Climate change can have dangerous consequences. This makes quick and adequate intervention necessary. That is the conclusion of a special Climate Committee of the House of Representatives in 1996. The Netherlands – and the rest of the world – must take precautions and quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the committee advises following a comprehensive parliamentary inquiry.
It is 25 years since the committee published its report this week. A quarter of a century later, the MPs involved look back on the first ever Parliamentary research on climate change with mixed feelings. “I think there is a collective shortage to this day,” says Eimert van Middelkoop, chairman of the committee that carried out the investigation at the time.
“Higher temperatures, rising sea levels, more extreme weather: it was all already in our report.”
Initiator of the Climate Committee and former PvdA MP Ferd Crone: “I am proud that climate policy was laid down at that time. But, of course, much more should have happened. We were at the foreflight, now were bumping in the back. The Netherlands should be ashamed.”
Setting up the committee was special. “Parliamentary surveys are always about who did something wrong, as with the surcharge affair. This was about the future, and we thought it was important to us,” Crone says. The committee had to identify before the House of Representatives if there was indeed a climate problem. And if so, what could be done about that.
For example, the conclusions of the investigation in the CCeit Journal of 11 September 1996 sounded:
For days, the members of the committee were given college by climate scientists. The UN Climate Panel IPCC had already concluded in its second report in 1995 that the observed warming could probably be attributed to human action. “We were already pretty sure that more greenhouse gases would be warming up. At the time, there was much more uncertainty than today,” says climate scientist Bart Verheggen.
The need for scientific uncertainties “cannot and should not be an alibi for postponement of further measures,” said President Van Middelkoop at the time, when presenting the report. Van Middelkoop now says: “We advocated the precautionary principle: if there is a certain plausible possibility that there is a problem, then it would be wise to start with measures that will not be regretted in any case.”
Cover in 2002
The committee concludes in 96 that there is a serious climate problem, which needs to be addressed immediately. Greenhouse gas emissions should be 30 to 40 percent lower in the Netherlands in 2020 than in 1990, the committee believes. Crone: “Additional measures were taken under the Purple cabinets at that time. There was an eco-tax and dirty cars were getting more expensive. But in 2002 it turned. Suddenly it wasnt a theme anymore. Thats whats still bothering us now.”
There is also resistance internationally, Van Middelkoop notes when he later visits the Japanese city of Kyoto. Global greenhouse gas reductions agreements need to be made there. Van Middelkoop speaks to an American senator. “The only deal for him wasnt a deal. That was an eye-opener because we were in the process of making a lot more.”
In 1996, Van Middelkoop says he hopes his report will not end up in a drawer. Now he has to acknowledge that little has happened to his committees advice. “This is at the heart of our entire economic activity. We all live on fossil fuels. If you have to phase that out, its tremendous.”
Crone: “The most important lesson is that we were right then. The climate problem is even bigger than we thought. The fact that more climate change has not been done is to blame the people who stopped it. Like employer lobbies and political parties, who say, “not now” or “abroad should do more”.”
Van Middelkoop sees many politicians making “a polite bow” to the issue, but do not propose insufficient concrete measures. And he finds another problem: “If you do it right, as a politician, you wont benefit from it yourself. Its the generations to come that benefit. And leave it? It wont bother you yourself, but future generations do.”