Broad support for ambitious climate policy if four conditions are met
Windmills on land, increasing the gas price or introducing a meat tax? What does Dutch society think about Dutch climate policy? Researchers enabled more than 10,000 Dutch people to advise the government on this via a so-called Participative Value Evaluation (PVE). This plebiscite method mainly ensures that the (silent) middle group can contribute ideas. On 17 June 2021, the researchers have handed over the final report to Ed Nijpels, chairman of the Climate Agreement Progress Consultation, after which they have explained the results in the House of Representatives.
Involving wider society
Now that Europe has recently tightened up its climate targets, the new government must decide what measures to take to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2. Members of the House of Representatives have previously indicated that they would like to involve society at large. Researchers from TU Delft and Utrecht University have therefore developed the climate consultation. In March 2021, more than 10,000 Dutch people advised the government on this subject.
PVE is an innovative plebiscite method that goes way beyond a poll or referendum. In a referendum, complex issues are flattened into a 'Yes/No choice'. In a PVE, participants can express their preferences based on an overall picture of policy options and effects. Participants are given the opportunity to assess policy options in context, they can motivate and nuance their preferences and put forward their own ideas. Because citizens in the PVE are, as it were, in the shoes of the politician, they gain a greater understanding of the (complexity of) choices that a politician has to make.
Four conditions determine support from the middle group
The climate consultation shows that approximately 25% of the Dutch have a very strong opinion about climate policy. These are the strong opponents who renounce additional climate policy and the strong proponents who believe that climate policy cannot be ambitious enough. Four conditions are very important to ensure that the broad middle group of about 75% of the Dutch supports more ambitious climate policy.
- Climate measures that directly affect the privacy of citizens are only acceptable if other measures are visibly applied to the maximum and the government pursues a strict policy against large polluting sectors
- Protect low incomes and prevent the gap between rich and poor from widening
- The polluter must pay
- The benefits of a measure must exceed the costs and there must be no better alternative
Personal living ambiance
The acceptance of climate measures that directly affect the privacy of citizens – such as a meat tax and the building of windmills on land – will be higher if it is clearly visible that the government has done everything possible to take measures that are not or hardly seen as a direct attack on privacy (including building windmills at sea, stimulating the insulation of homes, stimulating solar panels on roofs). Visibility is very important here. Roofs that are full of solar panels work better than a plan to realize this in the future. The middle group considers it important that the government pursues a strict policy against large polluting sectors, for example through an increase in the air passenger tax or a tightening of the CO2 tax for industry. Citizens have the feeling that sectors such as industry and aviation are hardly affected by climate policy due to good political contacts. If citizens experience that the government is pursuing a strict policy against sectors that they consider to be polluting, they will be more inclined to accept measures that they believe will end up directly on their own plate.
If the government wants more ambitious climate policy to be supported by the middle group, it is wise to focus strongly on measures that score best on the four conditions, such as offshore wind turbines, tightening the CO2 tax for industry and stimulating the insulation of homes. Increasing subsidies for CO2 reduction in industry, raising the air passenger tax and investing in green hydrogen also score well and can count on support from the middle group.
Suggestions from participants
Participants in the climate consultation make various proposals aimed at improving measures that score less well on the four conditions. For example, some participants fear that the introduction of a kilometer charge will widen the gap between rich and poor. They believe that high-income earners can more easily anticipate this measure by working more from home or by buying an electric car, while low-income earners who have professions where they depend on the car will be hit harder. To solve this problem, participants argue for exemption for certain groups (such as entrepreneurs who depend on their car) or for the specific subsidization of electric transport for people who depend on the car for their work. Finally, some participants have difficulty with the kilometer charge because they think there is a better alternative available. They think it is better to replace road tax with higher excise duties on fossil fuels because the implementation costs are lower and they are concerned about privacy aspects of the kilometer charge. They also indicate that the kilometer charge is too coarse a measure because there is no differentiation between fuel-efficient and less efficient cars, while a higher excise tax on fossil fuels corrects for this.
Taking citizens seriously is not the same as accepting the results blindly
91% of the participants believe that the government should consider both the advice of citizens and experts. 3% of the participants believe that the government should only look at advice from citizens and should therefore ignore advice from experts. 6% believe that the government should only listen to experts. The consultation on the heat transition in Utrecht is a good example of how politicians can deal with the results of a PVE plebiscite. The alderman wrote a letter about the lessons she learned from the citizen. What new insights have been gained? In what way have citizens inspired you? In Súdwest-Fryslân and the Foodvalley region, there are good examples where a citizens' forum converted insights from a PVE plebiscite on the energy transition into concrete recommendations.
