change with the 2 main ones being the Department for Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs. The UK has been signed up to the Kyoto Protocol since 1995 and it passed the Climate Change Act in 2008 which established a framework to reduce the UK’s emissions. The 2008 act includes 4 main points:

  • 2050 Target: The target is to reduce emissions (including GHG emissions) by at least 80% in 2050 from the 1990 levels.
  • Carbon Budgets: The act requires the Government to set legally binding ‘carbon budgets’ which is a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in the UK over 5 years.
  • National Adaptation Plan: this plan requires the Government to identify the risk from Climate Change, seek a strategy to address the issue and encourage influential organisations to do the same.
  • The Committee on Climate Change: This Committee was set up to advise the UK government on emission targets and to report progress to parliament. The CCC undertake an annual assessment of whether the UK are on track to meet its carbon reduction targets.

In order to meet the 2050 target, the UK needs to reduce domestic emissions by 3% each year. This has been met so far however in June 2016, the CCC published its annual report to parliament on the UK’s progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting carbon budgets. It basically concluded that the UK’s progress will not continue unless action is taken to strengthen its policies.

The report set out criteria to ensure the UK meets its target:

  1. New policy approaches are needed to de-carbonise heating and improve energy efficiency to reduce costs and overcome behavioural barriers
  2. Policies should be extended through the 2020s to improve the efficiency of new vehicles
  3. Carbon capture and storage technology needs to be advanced
  4. The cheapest form of low-carbon electricity generation should be provided

To the left shows the UK’s Emissions by Sector. It is evident that there is a long way to go until the 2050 target is met , however overtime more industries will be included within the carbon taxes and Emissions Trading Systems. Therefore, the emissions in the remaining 55% of industries will be reduced and will help the UK in achieving its target. Particularly, when the aviation industry becomes regulated as that is responsible for 2% of the world’s CO2 emissions.

In April 2015, the UK introduced the ‘carbon floor price’ of £18 for electricity providers, which is significantly above the current price of emission certificated under the EU ETS. This was a very good initiative which resulted in a huge drop in the UK’s monthly use of coal to generate electricity.

Recently, the UK government have also set out plans to upgrade the UK energy infrastructure and increase investment into clean energy. These proposals will end the use of coal power by 2025 through £290m worth of contracts for renewable electricity projects. This long-term plan will provide investors with confidence that the UK is open to investors in…

‘‘new, cleaner energy capacity as we transition from coal to gas, and build a diverse energy system giving us greater security of supply, which includes record investments in renewable technology and the reliable electricity that new nuclear power investment will provide.’’

The Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark stated how Britain are sending a clear signal that it’s one of the best places in the world to invest your money into clean, renewable energy as the UK continues to improve its energy infrastructure. In 2015, David Cameron announced that the UK would spend almost £6 billion of its foreign aid budget on tackling climate change in poor countries over the next 5 years — 50% more than what has been spent in previous years. This demonstrates the UK’s commitment to tackling the issue and the government’s determination to provide support overseas to the communities who need it.

Other important things to note about the UK:

  • It is widely involved in recycling to reduce emissions created from manufacturing and the adverse effects of landfill on the environment.
  • Car-sharing is encouraged and price reductions in public transport are sought after and in action, for example on the London Underground prices have been frozen.
Vegetarian found in Bangkok, Thailand
  • It is becoming more common to reduce meat intake in diets. A vegetarian diet generates only half the carbon dioxide in comparison to a meat eater.
  • LED and energy efficient lights are very common in households and businesses.
  • Electric cars are slowly becoming more popular and accessible.
  • Turning everything digital is encouraged to reduce paper waste and the excess carbon emissions and water that paper requires
  • The 5p plastic bag charge which was introduced in October 2015 to encourage reusing bags.

This is all nice to look at, however Roger Pielke identified how the UK’s targets require rates of de-carbonisation that are far higher than what has ever been done before by any other large economy. Represented in terms of carbon dioxide emissions per unit GDP, in order for the UK to achieve the projected targets, the rate of de-carbonisation of the UK economy must not only exceed what any other country has done, but also exceed the rate of economic growth. The carbon dioxide emissions for the UK in 2008 was 536.1 million metric tonnes. In 2014, it was 507.9 million metric tonnes which, despite being a record low (see Here), implies a low de-carbonisation rate of 0.9% per year which is much lower than what is necessary to hit the projected targets. It also doesn’t help that an NGO report found that only Germany and Poland have higher CO2 emissions and health concerns from coal-fired power plants than the UK.

Proportion of Carbon-Free Energy Consumption in the UK from 1965–2012

It’s great that the UK has all these policies in place and high targets however are they realistic and achievable? Let’s be honest, just from looking at the above figures and graph we can see that the answer is no — which coincides with the disengagement of the British public and the theory that it is all talk and no real action. Pielke concludes that the failure of the UK Climate Change Act is yet to be recognised, however when it is, at least carbon policies will be more effective and taken seriously.

