What are just and feasible climate targets for the Netherlands?

The Netherlands has already set emission reduction targets for 2030 and 2050 with the aim to contribute to achieving the 1.5-degree target of the Paris Agreement. In February, the European Commission proposed a 90% reduction target for EU greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 compared to 1990 levels. The question arises as to what the appropriate goal for 2040 should be for the Netherlands. A new PBL report indicates that based on international justice principles, a goal of 90% or more is suitable for the Netherlands. However, this would challenge the reduction feasibility within the Dutch borders. Financing emission reductions abroad is a possible solution to this dilemma.

What is a just distribution of the carbon budget? 

According to the latest IPCC report, the world can emit no more than 250 gigatons CO2 if the aim is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees with a fifty-fifty chance, i.e. six times the current annual CO2 emissions. For a two-thirds chance of limiting global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees, the remaining carbon budget is 950 gigatons CO2. This new PBL report addresses the question: what is a just global distribution of the carbon budget? And what emission reduction goals would the Netherlands aspire towards, as based on various allocation principles discussed in the scientific literature?

Principles of international environmental law demand considerable effort 

In the literature, various allocation rules are mentioned but not all of them align equally well with existing environmental law principles. Allocation principles such as grandfathering and per capita carbon budget allocation do not take capacity and responsibility into account, while these are mentioned in international environmental law. Based on allocation rules that do consider these factors, a 90% emission reduction target would be consistent for 1.5 degrees by 2040. Reduction targets for staying well below 2 degrees are typically about 20 percentage points lower than for 1.5 degrees. With a larger carbon budget, it is easier to meet more justice criteria.

Balancing justice and feasibility 

A 90% emission reduction by 2040 is at the edge of what is geophysically and technically possible in the Netherlands. With lifestyle changes, such as less flying and reduced meat consumption, more is possible, but in the case of limited societal support, less is achievable. Feasibility depends not only on geophysical, technical, and economic limits, but also on social and institutional boundaries. For such societal support a just domestic distribution which is considered fair across sectors, is essential.

International financing could provide a solution 

In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions domestically, the Netherlands can finance reductions abroad. Through Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, it is possible to receive formal recognition for this. Although specific rules still need to be established, the Netherlands could already begin such investments in addition to its internal reductions.


Publication title
What are just and feasible climate targets for the Netherlands?
Publication date
27 June 2024
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