Dutch activists promise ‘unrelenting pressure’ for climate laggards

Companies given until April to produce ambitious climate strategies


Christine Dawson

Aegon, Rabobank and NN Group are among 30 companies identified as climate polluters that are being put under pressure to improve their climate plans from activists who recently won a climate case against oil giant Shell.

Friends of the Earth Netherlands, which took Shell to court over its climate strategy, wrote to the companies last week setting out what it expects to see from them.

In the letter the NGO, also known as Milieudefensie, said: “A healthy company has a climate plan. In Milieudefensie/Friends of the Earth Netherlands’ view, the ruling in the case against Royal Dutch Shell implies that every large emitter has a de minimis obligation to reduce its emissions in line with the global imperative resulting from the Paris Climate Agreement.

“And this is what we ask of you. How is your company or the group that your company is part of, concretely and verifiably, giving shape to the changes required between now and 2030?”

Looming deadline

The companies were told their plans should reduce their scope 1, 2 and 3 CO2 emissions by at least 45% by 2030, compared to 2019.

“We expect your plan to be climate-just. The deadline for this climate plan is 15 April 2022,” the activists wrote.

In the case any of the companies do not come forward with such climate plans, they were told they will be targeted: “This letter serves as an announcement, but above all, it is an invitation. Because it is neither our wish nor our ambition to engage in legal battles with all of the Netherlands’ large polluters.

“We much prefer to enter into a dialogue about how to achieve a just climate transition. Our objective is that all system players, such as your enterprise, play their part.

“We will acknowledge and, if required, support frontrunners; stragglers can count on our unrelenting pressure.”

Keeping up the pressure

Milieudefensie director, Donald Pols, said: “Now that the courts are forcing Shell to take its responsibility in resolving the climate crisis, it is clear that other major emitters will now also have to take swift action to go green.

“We will continue to fight dangerous climate change and will keep up the pressure on these 30 major climate polluters until they contribute to the solution.”

Milieudefensie will work with New Climate Institute to assess each of the climate plans’ quality and practicality and will publish the results in a ranking in June this year.


Rabobank chief sustainability officer, Aafke Keijzer, said the company recognizes and agrees with Milieudefensie’s goal for more action to combat climate change.

“We see their letter both as a reminder and as an encouragement. The facts don’t lie – we need to accelerate the decarbonisation of the economy and large companies have a large responsibility when it comes to protecting our Earth’s future.

“As a cooperative bank, it is our goal to help our clients on their road to Paris. How do you help your company to become greener? How can farmers become more sustainable? We are committed to helping our clients find and implement the answers to these and other climate questions. In our approach we do that together,” said Keijzer.

Rabobank stated it has endorsed the Paris climate goals, joined the Net Zero Banking Alliance and will report on its clients’ carbon footprint next month.

NN Group

A spokesperson for NN Group said: “Climate change is a very urgent and global problem – this is not just about the climate, but in fact about people; the living environment, food supply, health, etc. of all of us.

“We think it is good that Milieudefensie draws attention to this, but the theme of sustainability and climate is anchored in our strategy and has been high on our agenda for years.”

NN Group has plans to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 at the latest, in line with the Paris Agreement. In November 2021 the company published interim targets for decarbonisation, covering €200bn customer investments its own business operations.

“We aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our corporate investment portfolio by 25% by 2025 and by 45% by 2030 (compared to 2019). We are committed to reducing CO2 emissions from our own operations by at least 35% by 2025, and 70% by 2030 (compared to 2019),” said the spokesperson.

ING Group

ING Group said it had received the letter from Milieudefensie last week and shares the activists’ concerns about climate change. It is a Net Zero Banking Alliance member aiming for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“In order to reach this goal, we steer our loan book towards keeping the rise in global temperatures to a maximum of 1.5°C.

“To reach our long-term goal to reach net zero by 2050, we set intermediate targets. For instance, we aim to reduce our funding to upstream oil and gas by 12% by 2025 (from 2019).

“We have regular meetings with Milieudefensie and are happy to discuss the letter and their concerns on a short-term basis,” said Daan Wentholt, ING Group press officer.


ABN AMRO put a statement on its website in response to the letter.

“[Director of group sustainability] Richard Kooloos answered that ABN AMRO firmly supports the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C and explained what the bank is doing to achieve this goal together with its clients.

“As a large organisation, ABN AMRO has its own carbon footprint. Our ambition is to reduce carbon emissions by 80% in 2025 compared with the level of 2015. This is well within the limit of the 1.5 °C goal. The biggest impact of a systemic bank like ABN AMRO is caused by lending and investment services.

“Clients use our loans for various purposes, such as to make investments or buy a home. We include emissions generated by these activities when calculating our total emissions, as these are responsible for 99% of this figure. That’s why our strategy is aimed at supporting our clients in their transition to sustainability,” the bank stated.

Reputational harm

A recent UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF) panel heard NGOs are not only motivated to bring legal challenges against climate polluters in order to win the argument, but also to inflict financial and reputational harm on the company.

Linklaters managing associate, Rebecca Burton, commented: “NGOs see the effectiveness for some of this litigation in that it can be brought at all.

“It goes on for years, can cost a lot of money, and inevitably [there is]… the reputational cost, the ongoing cost, the impact on someone’s market valuation, the impact on their credit worthiness. So just winning the litigation isn’t necessarily the end game.”

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