With 1 out of 5 votes, the green party celebrates its victory in the municipality elections of Amsterdam. However, it might still be hard for them to make the capital of the Netherlands more sustainable. Can they count on their political colleagues, such as the progressive liberals and the animal-friendly party, to put their specific environmental plans on the agenda of the city council?
Local political party programs in the Netherlands have never been as ‘green’ as before this year’s municipality elections. The words duurzaamheid (sustainability), klimaat (climate), and energie (energy) were some of the most used in Dutch local election programs. And that’s a good thing, because research has shown that 34 percent of Dutch CO2-emissions is influenced by municipal policies.
Nearly all Dutch political parties aim to be ‘energy neutral’ at some point in the future: if elected in the local government, they claim to produce exclusively sustainable energy by 2020, 2030, or 2040. However, how they want to reach this goal remains a mystery. “The execution of ideas and ambitions is very poor,” professor of socio-economic transitions Derk Loorbach at the Erasmus University Rotterdam concludes. “There are just a few concrete proposals.”
Only the political parties in the bigger cities, particularly GroenLinks (the green left) and Democraten ’66 (progressive liberals), thought their ‘green’ ideas through and came up with specific points in their party programs. GroenLinks is also one of the few parties that promises to control companies on energy-saving measures.
Coincidently (or not), it was GroenLinks that won the most seats in yesterday’s nation-wide municipal elections. In the bigger (student) cities of Nijmegen, Delft, Eindhoven, Maastricht, and Utrecht, the socially and environmentally friendly party even turned out to be the biggest party. But far more interesting were the results in the biggest city and the capital of the Netherlands: Amsterdam.
With 20 percent of the votes, GroenLinks became the biggest party of Amsterdam for the first time in history. They are followed by the also quite eco-friendly D66, which could count on 16 percent of the metropolitan voters. Lastly, it cannot go unnoticed that the Partij voor de Dieren (the animals’ party) increased their electorate in the city from 3 to 7 percent. Together, these three parties, which clearly build on a sustainable image, got rewarded with 43 percent of the Amsterdam vote.
Considering that these parties have the most clean-cut environmental measures and expanded so vast in the country’s capital, we should ask: is Amsterdam now waiting for some radical green changes, implemented by the new administration in the city hall?
Before the elections, some specific questions concerning sustainability stood out in the party programs. It is now time to answer these questions, according to the voters’ turnout…
Will there be a stop on further expansion of Schiphol Airport?
Being an important hub for Amsterdam’s transport, business, and tourism market, a lot of different stakeholders are in favour of expanding Schiphol. The airport, located south of the city, has already been expanding for years to facilitate the growing demand for flights. With the opening of Lelystad airport (intended to take over some of Schiphol’s flights) postponed for another year, there are currently plans to “outbuild” Schiphol miles into the North Sea.
However, there is more at stake than economic growth and facilitating the growing demand for flights with further expansion of Schiphol Airport. Research proved “Schiphol on sea” to be an unrealistic option in connection with the risks of flight safety and high costs, a Ministry spokesperson said.
But maybe even more important is the fact that aviation produces around 2 percent of the world’s manmade emissions of carbon dioxide, according to the IPCC. To expand this market even further while having agreed upon the Paris climate targets would thus be at least controversial. Furthermore, Schiphol already causes a lot of inconvenience with aircraft noise. Citizens of surrounding villages like Spaarndam claim that the nuisance is significantly higher and more disturbing than measured and reported by Schiphol itself.
Consequently, one of the party program points of GroenLinks is that Amsterdam should prevent further expansion of Schiphol. They want to advocate for alternatives for European aviation by influencing Schiphol’s plans with the municipality’s shareholdership and they want to prioritise ‘silent’ and fuel-efficient airplanes. Nonetheless, this will be difficult for the green party to achieve; the liberals of D66 are content with Schiphol and rather want to stimulate innovation and ‘clean’ growth.
