The Dutch response to the Russian gas cutoff is too late and too weak

On Monday 20 June the Dutch cabinet decided to turn op the coal power plants because we might face gas shortages in the winter now that Russia stopped its gas deliveries. While this may have been partially inevitable on the short term, the cabinet made the wrong choices and has been very naive.

First a short timeline. On 24 February the Russian invasion of Ukraine started. On 1 April the director of Gasunie Transport Service said that the Russian threats to halt gas deliveries were taken seriously. If Russia would stop deliveries there would be no escape from cutting off Dutch industry from gas, he said. On 8 april research agency Kalavasta revealed that The Netherlands pays approximately € 30 million for Russian gas on a daily basis. Meanwhile all kinds of sanctions had been imposed on Russia by the EU (with Dutch approval), but gas was still excluded. On 27 April Poland and Bulgaria were cut off from Russian gas. The Netherlands followed on 31 May.

Instead of making the choice to stop buying Russian gas ourselves, Russia made it easy and made that choice for us. It’s embarassing that the Russians were one step ahead of us and we didn’t make a conscious choice to do so ourselves. We should have made that choice already when Russia annexed the Crimea in 2014, or at least in the first days after the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Everyone with some common sense should have seen it coming that Russia would start blackmailing us with our dependency on their gas if we would support Ukraine. It’s also clear that by buying Russian gas we financed the Russian invasion of Ukraine indirectly. But the cabinet did nothing.

Instead of firing up coal power plants the cabinet could have decided to implement painful measures to strongly reduce gas consumption directly after the invasion. Then our gas storages would have been filled at higher levels and increasing supply from coal power plants may not have been necessary. On 19 April a motion was filed by the Dutch political party GroenLinks which requested the government to ban the use of gas in greenhouses for floriculture. With the war and climate crisis the use of valuable gas for floriculture couldn’t be justified, according to the motion. Unfortunately the motion was rejected by the House of Representatives.

The answer of the lobby was predictable. Glastuinbouw Nederland gave arguments which are hard to follow, such as that the green transition is impossible without floriculture and that floriculture is necessary for innovation in the greenhouse sector. How do you advance the green transition by consuming gas and why can’t you innovate in the greenhouse sector with just vegetables and fruits? One of these floriculture lobbyists doesn’t shy from exaggerating, arguing that flowers and plants supplied by floriculture are essential to our mental health. There’s no doubt that our ancestors who had no floriculture must have all been severely depressed during the winters, when they couldn’t buy flowers at all.

This is illustrative for the actions of this cabinet and a large part of the Dutch population. Total unwillingness to deal with even the slightest of painful measures. ‘Painful’ is actually a misnomer, it’s more appropriate to speak of reducing our self-indulgence. Next to giving up on floriculture there are many other easy measures to devise for quickly reducing gas consumption.

We should stop with floriculture and use those greenhouses to cultivate vegetables or fruits without fossil fuels. Ban patio heaters and ban heated shops with permanently opened doors. Ban artificial ice rinks and let those who want to go ice skating take train to colder places in Europe where they can do so outdoors. Rebuild heated swimming pools to outdoor swimming pools where water will warm up naturally for five months of the year. If you insist on swimming in the winter, just use a wetsuit. While such choices are hard and will face resistance, they would deliver. An obligation to replace domestic gas boilers with (hybrid) heat pumps from 2026 onwards is not going to help us right now.

There are of course many people who have difficulties with paying their energy bill. We have to support this group financially of course. But on the matters I’ve discussed above it is possible to give up on. Because while we here are worrying about our floriculture, the Ukrainian people are being robbed of their land and butchered.

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