The Netherlands must want to be a developing country

Hugo von Meijenfeldt

Senior Sustainability Advisor at Global Compact Network Netherlands

Business leaders consider it valuable to constantly tackle new challenges, and to (re)develop their companies. Dutch politicians not so much it seems. They don’t like the idea of leading a developing country, because that word is reserved for poor countries. However, today The Netherlands ranks low in many important areas when compared to other European countries. So, time to reconsider our thinking.

In which areas should The Netherlands develop? You can find the answer in the annual ‘Monitor of Well-being & the SDGs’ created by the Statistics Netherlands (CBS). When taking an absolute instead of a relative approach to the Global Goals that all government leaders set for their countries in 2015, there are many challenges for us: the poverty and debt problems, sustainable food production to protect biodiversity, increasing vaccination rates of children up to 2 years of age and increasing the healthy life expectancy of women, the proportion of women in higher education and management positions, the share of freshwater that meets quality standards, to lower the dependence on fossil fuels, structurally reduce CO2 emissions, noise and hazardous waste, increase the affordability of rental and owner-occupied housing, increase the area of good quality nature, more police, attention to youth and better governance.

So far in the coalition talks to form a new cabinet, the negotiating parties have only provided a summary of the current situation. There is not enough progress in many areas, so the existing policies are not sufficient. The coalition talks should lead to a shorter and more flexible Coalition Agreement. The former government has proposed to the Parliament that these two elements are important: (1) An ambitious National Sustainability Program. (2) The responsibility for the 2030 Agenda moves from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to another ministry focusing on domestic affairs.

Although there is complete radio silence about the negotiations, we know some topics have been mentioned: housing shortage, climate action, nitrogen, education, governance culture, etc. These areas align with the list of CBS. It’s up to the negotiating parties if they will use the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals to list these topics in a national action plan.

So, if we classify the Netherlands as a developing country, should we ask for foreign aid? No, because with an average net wealth of almost € 129.000 per person, The Netherlands occupies fourth place in the list of the richest countries in the world. Surely there is a way to (re)organize all that wealth in a way that we reach our sustainability goals; businesses setting new targets and integrating sustainability in their reports, financial institutions implementing sustainability conditions for lending, and of course a government (stimulating) spending sustainably.