Is there any chance then to stop further expansion of Schiphol through the municipality of Amsterdam, with the election results of yesterday? Absolutely: GroenLinks (now having 10 out of 45 seats) does not need D66 to push its plans through, since PvdA (5), SP (3), PvdD (3), DENK (3), ChristenUnie (1), PvdoO (1), and BIJ1 (1) all agree with the greens. Together, they form a coalition of 27 seats; more than enough.
On the other hand, the chance that all these parties will form a government in Amsterdam together is very small; already for the smallest possible majority of 23 seats, a combination of five different parties would be required. And as soon as D66 enters the government together with GroenLinks (which is very likely to happen, since these parties agree on many other points), the liberals might want to make sure that Schiphol can actually keep on growing.
All in all, there is only a very small chance of stopping further expansion of Schiphol Airport.
Will there be a low-emission zone for the entire city to avert polluting cars?
So-called milieuzones (environmental zones) are certain parts in the city where polluting vehicles are prohibited. Municipalities implement these zones in order to improve the overall air quality in the city. Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Utrecht have implemented such a zone not only for heavy trucks, but also for vans and cars.
Since 2017, Amsterdam has a low-emission zone for vans with diesel motors that have been constructed before the year 2000. Apart form this, the municipality of Amsterdam does not hand out parking permissions to oldtimers, diesels from before 2005, and gasoline cars from before 1992 anymore. Since this year, there are new low-emission zones in Amsterdam for mopeds, taxi’s, buses, and touringcars with old (diesel) motors.
On this issue, the two biggest progressive parties in the city tend to agree with each other. Both D66 and GroenLinks think that all ‘Amsterdammers’ deserve healthy air as a fundamental right and they both set the year 2025 as the moment from which no more polluting cars can enter the city. They want to sharpen the current environmental zones and apply these zones also to passenger cars.
With GroenLinks (10) and D66 (8) counting up to 18 seats in the city all, they still need some seats to put their milieuzone-plans on the agenda. This will be no problem: already with the 5 seats of the social-democrats (PvdA), they reach the ‘magic number’ of 23 seats and have a majority for expanding the current low-emission zone. Apart from them, also SP (3), DENK (3), PvdD (3), ChristenUnie (1), and BIJ1 (1) agree with the ‘green’ parties: 34 out of 45 seats.
The only big local party that opposes these plans is the conservative-liberal VVD, with 6 seats. But even if there will be a government of GroenLinks, D66, and VVD (which have a majority together and could be a serious option for the city government), the two progressive parties will never ‘hand in’ their party plans on this issue to get VVD on board (and likewise, VVD would not stay out of a coalition because of these plans).
We can thus conclude that there is a very big chance of expanding the low-emission zone.
Will the Hemweg coal power plant be closed down?
There are currently five active coal power plants in the Netherlands. One of these is located in Amsterdam: Centrale Hemweg. The power plant is up and running since 1953 and is owned and managed by energy supplier Nuon, which is a part of the Swedish company Vattenfall. Hemweg is the only power plant of Nuon that is primarily fuelled by coal.
Although the plant has a technical life expectancy until 2034, Nuon itself states that they are willing to discuss an earlier closedown of Hemweg. This is not only necessary for the Netherlands to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement, it would also save the country 1.4 billion euros in health and climate costs. However, the energy company has not accept an earlier bid of 5 million euros by among others energy company Vandebron, NGO Greenpeace, Triodos Bank, and… the municipality of Amsterdam!
None other than Abdeluheb Choho, a current city council member, declared that the municipality of Amsterdam would also ‘donate’ 1 million euros to close Centrale Hemweg. It is thus rather odd that Choho’s party D66 has not written a single word on closing the coal-fuelled power plant. The only parties that specifically stated that they want to close the Hemweg plant as soon as possible are GroenLinks, PvdA, PvdD, BIJ1, and ChristenUnie. Together, these parties only reach 20 seats.