The Netherlands

We are not alone in our view of the Netherlands, to the outside world, they are assumed to be one of the most eco-conscious countries in Europe where bicycles reign supreme. Amsterdam is also long termed the Most Liberal City in the World, home to Greenpeace and many other eco-minded NGOs. However various effects of climate change can already be observed in the Netherlands. The average temperature, for example, has increased by 1.7 °C during the last century which is about twice as high as the global average, and the precipitation by about 20% meaning periods of heavy rainfall have become much more frequent. Unfortunately there has been no visible decline is this upward trend.

Dutch attitudes to the environment may have been shaped by their constant battle against the elements. Four hundred years ago, much of the Netherlands was under water, so from the 16th century onward the Dutch began to try increase the size of their country and regain the swampy marshland. These efforts continued when in the 1950s, major flooding throughout the country caused the government to invest billions in a nationwide network of dams, seawalls and floodgates. They are also the home of wind power with many windmills and recycling rates being impressively high.

What are the consequence of Climate Change in The Netherlands?

We all know that climate change and its impacts are expected to continue in the future. Therefore due to the Netherlands’ geographical location it’s no longer an abstract concern but an existential threat for the country, especially their agriculture and tourism. At the current rate it may appear manageable for the Netherlands due to their current defences in place allowing them more time and the ability to adapt them further.

The Dutch have understood the inevitability of change and as a result, are the world leaders in climate-change mitigation; they know that society must work with nature to create effective strategies. Examples of this include:

  • The national climate agenda, outlining how the government intends to deal with climate change by combining climate action, adaptation and mitigation. It also aims to reach out to businesses, organisations and citizens to work together to create a sustainable society.
  • Rotterdam developing new ways to live with water including storing it in car parks and reopening canals with the hopes of becoming climate neutral by 2030.
  • The Delta program, trying to protect the Netherlands from flooding and provide sufficient fresh water now and in the future. Therefore the national flood defence budget is more than €4 billion a year enabling not only innovative techniques such as surge barriers but also more traditional approaches such as fortifying levees.
  • Amsterdam no longer building gas run houses, and instead using electricity for heating and cooking etc. Creating co-benefits of fewer earthquakes in northern Netherlands and less dependence on Russia.
  • Addressing root causes like dietary norms. This is because as it is understood the meat industry causes a large amount of the greenhouse gas- methane so they are even looking to indirect climate strategies.
  • The government recently announcing that by 2018 it plans to run all trains only using wind-generated power. Part of the Incentive Regulation for Sustainable Energy (SDE+) where people can now even apply for grants to produce renewable energy.
  • Amsterdam also looking into removing all cars from entering the city creating the co-benefit of a potentially healthier society by doing more exercise.

Yet like the proposals to build new wind farms both offshore and inland by the Dutch Green Party, may of these future measures will face fierce opposition. Despite four green seats in parliament over recent years, the policy interest in the effects of climate change have dropped drastically. This is a very interesting approach for a country as vulnerable to rising sea levels as the Netherlands.

In fact according to the World Bank, Dutch carbon emissions per capita are among the highest in Europe with their use of coal to produce electricity increasing daily. Meaning they use about one and half times more than Britain! The Netherlands is also falling short of its Kyoto targets to reduce emissions, producing more carbon monoxide than the UK when adjusted to population. Furthermore, despite people’s perceptions, their share of renewable energy is extremely far behind that of Germany and Denmark — even with all the windmills.

Therefore it is not surprising to find that many Dutch people’s attitudes are in fact not very green. One Eurobarometer survey found that the Dutch were less likely than other nationalities to prioritise keeping their homeland “green and pleasant” or “protecting nature”. For such alleged liberal and eco-conscious people, surveys from 2009 also found that almost half of all Dutch citizens believed that the seriousness of climate change had been exaggerated!

However through the recent success of the lawsuit brought by the sustainability foundation Urgenda with 886 Dutch citizens acting as co-plaintiffs, all faith is not lost. The landmark case means that the Dutch government is now required to cut its emissions by at least 25% within the next 5 years and not the proposed 14–17%. By creating pressure from their own jurisdiction and not just international treaties the Dutch are now restoring national pride by re entering the green economy race. We will just have to wait and see whether it will all plan out and the target will be met…

True or False?

The following video shows both a Dutch and English national answering simple true or false questions about climate change. Who will come out on top? Will this outcome be based on information the individual already knows or through countries education, upbringing and governments influence?

True or False?

How will brexit effect the UK’s stance on Climate Change?

With the shocking result of Brexit came masses of uncertainty. From a climate change perspective, the uncertainty surrounds future national policy. This consequently has discouraged private investment in renewable energy and other low carbon technologies which are necessary to reduce levels of CO2 emissions.

Many of the campaigners for Brexit are also Climate Change deniers, regardless of scientific evidence. Due to their high power in the new government, headed by Theresa May, and lack of binding EU policies, there are concerns that the British Government will be less committed to climate change in the future.

