Scientists call on government to end fossil fuel subsidies

Initiator Naomi Leefmans will send this message to the House of Representatives this week.
Oil tankers berthed at an oil terminal in the Port of Rotterdam Photo from Shutterstock.

Economist Naomi Leefmans of the University of Amsterdam has written an opinion piece in the newspaper Financieel Dagblad that has been signed by 381 economists and climate researchers. In this piece, she and twenty others say that the Dutch government needs to put an end to billions of euros in fossil fuel subsidies if it wants to meet its targets for reducing CO2 emissions.

Leefmans will send the text of the piece and the list of signatories to the House of Representatives this week. Among the signatories are 63 scholars from Wageningen University & Research. Rik Leemans, Professor holding a personal Chair with the Environmental Systems Analysis group, was involved in the core team that helped draft the opinion piece. “The only way to deal with the climate problem is to bring our emissions to zero,” he says. “This means we need to curb the fossil industry. But as long as we continue to provide subsidies and rebates to fossil companies, they will have absolutely no incentive to make the transition to sustainable energy.”


But shouldn’t a scientist’s standpoint always be neutral? No, he disagrees. In fact, he sees this standpoint as a sign of objectivity. “Of course you take a standpoint. As a scientist, you see the facts. At the same time, you see that governments are doing very little to achieve the target of maximum 1.5 degrees of warming. So this is a purely objective standpoint and the government needs to be warned. Scientific models reveal that we are approaching an abyss, and we need to change course. As a scientist, you have to warn people about that. Politicians need to take decisions to avoid falling into that abyss.”

No longer silent

Margit van Wessel, Assistant Professor of Strategic Communication, agrees with Leemans. “This crisis is so urgent that scientists need to get up and take a stand,” she says. “The knowledge we collect forms a foundation for taking action. You might argue that scientists should stay away from politics, but not speaking out is also a political choice: we can’t afford to be silent anymore. Scientists, including us in Wageningen, need to bring this out into the open. We should be allowed to choose our own role in society.”


PhD candidate Cengiz Arslan of the Water Systems and Global Change group also signed the opinion piece. “Fossil subsidies go against the Paris climate agreement,” he says. “It’s unethical and unfair to future generations, and governments have primary responsibility for this. Scientists are part of society and have a duty to share their scientific knowledge, all the more if government policies fail to reflect that knowledge. That’s why I signed this petition, which only asks policymakers to make entirely rational choices.”

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