The Netherlands must reduce carbon emissions by the end of the year, but can this be done?

The city of Amsterdam’s western docklands, the location of a huge coal-fired power station.

But the facility’s been shut since the end of last year. The decision to close it five years ahead of schedule was forced on the Dutch government by a landmark climate case brought by the sustainability organisation, Urgenda.

This forced the Netherlands to speed up climate protection measures to comply with the court ruling – which affirmed that the country must be emitting 25% less CO2 by the end of 2020 than it was in 1990.

Compared with other EU countries, the Dutch energy mix is considered one of the worst. Just seven percent of the country’s total energy consumption is covered by renewables – far off the EU’s target for this year of twenty percent. In fact, the Amsterdam western docklands coal power plant alone emitted 3.6 megatons per year – that’s some two percent of the total CO2 output of the Netherlands.

Marjan Minnesma is the Director of Urgenda, a non-profit organisation which aims to empower the country’s ecological energy transition. She believes that despite the Government providing clean energy subsidies, they are still in danger of missing their deadline.

“The Government gave additional subsidies, two billion euros for solar panels and big wind farm projects. They gave additional subsidies for insulation measures and heat pumps”. She said, “We’ve told them (the Government), if you are three months later, it’s (still) fine. But if you don’t do enough we will go back to court.”

The Government has now pledged to reduce C02 emissions to half of 1990 levels by 2030. To inject a ray of hope into the currently gloomy Dutch energy mix, it’s following the Urgenda recommendation to create more solar power capacity.

To reach the Urgenda verdict’s obligations in the timeframe available, a rapid upgrading of the solar capacity would appear to be the quickest short term solution.

The Netherlands experiences high winds all year round and in the medium term, the country will build up further wind power capacity offshore.

The island of Texel, just off mainland Holland, is where Urgenda have started many of their initiatives that were scaled up by the rest of the Netherlands. However when it comes to wind turbines being installed they might have a challenge on their hands according Dirk Roeper, a sustainable farmer on the island.

“When it comes to those enormous wind turbines, well, people aren’t very happy about having them here on the island”. He said, “It’s a beautiful island and many people think that the turbines will spoil that”.

The most unusual solar solution on Texel can be found at the “Krim Resort” – a golf course with a nearby reservoir which is now covered by floating solar power cells.

Innovation like this is necessary given The Netherlands is among the most densely populated EU states.

Conventional solar farms take up a lot of land. That’s why Nicol Schermer, one of the masterminds of the island’s sustainable energy revolution.is looking for alternative solutions.

Based on positive results from the Texel project, he’s now joined a research team looking into whether floating panels would work on the North Sea.

“The water (of the reservoir) is used in the summer, so you have less evaporation.” He said, “Water will cool the panels and while they are cooled, they are having more power on a year’s base.”

Nicol’s had an unusual path into cutting edge solar technology. He has expertise in plant nurseries and previously used his skillset to help out in climate crisis zones in the Middle East.

It was actually these experiences in hotter, sunnier climes that set him on his current course.

“Years ago I went to Iraq to set up a plant nursery. It was there that I saw the energy produced by solar light and how much electricity it generated. This was an eye opener”

Being a heavily-industrialised country, one of the main upcoming challenges for the Netherlands is a complete overhaul of the existing power supply infrastructure.

Waste recycler Omrin has just won an award as the country’s most sustainable company.

While some industries prepare for conversion to a hydrogen-based energy supply, this plant has opted for bio-gas created from the recycling of domestic waste.

Today, the amount of material European industry uses that’s been recycled is only 12%.

The “Green Deal” proposed by the European Commission aims to substantially increase this amount. Omrin is already playing its part.

“We earned the prize of the most sustainable company in the country because here in practice we are able to sort out the organic waste out of the waste and we may bring gas out of it.” Said Jelmar Helmhout, a spokesperson for the company.

“And next to that we are also able to sort out the plastics out of the waste and we are able to make new raw materials and new products out of it and with sorting out the organic waste and the plastic waste we are also able to reduce the CO2.”

The Dutch enthusiasm for cycling has helped to foster a postcard-friendly image of a nature-loving country.

That’s an illusion. Sitting on one of the EU’s biggest natural gas fields, the country heavily depends on fossil energy.

Some on the political right regret the move away from fossil fuels.

The political analyst Syp Wynia agrees – and blames Green pressure groups such as Urgenda and with an election looming in 2021, he believes that climate change is far down people’s priorities.

“In a few months, we will have preparations for elections and already now you can see that the main parties are leaving the main elements of the climate policy because it is not effective and it is very expensive”. He said, “people are more interested in economy than in climate change.”

However recent opinion polls show that 3 out of 4 Dutch people consider climate change to be “a very serious problem”.

The Government is acting, it’s appointed a ‘Climate Tsar’ charged with speeding up the climate protection policies. Sandor Gaastra is that man, he thinks the best way to hit their annual target is to limit the capacity of coal-fired plants.

“The most important measure is limiting the capacity of the coal-fired power plants in the Netherlands, which will be the biggest measure being taken to reach the goal by the end of this year which would mean that they have to reduce their production by two thirds”.

He said, “We have taken measures to even speed up the sustainability of housing and offices in the Netherlands. To give you a number: We added another 150 million (euros) of subsidies available for households and businesses to make their offices and homes more sustainable.”

One homeowner who’s taken advantage of the Government scheme is Ruud Sweering, he believes he will recoup his investment within fifteen years.

“I think we had to invest in between 30.000 and 40.000 Euros and we got more or less 10,000 Euro subsidised”. He said, “but because we do not have electricity bills now any more, we figured out that in 14 or 15 years the money will be earned back.”

The European Union wants to become energy neutral too – by 2050 at the latest.

Renovating buildings to help people cut their energy bills is part of the EU’s “Green Deal”.

The Urgenda climate case triggered other legal actions around the globe.

So will the climate be saved by legal action decisions? It’s unclear, as yet, while Dutch judges obliged their government to speed up climate protection, German judges rejected a similar case.

Many climate cases elsewhere are still pending and the legal battle goes on.

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