Here, we must consider finances. As mentioned earlier, the UK is a generous funder for developing countries for Climate Change action (£6 billion a year!). However, Brexit may have a negative effect upon this support to developing countries in their efforts to reduce carbon emissions and adapt their developing economies. Obviously (especially to us living in the Eurozone), the GBP currency has been extremely weak and plummeted following the Brexit result. This instability and uncertainty of the currency has negative effects on funding and increases risk. It also damages the prospects of mobilising private investment into green energy that is needed to ensure industrial economies and fast growing emerging markets become low carbon.

The Brexit result also created a drop in the price of carbon in the European ETS which was bad news. Instead of a drop in price, a price increase of carbon is desired in order to reduce demand and incentivise people to invest in low carbon energy and infrastructure. Furthermore, the energy industry, including the national grid has warned that Brexit will lead to higher bills for customers and lower energy security for the nation.

On the other hand it can be argued that (astonishingly) Brexit could bring benefits to Climate Change policy. The Climate Change Act 2008 as mentioned earlier, is binding UK legislation so all the UK’s targets and policies currently in place will not be affected by leaving the EU. The Act was designed to represent the lowest-cost path for the UK to contribute to global efforts to tackle climate change independently. By having the freedom to create its own climate policy and move away from the EU, Britain opens up many opportunities for action and leadership. Overall, the UK has actually had a very consistent stance on Climate Change through different Labour and Conservative governments. One week after the Brexit result, the UK published its fifth carbon budget with ambitious goals of cutting emissions by 57% from the 1990 level by 2013 — more than the EU commitments made in the Paris Agreement which was only 40%.

Recently, it was actually found that half the UK’s electricity comes from low-carbon sources and Britain was totally coal free for nearly 6 days over the previous quarter. This obviously proves how the UK are still continuing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change despite the Brexit result.

In order for the UK to maintain its strong stance on Climate Change despite Brexit, it needs to continue to take strong climate action within the UK and also provide technical, financial and policy support in developing countries. The UK has recently ratified the Paris Agreement in parliament but to reach these goals the UK also needs to maintain their ambitious targets and register them with the UNFCCC, continue to show innovative leadership in clean technology and climate investment funding and negotiate to participate in the EU ETS.

The UK’s Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Amber Rudd

The UK’s energy and climate change secretary Amber Rudd promised that the UK would remain committed to its stance on Climate Change and will strengthen its global leadership on climate policy. The Brexit result has admittedly made the change to decarbonisation more difficult however it is not out of reach. Despite this, Theresa May only briefly mentioned Climate Change during the Tory Conference Speech even though many argue that it should be central to her strategy. Lord Deben, the Chairman of the CCC stated how…

‘’The UK has, for a long time, played a leading role internationally in tackling climate change. The Paris Agreement last December saw countries of the world coming together to agree increased ambition. Leaving the EU will require the reassessment of some existing and and proposed policies but does not change the need for the UK to play its role in reducing emissions.”


Climate change is an obvious transnational law issue as the effects of CO2 emissions are not restricted within national borders, it affects the world as a whole. Secondly, Climate Change is not just a legal issue; it is also connected to science, education, investment, business, lifestyle and many more aspects. Thirdly, Climate Change involves non-state actors such as NGOs, activists, business and industries. Finally, different legal disciplines are involved such as international law, tort law (Urgenda case as mentioned earlier) and national law (Climate Change Act).

To conclude, we found that our initial hypothesis and assumptions were in fact wrong. In reality, citizens of both the UK and the Netherlands, even countries worldwide (as seen through the survey results), are uneducated with what their government’s’ actions are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the effect on Climate Change in general. However it’s not hard to see that the Dutch society as a whole are less disengaged than the British. This may be due to them viewing the environment more as something to protect themselves from rather than protect for the benefit of the world. As without their current defences and protocols in place the Netherlands would be one of the countries affected the worst.

The Dutch Green Party ‘GroenLinks’ and the UK’s Green Party

It can even be illustrated through politics, GroenLinks currently hold 4 seats in Dutch parliament compared to the British Green party only holding 1. Yet roles are reversed in the European parliament with GroenLinks only having 2 seats to the Green parties 3. Does this show that the British care less about the environment so we don’t vote them in or is it in fact a fault of our first past the post election system? The potential effects and benefits of Brexit have also been highlighted throughout this blog post including the economic backing of developing countries and freedom to create individual policies independent of the EU like the 2008 Climate Change Act.

Compared with many other countries such as the USA, the Netherlands still has an enviable environmental record. The Dutch are greatly improving their resilience to long term climate change, and global society is still slow to follow suit. Britain could in fact learn a lot from the Dutch experience of flood protection and land management. But the Netherlands’ reliance on heavy industry and maintaining Europe’s biggest airport and oil refinery mean that to hold them up as a benchmark is actually very misguided.

At the end of the day regardless of the price paid, no cost can be put on the UK’s contributions to reducing the impact of Climate Change considering they hold a lot of responsibility for the damage in the first place. As for the Netherlands, don’t judge a book by its cover and initial assumptions.

By Anna Ward and Samantha Patel

Sources used:











Why the Dutch are Different: A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands, Ben Coates, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 24–09–15



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