Participants are very positive about the climate consultation. 80% say that the government should apply this method more often. Critical participants found the number of measures on which they could advise too limited. Positive participants particularly liked being able to add nuance and to be included in decisions that the government has to make. Participants experienced a strong sense of involvement in public policy through their participation and found the information they received in the consultation clear and accessible. For example, one participant says:
In this way, the government is positioning itself closer to the citizen; that makes their decisions more credible.
About this research
The research is being conducted by scientists from TU Delft and Utrecht University in collaboration with Populytics (a TU Delft startup). The research is funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). The results are shared with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK) and the Progress Consultation of the Climate Agreement. At the beginning of April, the researchers will hand over the results, so that they can be used for the formation of the new government. The scientists have received no funding from these government bodies.
The report can be downloaded from www.tudelft.nl/klimaatraadpleging
Website about the PVE method: www.tudelft.nl/pwe
TU Delft: Niek Mouter, email@example.com
Science communication advisor TU Delft: Roy Meijer: firstname.lastname@example.org, 06-14015008
University of Utrecht: Lisette van Beek: email@example.com
Scientific publications about the method (open access):
- Mouter N, Shortall RM, Spruit SL, Itten AV. 2021. Including young people, cutting time and producing useful outcomes: Participatory Value Evaluation as a new practice of public participation in the Dutch energy transition. Energy Research & Social Science 75.
- Mouter N, Hernandez JI, Itten AV. 2021. Public participation in crisis policymaking. How 30,000 Dutch citizens advised their government on relaxing COVID-19 lockdown measures. PLoS ONE 16(5): e0250614.
The Dutch can pass on their preferences about government policy by voting for a political party during the elections. However, we see that this is not enough for many Dutch people. They would like to pass on their preferences about a specific issue to the government in an accessible way.
Participative Value Evaluation (PVE) is a method that enables a large and diverse group of citizens to do this. The core is that the choice issue of a government is imitated. Citizens become aware of the dilemma facing the government and then give advice. The barrier to participation is low – participating in a PVE takes about 20 - 30 minutes and you can participate whenever and wherever you want.
The results of the PVE are useful for the government because citizens can contribute innovative ideas and with statistical techniques we can determine how the preferences of participants for a measure are influenced by the effects. In addition, these analyzes provide insight into the differences/similarities between groups of Dutch people. The arguments that participants give for their choices provide a keen insight into their values, motivations and concerns.
On the other hand, citizens find PVE a good method to express their preferences. They find it a great method to make their voices heard in a serious way. Participants are given extensive opportunities to motivate and nuance their preferences. Because citizens in the PVE are, as it were, in the driver's shoes, they gain a greater understanding of the choices that a driver has to make.
Polls and referendums are often black and white and many citizens find these methods too simplistic to communicate their preferences on a complex subject in a nuanced way. In a PVE we put citizens in the driver's seat and we try to imitate the driver's choice situation as accurately and realistically as possible. Participants can express their preferences in a nuanced way based on an overall picture of policy options and effects. As indicated in the previous answer, statistical techniques allow us to determine how participants' preferences for a measure are influenced by its effects. In addition, these analyzes provide insight into the differences/similarities between groups of Dutch people. The arguments that participants give for their choices provide a keen insight into their values, motivations and concerns. The information provided by a PVE therefore offers more detailed insights than an opinion poll or a referendum and participants like that they can express their opinion in a nuanced way. A disadvantage of the PVE compared to the above methods is that the participation threshold is relatively high. Participants need to invest approximately 20 minutes, which means that the number of participants in a PVE is likely to be lower than in a referendum or poll.
The residents' evening or the walk-in evening is a form of participation that is strongly geared to a specific group of citizens. Namely people with a lot of time, citizens with major interests, people who like to participate/like to speak in public and citizens who know how to find their way with the government. Several studies show that older people are highly educated white males. A problem with this method is that the participation threshold is very high. People with little time cannot participate and for the silent majority (people with relatively small interests) a residents' evening is too large an investment of time. These participation processes are also hardly accessible to people who do not like to speak in public or who do not feel at home with the group of people who do participate. There is therefore a risk that these people will not feel heard. Another risk is that it is difficult for politicians to estimate to what extent the opinion of the small group of participating citizens represents the preferences of the entire population.
