By Daniël Stuke

With the announced shutdown of two additional coal power plants last week, it seems the Netherlands is finally stepping up its efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Sadly, the measure comes a couple decades too late: recent estimates predict the rise in average global temperature to likely exceed 2°C within the next few decades, even with a drastic cut in global emissions. [1] The consequences of climate change for regional and national security will be serious.

The apparent self-satisfaction of the government at closing a few more coal power plants seems misplaced. Obviously it is important to curb CO2emissions, but we cannot afford to be caught fiddling with minor emission reductions when the consequences of climate change come crashing down on us with full force. That moment might not be so far away – we should be preparing for it. The Netherlands must urgently realign its priorities.

When thinking of climate change, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the sea level rise. But this is not what I mean when I talk about the security threats of climate change. When it comes to rising sea levels, the Netherlands is quite well-prepared: vulnerable coastal areas are reinforced, flood defenses are continually monitored and new drainage infrastructure is being constructed. It is not so much the direct environmental impact of climate change that poses the greatest threat to our national security. It is the ripple effects from global instability as a result of climate change.


Flooding of heavily populated coastal areas and a loss of arable land will produce large waves of migration out of affected areas and into wealthy urban regions. This is already happening, and the current prediction is that by 2050 the number of climate refugees will exceed 150 million. [2] If you believe the world is experiencing a migrant crisis right now, you are in for quite an unpleasant surprise. The problem is not just humanitarian: large-scale immigration tends to place great stress on the social infrastructure of destination countries.

The Netherlands, as most European countries, is a destination country for refugees. There is every reason to expect the Netherlands will remain a destination country in the future. This should be cause for alarm: current refugee flows from the Middle East have caught the Netherlands woefully unprepared. The number of refugees entering the country at present is not very big, yet social unrest and political volatility have already increased as a result.


Droughts, extreme weather and the acidification of the oceans will further impact an already strained global food supply. Vulnerable regions such as Africa, the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent will be affected most severely. We can expect to see internal unrest in these countries as their food supply comes under increasing strain. In addition, some expect that it is likely food will be used as a political weapon in international politics in the future. [3]

The Netherlands is a net importer of food, which might be a problem when pressure on global food supplies increases. Fortunately, the EU is self-sufficient in matters of food production, and the Netherlands imports most of its food from other EU countries. As of now, diplomatic and trade relations between the Netherlands and other EU countries are excellent.


Severe droughts and extreme weather will undermine development and poverty mitigation in underdeveloped regions. This will likely increase social instability in those regions, fueling military conflicts over wealth distribution and feeding insurgencies and terrorism.

Europe is already surrounded by what is ominously called a “ring of fire”: a chain of conflict zones and fragile states in varying stages of disintegration that borders the continent. [4] The effects of climate change are set to aggravate instability throughout Northern Africa, the Middle East and beyond, causing further disintegration of fragile states and exacerbating the risk of foreign terrorism in Europe and the Netherlands.


The risks and threats outlined above are not based on idle speculation. The Netherlands must take action to safeguard its future security. First of all, with global refugee flows set to increase as a result of the effects of climate change, it is essential to increase the Netherlands’ absorption capacity of refugees. This might be achieved by strengthening social and institutional infrastructure. Also, it is important to increase popular support for this unwanted inevitability, in order to limit social unrest. Secondly, to secure food supply lines, good trade relations with neighboring countries must be maintained – preferably within the EU framework. And finally, it is imperative for the Netherlands and other European countries to adopt a long term strategy towards neighboring regions, informed not by wishful optimism, but by the realistic expectation that our military will probably be engaged in the region in some capacity or other for several decades to come.

The Netherlands at present is stable, wealthy and situated in a peaceful part of the world. As such, the country is perhaps well positioned to weather the global ripple effects produced as a result of climate change. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to squander this advantageous position by failing to prepare for the effects. We must not underestimate the challenges ahead. The effects of climate change are already being felt around the planet, and will only intensify in the coming decades. Bad weather is coming, and the time has come to batten down the hatches and prepare for the coming storm.


[1] NOAA Climate Change: Global Temperature Projections (

[2] [3]


Photo: Sijmen Hendriks/HHrious.

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