Over 70% want to keep clean air after coronavirus, but Cabinet cutting CO2 tax

industry_Hoek_van_Holland,_2005 Ziko, Wikimedia commons

Over 71 percent of Netherlands residents want to preserve the cleaner air created by large parts of the economy being shut down due to the coronavirus, and almost half are even willing to adjust their own travel behavior to achieve this, according to a representative survey by ABN Amro and Ipsos. At the same time, the Dutch government decided to give the Dutch industry more so-called dispensation rights to spare the sector, resulting in the 300 most polluting companies in the Netherlands barely having to pay any CO2 tax in the coming years, according to Nieuwsuur.

"Never before have so many people indicated that the climate is important and that they themselves want to act accordingly," ABN Amro said on Tuesday. In March last year, a vast majority of Dutch also said they consider climate change important, but only a few were willing to change their daily car use and flying behavior to save the climate. Now more than 76 percent of car owners said they want to use the car less, and 78 percent said they will travel by plane less for private purposes.

Although 68 percent of Dutch are doubtful that the climate gains achieved as a 'byproduct' of the coronavirus lockdown will be maintained once everything is up and running again, Netherlands residents' sentiment changed from focusing on costs and convenience to giving the climate priority when choosing to drive or fly, according to the bank.

41 percent said they want the government to tackle climate change simultaneously with the fight against the coronavirus. 54 percent believe the government should attach sustainability requirements to financial support for businesses. 42 percent said they want banks to do the same. "The underlying idea is that companies with a sustainable business model have a higher chance of survival." Of respondents who are very concerned about the climate, 83 percent want sustainability high on the political agenda. Of all Dutch, 56 percent agree with this statement. 

But while Netherlands residents' sentiments are leaning increasingly towards climate recovery, the Dutch government is focusing more on economic recovery. In an explanation of a draft bill on the CO2 tax on polluting companies, the government recently wrote that the industry is currently in difficult times, Nieuwsuur reports. In order to spare the sector, industry will receive more dispensation rights than necessary, which will lead to "virtually no increase in taxes". In this way the government wants to give industry a "cautious start" in view of the "uncertain economic developments in the coming years". A spokesperson for the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate told Nieuwsuur that businesses will likely receive more dispensation rights until 2024. 

Environmental organizations, who considered the CO2 tax on industry as one of the greatest achievements of the climate agreement, are baffled by the government's decision to introduce this tax, but with barely any costs to companies in the coming years. Greenpeace considers it a "gross scandal", director Joris Thijssen said to Nieuwsuur. "The cabinet is abusing the corona crisis to postpone the CO2 tax. The result is that the large polluters can continue to pollute and ultimately do not have to pay for it."

MVO Nederland, a network of some 2 thousand sustainable companies, only agreed to the climate agreement after the CO2 tax was added to it, director Maria van der Heijden said to the program. "We are very disappointed, because we believe that the CO2 price is crucial. It is the simplest wy to get the polluter to pay."

The energy-intensive industry, on the other hand, called the government's plan sensible. "It is good that the cabinet acknowledges that the circumstances are fundamentally different from those at the time of the climate agreement," Hans Grunfeld of interest group VEMW said tot he program. According to him, the CO2 tax would cost companies millions a year. He added that the agreed target for the industry, 60 percent less emissions by 2030, remains in tact. So he expects that companies will continue to work on their sustainability.