The main advantage of a PVE is that the threshold to participate is lower – participating in a PVE takes about 20 - 30 minutes and you can participate whenever and wherever you want, allowing a larger group of citizens to participate. The PVE also offers citizens who do not like to give their preference in the presence of other citizens the opportunity to participate anonymously. Due to the low barrier to participation in PVEs, participation becomes accessible to a larger group of citizens. 2,500 citizens took part in the PVE of the Amsterdam Transport Region and 2,900 Dutch people took part in the PVE for the Ministry of Infrastructure & Water Management. For example, 30,000 Dutch people participated in the PVE about easing corona measures. Participation of a large group of citizens can also ensure that the outcome of a participation process reflects the preferences of a broad group of citizens, so that this outcome is also more widely supported.
The core of a citizens' deliberation or a citizens' panel is that a limited group of citizens (often 150) gives advice to the government after discussions with each other and/or with experts. Citizens are often selected by lottery. This publication discusses that the strength of a citizen's deliberation is that the quality of the preferences of the citizens is often higher than the preferences expressed by citizens in a PVE. The quality is higher because people have started talking to each other and have been able to consult experts. However, a disadvantage of a citizens' panel is that only a small group of citizens is given the opportunity to give advice and thus to participate in public decision-making. And, how do you check that the advice of the 150 citizens corresponds to the preferences of the entire society? Because the advantages of the citizen panel are the disadvantages of the PVE and vice versa, these methods are often combined. See, for example, the route in SudWest-Fryslan. The PVE and the citizen panel are currently also being combined in the participation process in Foodvalley's Regional Energy Strategy.
The research is funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). The aim of the scientific project is to investigate the advantages and disadvantages of applying the Participative Value Evaluation method in the energy transition. In the scientific project, the method was applied at a local and regional level in Utrecht, SudWest-Fryslan, Foodvalley and Amsterdam (Nieuw Sloten).
The researchers are curious about the advantages and disadvantages of applying the method at a national level. They have devised the research themselves and the research is therefore not carried out on behalf of a specific government agency. The scientists have not received funding from government bodies such as the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK) and the Progress Consultation of the Climate Agreement. The researchers have received comments on the consultation of policy makers, scientists and other experts, but the researchers alone are responsible for the results and the choices made.
The results will be processed anonymously and the researchers will treat the data confidentially. The answers are stored by TU Delft on a secure server. The results of the research are presented on an aggregated level. They are shared with, among others, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK) and the Progress Consultation of the Climate Agreement. At the beginning of April, the researchers will hand over the results, so that they can be used for the formation of the new government.
The government is not bound by the results of the investigation. The research was not commissioned by the government and is financed by a scientific project. Policymakers must make choices with far-reaching consequences based on a large amount of information and in great uncertainty. The results of our research are part of this puzzle. It is also important to emphasize that the participants in the consultation are also asked what role they think the results should play in decision-making.
- More windmills at sea. If participants opt for this measure, more wind turbines will be built in the North Sea.
- More windmills and solar parks on land. If participants opt for this measure, more wind turbines and solar panels will be built on land.
- Introduction of kilometer charge. If participants opt for this measure, the road tax will be replaced by a kilometer charge. You no longer pay for owning a car or motorcycle, but for use.
- Extension of subsidy for electric driving. If participants opt for this measure, the government will continue to encourage the purchase of an electric car after 2025 with a package of subsidies and discounts.
- Reduction of livestock by buying out and skimming. A smaller livestock leads to a decrease in greenhouse gases. If you opt for this measure, the herd will be reduced through a combination of buy-out and skimming.
- Introduction of meat tax. If participants opt for this measure, the government will introduce a tax on meat, so that the Dutch will eat less meat. As a result, less meat needs to be produced and the greenhouse gas emissions that are released during the production of meat also decrease.
- Increase energy tax on natural gas. Everyone currently pays energy tax on the amount of natural gas and electricity that he or she uses. The more energy you use, the more tax you pay. If participants opt for this measure, the use of natural gas will become more expensive and this will encourage residents to think about reducing the consumption of natural gas.
- Stimulating the insulation of homes. By insulating, heat is retained in a home better. So less energy is needed to heat a house and this reduces CO2 emissions. If participants opt for this measure, the government will encourage homeowners, landlords and tenants to insulate homes.
