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Netherlands’ Sustainability Queen calls for visionary leadership and guts

Stock Photo: Blurred Road Picture. Image: 151390On the third Tuesday in September, the Dutch government traditionally presents the new plans for the year ahead. The (new) King will read the “troonrede”, a speech from the throne written by the ministers to present the plans to the parliament (the senate and the house of representatives). After this speech, the Minister of Finance presents the state budget and the plans to the house of representatives.

On the first Tuesday in September, the Dutch Queen of Sustainability, Marjan Minnesma, presented her sustainable “troonrede”, calling for visionary leadership and guts to drive change against climate change. For those of you who do not know her (yet), she reigns the top 100 of sustainability leaders in the Netherlands, ahead of the Dutch Sustainability King – Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman.

She calls for ambition and commitment, similar to John F. Kennedy’s burning desire to put a man on the moon. In 1961, JFK announced that the USA would put a man on the moon (and bring him back safely) in ten years, even if that required technologies yet to be invented. He was committed to the investment it would take to deliver this ambition “I think that we must pay, what needs to be paid.” His personal commitment to this ambitious plan overcame many hurdles, including the everpresent tendency to settle for consensus rather than a plan that will actually deliver. And it worked: just seven years later, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. This giant leap for mankind also delivered great byproducts such as jobs and innovations for generations to come.

She then presents a few tangible projects on how to get out of fossil fuels in the Netherlands completely by 2030. My favorite one is about making all Dutch households energy self-sufficient. The Dutch government currently pays 60 000 contruction workers unemployment benefits. Why not put these people to work to improve the energy efficiency of Dutch households or – even better – to make them all self-sufficient based on available technology? She even offers a solution for financing the technology, calling on the pension funds to finance such plans, which she expects to have a 15 year payback period. If you can read Dutch (or are willing to test Google Translate on sustainability jargon), you can download her “troonrede” or watch it here.

Sadly, I doubt her vision of a fossil fuel free Dutch economy by 2030 and the plans to get there will make it into the “troonrede” to be presented on September 17, 2013. The Dutch government is far from showing the commitment needed to really reduce the country’s carbon footprint. Yes, the Netherlands ratified the Kyoto protocol, but in reality the country is quite stuck on fossil fuels. Royal Dutch Shell is the largest listed company in the Netherlands (in the world actually) and close to 4% of the Dutch state’s income is based on sales of natural gas. Only when the government realizes that there is a huge carbon bubble on its way and change is inevitable, will it confront the brutal facts and invest away from fossil fuels.

© Photographer: Henk Van Mierlo | Agency: Dreamstime.com