By 2030, the emissions of the richest 10 percent of humanity will exceed the limits of the Paris climate accords, even if the rest of the world emits nada, nope, zero. That is, at least, if we don’t unleash the revolution. The richest 1 percent emitted more than twice as much as the poorest 50 percent of the earth in recent decades. And that’s just to mention the personal footprint, a measurement method devised by British oil company BP that sought to frame climate catastrophe as an individual, lifestyle problem. Anything to distract attention from the large multinationals that invariably continue to invest in new gas, oil and coal, well beyond the Paris Goals. The average citizen has little say in our economic system, so our fate is largely determined by CEOs, shareholders and their political revolving door. The climate crisis is therefore an inequality crisis. And the Netherlands plays a big part in it.
The Netherlands is the most unequal country in the world
Among countries with more than 10 million inhabitants, the Netherlands is the second richest country in the world, with almost $70,000 GNP per year, only the United States has a higher per capita income. Based on accumulated wealth, averaging nearly 4 tons per person, the Netherlands comes in at number three, after the United States and Australia. This also translates to the fossil industry: the Netherlands is one of the top 10 countries with financial interests in oil and gas fields that must be closed immediately to stay below 2 degrees of warming. But despite this obscene wealth, tens of thousands of Dutch people live on the streets and hundreds of thousands of Dutch people live below the poverty line. On the other hand, the Netherlands has more than a million millionaires, most of whom are lining the Dutch conservative party’s (VVD) campaign coffers. According to the renowned Credit Suisse, in 2019 the Netherlands was literally the most unequal country in the world.
Government policy plays a direct role in this. Think of 40-years of demolition policies by all centrist parties, the VVD in the lead, with harsh cuts in healthcare, social housing, benefits and education. Think of the fact that multinationals pay much less tax than citizens and that homeowners are subsidized with billions through the mortgage interest deduction (hypotheekrenteaftrek), while for decades, social renting doesn’t get a penny. Since 2012 social housing renters have even paid billions extra through the landlord levy (verhuurdersheffing). According to the CBS (Statistics Netherlands), the poorest Dutch people actually pay a much higher tax rate than the richest Dutch people. Is it any wonder then that we now have a housing and inequality crisis?
Purchase subsidy based on Table 1 (2019) of this paper: https://esb.nu/events/overig/20056610/de-lage-rente-biedt-kans-om-de-fiscale-behandeling-van-de-eigen-woning-te-hervormen, Rental subsidy based on total rent allowances minus the landlord levy (2021). Sources: https://over-ons.belastingdienst.nl/organisatie/feiten-en-cijfers/toeslagen-in-2021/ & https://nos.nl/artikel/2398850-crisismaatregel-verhuurderheffing-weer-ter-discussie-de-opgave-is-zo-groot)
And the richest 1% of people pay 21% tax. Source: https://www.cpb.nl/sites/default/files/omnidownload/CPB-Policy-Brief-Ongelijkheid-en-herverdeling.pdf
On top of that, there are the gangster practices of the tax authorities, that took tens of thousands of dollars from ethnically profiled parents. Fines and recoveries for welfare payments and other benefits are also systematically used to squeeze citizens. A 2016 report by the WRR (Scientific Council for Government Advice) found that 650,000 Dutch households have debt problems and that the government itself is the largest creditor of these people. It is therefore no wonder that the Ministry of Justice deliberately cut back on social advocacy, so that low-income Dutch people cannot properly defend themselves against the state.
How the Netherlands exploits the Global South
So much for domestic politics. The international impact of the Dutch war on equality is even greater. Based on a European poverty line, more than 90 percent of people in the Global South live in poverty. Fourteen million workers in non-Western countries work full-time for the Dutch economy, for meager wages, under dangerous working conditions and working extremely long hours. That’s twice as many workers as the aggregated full-time Dutch workforce. Between 1960 and 2017, the Netherlands plundered an estimated $4.4 trillion from the Global South through unequal trade, an average of $257,788 per Dutch person. That makes the Netherlands one of the top four looters of low-wage countries, a shocking statistic for such a small country.