- Tightening up CO2 levy for industry. In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from industry, the government is trying to make it less attractive for industry to produce in a way that emits a lot of CO2. Since January 1, 2021, there is a national CO2 tax for companies in industry with high CO2 emissions. If participants opt for this measure, the levy will be tightened.
- More subsidy to decrease CO2 emissions from industry. Companies that use techniques to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions are eligible for a government subsidy. If participants opt for this measure, the subsidy for industry will be extended and/or increased until 2030.
The Dutch government has agreed with other European countries to do more to combat global warming. The Study Group “Climate Task Green Deal” has carried out an analysis of the consequences of measures aimed at realizing these more ambitious agreements. The results of this analysis are written down in the report “Destination Paris”. Because the scientists who developed this consultation did not have the time to develop and calculate measures themselves, they largely relied on the information from the study group's report. In the final selection, the main condition was that the measure is likely to make a major contribution to reducing greenhouse gases over the next ten years. In doing so, they consulted several experts who were not part of the study group.
In addition, a diversity of different measures has been taken care of. The researchers have selected two measures for each sector (electricity, mobility, agriculture, industry and built environment) to ensure that participants in the consultation can also indicate in which sector they believe that the most CO2 reduction should be achieved.
In the first part of the consultation, participants can advise on 10 measures that will have a major impact on achieving national climate targets over the next 10 years. Because it takes about 10 years to build a nuclear power plant, this will only have major effects on the reduction of greenhouse gases after 2030. Nuclear energy is therefore not included in the first part of the consultation, but it is included in the second part of the consultation.
Hydrogen has long been mentioned as an alternative substance that can be used to produce heat. An advantage of hydrogen is that, unlike electricity, it can be stored well. The extent to which hydrogen contributes to the reduction of CO2 emissions depends on the way in which it is produced. If it is produced from fossil fuels (grey hydrogen) such as oil, the CO2 emissions are much higher than if it is produced from sustainable sources such as wind energy and solar energy. It is currently too uncertain whether hydrogen can make a major contribution to the 2030 climate targets, because it may not yet be possible to build enough wind farms and solar parks to produce a lot of green hydrogen in addition to the energy needed for households and electric cars. .
In the first part of the consultation, participants can advise on 10 measures that will have a major impact on achieving national climate targets over the next 10 years. Due to the uncertainty, green hydrogen is therefore not included in the first part of the consultation, but is included in the second part of the consultation.
The government wants air travelers to take more account of the environment. That is why, from 1 January 2021, an air passenger tax will apply to all passengers departing from a Dutch airport. Airports will charge the airline for each passenger departing from a Dutch airport. The air passenger tax is € 7.845 per person per flight.
In this consultation, the measure 'increasing the air passenger tax' is not included in the first part of the consultation because greenhouse gases from aviation do not count towards national greenhouse gas emissions (this is due to a lack of clarity about responsibility for international flights). The Dutch government is committed to making European agreements on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from aviation. In the second part of the consultation, participants can indicate whether they would advise the Dutch government to increase the air passenger tax.
Solar panels on roofs are not included in this study, because the government currently has many plans to take major steps in this area over the next 10 years. Making extra plans therefore has little effect on the reduction of CO2 emissions in 2030.
We have largely estimated the effects of the measures on the basis of the “Paris Destination” report. However, as can be seen in the consultation, we also made use of all kinds of other sources. In addition, we presented information about the effects to various experts who were not part of the study group.
In the first part of the consultation, we ask participants to recommend measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In this first part, participants must therefore advise measures. In the second part of the consultation, participants have the option to advise against all measures.
The consultation was also made by a sample of Dutch people that is representative of the Dutch population aged 18 and over. These citizens are a cross-section of society and this gives a good picture of the preferences of the average Dutch person. A disadvantage of such a 'representative PVE' is that only citizens who are part of a panel get the chance to participate, while our experience is that citizens enjoy being able to give advice to the government in a PVE. For this reason, we have also opened the PVE to the general public. It is to be expected that citizens with a strong preference or citizens with a high interest are overrepresented in this 'open PVE'. We present both the results of the open PVE and the representative PVE to the government.
Surveys and consultations lasting less than 10 minutes are often very easy to do on a smartphone. However, experience shows that it is difficult for citizens to conduct surveys on a smartphone that require a greater investment of time. Because participants in the PVE advise the government on an important issue in which they must carefully read information about the various measures before giving advice, we have chosen not to make the consultation accessible via a smartphone.
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Header photo from Sander Weeteling on Unsplash