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.

The method

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.

  1. 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
  2. Protect low incomes and prevent the gap between rich and poor from widening
  3. The polluter must pay
  4. 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.

Recommendations

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' experiences

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.

More information

The report can be downloaded from www.tudelft.nl/klimaatraadpleging 
Website about the PVE method: www.tudelft.nl/pwe 

TU Delft: Niek Mouter, n.mouter@tudelft.nl 
Science communication advisor TU Delft: Roy Meijer: r.e.t.meijer@tudelft.nl, 06-14015008
University of Utrecht: Lisette van Beek: l.m.g.vanbeek@uu.nl 

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.

 

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Header photo from Sander Weeteling on Unsplash

 

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