Looted wealth from the Global South between 1960 and 2017. Bron: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13563467.2021.1899153
And it’s all happening right now, as we speak, leaving colonial history aside. The more than a million enslaved people in the West and the East; the genocide, ecocide and land grabbing in Suriname and Banda; the billions in reparations that Indonesia paid to the Netherlands after its independence! The massive opium trade that financed the colonial army; the colonies in northern Brazil, South Africa, Sri-Lanka and Guyana that most Dutch people don’t know about; the Nazi ties of Shell and the Dutch royal family. We could go on and on.
The ecological impact of the Netherlands on the rest of the world is gigantic. Both in absolute and relative terms, the Netherlands is in the top 20 of largest excess CO2 emitters in the world (the emission of a country on top of its fair share in 1.5 C degrees of warming based on population). The same applies to our excess ecological footprint – through consumption of raw materials – which is destroying the global ecology and biodiversity. These resources are literally extracted from the Global South, who then also experience the pollution and destruction of their environment. Nearly 9 million people die each year, mostly in the Global South, just from the air pollution associated with our fossil economy.
Bron: https://m.facebook.com/redfishstream/photos/a.371605656616605/1342748109502350/?type=3. Image created from: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(20)30196-0/fulltext
Average annual per capita surplus in resource use of the 15 largest absolute overshooters, 1970-2017. Source: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(22)00044-4/fulltext
The neo-colonial climate policy of the VVD
And the Netherlands is really doing nothing about the climate catastrophe. It is well known that the government has not met the Urgenda verdict of 25 percent CO2 reduction, despite covid lockdowns. Less well known is that international aviation, shipping and import emissions are not counted in the statistics. The CLO (a Dutch government agency) admits that Dutch CO2 emissions have actually increased by 12 percent since 1990 if these emissions are included. In other words, there is no Dutch climate policy at all.
Graph based on the environmental accounts of the CLO: https://www.clo.nl/indicatoren/nl0170-de-co2-emissie-verklaard
Well there is a climate policy, but it is not aimed at reduction. In their vision for 2035 the Dutch army indicates they are preparing for wars for raw materials and stopping climate refugees. In doing so, they continue their permanent war policy, in which in the 21st century alone the Dutch military fought in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali and Syria, while Dutch weapons were pumped into the Gulf monarchies that devastated Yemen. Wars that together caused millions of deaths and tens of millions of refugees. The same refugees who then drown in the Mediterranean or dry up in the Sahara due to brutal European border policies. Europe’s border is by far the deadliest border in the world.
Now the Netherlands wants to spend even more on defense. What is rarely mentioned is that the Netherlands was already in the worldwide top 20 in defense spending in 2021, and with the planned increase will rise above giant countries like Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia and Pakistan. Or that NATO as a whole already spent more on armies in 2021 than the rest of the world combined. Or that the EU was already spending seven times as much as Russia’s military alliance, CVVO. That military budget will probably not even be used to fight against Russia – which would risk a global nuclear holocaust – but for imperialist wars in the Global South.
People like to shout that the United States is the great imperialist power. But the Netherlands is also an important linchpin in this inequality machine. The Netherlands is: the main ally of the United States within the EU, according to the U.S. ambassador; the headquarters for international tax avoidance; a fanatical neoliberal voice in the World Trade Organization, the EU, the IMF, the World Bank, and international trade treaties; and one of the largest arms dealers in the world.
Let me conclude with a painful example. Shortly after anti-colonial leader Sukarno nationalized all foreign companies – a colonial legacy – in Indonesia, there was a Western-backed coup by Suharto. His military dictatorship was responsible for as many as three genocides (in West Papua, in East Timor and against leftist Indonesians) that together cost the lives of one to two million people. The Netherlands was one of the four major arms suppliers during this dictatorship, along with the United States, Britain and Germany. Then there was also the Dutch financial support, trade treaties and Suharto’s close ties with Dutch business. Is it any wonder that Indonesia has since rapidly cleared its Tropical Forests for paper, pulp, timber and palm oil exports in international trade chains? There is a direct line from the (neo)colonial war on equality to the destruction of the earth. Only an anti-colonial movement can stop this climate catastrophe.