However, if Choho’s D66 is actually willing to join this anti-Hemweg coalition, a majority of 28 seats in the city hall would be reached to close the plant. But since we know nothing about the progressive liberals’ stance on this issue, we are left in the dark…
So we can say no more than that it remains uncertain whether Hemweg will be closed down.
Will there be a fossil fuel divestment from the gasoline harbour?
It is probably not something that most of Amsterdam’s citizens are proud of, but they have the largest gasoline harbour in the world. The city has a key role to play in the worldwide crude oil market, since the port is specialised in mixing oil products and Amsterdam is located excellently with the sea and hinterland.
The city are not proud of this fact, because it does not only bring them jobs and money: already twice, a big harbour fire has startled its citizens. But maybe even more important: the port businesses have become dependent on fossil fuels, from which Amsterdam and the Netherlands actually want to move away. Because of this ‘fossil grip’ on the harbour, there is no space for the more innovative and circular companies to settle.
This sustainable transition is something that both GroenLinks and D66 want to accelerate. Neither of them wants the harbour to keep the title of the largest gasoline harbour in the world, and both of them want it to become an important hub for the circular economy. Transshipment of coal and gasoline activities should be phased out as soon as possible, the two winning parties agree.
Just like with the expansion of the low-emission zones, the only question that remains is: which parties will help GroenLinks and D66 to a majority in the city council? Also here, there is only one party that could throw a spanner in the works. Again, this is the conservative-liberal VVD. Their statement on this issue: “The Amsterdam harbour excels in transshipment and some of the products in involved are gasoline and cacao. And when your city excels in something, you should cherish that.”
Only the populist party Forum voor Democratie (3 seats), the christian-democratic CDA (1), and the elderly party PvdO (1) also want the Amsterdam port to remain the biggest gasoline harbour in the world, resulting in an opposition for VVD (6) in their stance of 34 seats — just like with the low mission zones. So also here, even if the conservative liberals end up in the Amsterdam government, keeping the fossil-fuel harbour seems to be untenable.
Conclusion: there is a very big chance of a fossil fuel divestment from the Amsterdam port.
Will new windmills be installed in the city?
Over the last years, the Amsterdam government of D66, SP, and VVD has expressed its ambition to make the city ‘climate neutral’ and to accelerate the energy transition. Nonetheless, no single windmill — an important renewable energy source to accomplish this transition — has been built within the city borders over the last four years.
There were plans to build new mills, for example by NDSM-Energie: a cooperation of more than sixty corporations in the north of the city. They wanted to build five windmills, but got stopped by the provincial government of Noord-Holland. They suddenly came with extra rules: windmills should always be built six together and at least six hundred metres from apartment buildings. This made the project impossible to succeed within the city of Amsterdam.
Maybe the new local city council can arrange something with their provincial colleagues? Absolutely, according to GroenLinks: “The for so long wished windmills have been stopped in the province by the very same parties that govern in the Amsterdam coalition. We have to make different choices.” The party is ambitious: they aim for 30 new windmills on Amsterdam territory. “If the province stops us again, we will build them anyway. With or without their permission.”
D66 does not agree: they only plan to construct windmills “where possible” and thus seem to be in line with their provincial party members. Just like the VVD: both liberal parties are willing to talk about new windfarms in the western harbour territory, but do not name the NDSM case and do not assure that new windfarms will actually be build.
The only parties that do specifically state that there will be new windmills in the upcoming local government period are PvdA (5) and SP (3). Together with GroenLinks, this only counts up to 18 seats. Other parties do consider wind energy, but only under certain circumstances. For example, PvdD is in favour of placing windmills as long as this does not harm people, animals, and nature. If these conditions are met, new windmills might be installed in the upcoming city governing period.
In the end, it is still very uncertain whether new windmills will be installed in the city.
For this article, I used the standpoints from the original party programs that could be found online as of the day before the elections. Also, I consulted www.amsterdam.stemwijzer.nl and www.gemeentekieswijzer.nl/amsterdam.