The Dutch government has recently agreed that its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions should be reduced by 49% in 2030 compared to 1990. However, to achieve the Paris agreement’s ambition to keep below a 1.5 oC warming, GHG emissions will have to be reduced to almost zero. Therefore, it has also been agreed that GHG emissions must be reduced by at least 95% by 2050. These goals are laid down in the Dutch Climate Agreement and National Climate Act, the actual implementation of which is laid down in a climate plan. These objectives are very ambitious, but at the same time they are necessary to prevent global warming. The Urgenda Foundation (a Dutch environmental group with more than 900 Dutch citizens), on the other hand, does not find climate policy ambitious enough and was legally able to enforce a reduction of 25% in CO2 emissions by 2020.
Goals and ambitions must be achieved through concrete measures. The sectors (electricity, industry, built environment, agriculture and transport) have discussed how the climate goals can be achieved. Measures have been laid down in a climate agreement. Many of these measures require adjustments to the regulations or the granting of subsidies. These are issues that require political decisions.
The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) has concluded that the measures included in the climate agreement are probably inadequate. Even though all measures are ultimately approved by the Dutch Parliament, these will not be sufficient to achieve a 49% reduction in GHG emissions. This is partly because measures are sometimes vague. “A standard for the energy consumption of utility buildings” says nothing about how heavy or light that standard is. This must be specified even further. Additional policy is likely to be needed in the future. However, it is important not to wait until the perfect policy is in place, but to simply start.
During the drafting of the climate agreement draft, TNO Energy Transition supplied knowledge to the various climate tables and, together with the PBL, calculated the draft climate agreement. TNO also works with PBL, RIVM, CBS and RVO on the Climate and Energy Survey (formerly the National Energy Survey), in which an estimate is made of developments in energy supply and greenhouse gas emissions up to and including 2030. In addition, experts from TNO provide advice on policy instruments for climate policy. Examples of this include: phasing out the netting scheme for solar panels, drawing up calculation rules for payback periods of sustainable measures in the industry, or how a home insulation subsidy can best be designed. TNO does not look so much at the legal side of climate policy, but has a lot of information about what energy saving and sustainable energy costs and delivers. TNO helps both with the design of policy and with the evaluation or monitoring thereof. TNO has no commercial interest and is therefore ideally suited to provide independent information. Precisely because figures, quantitative information, play an important role in the advice, this is an important part of the daily work at TNO. Some information is simply not available, while there is a demand for it. That is why TNO has been conducting research itself for years, for example into monitoring energy saving in the built environment and CO2 reduction opportunities in the industry in the MIDDEN project.
The most important challenge for the climate agreement is the distribution of costs: who will pay for what? Costs associated with the implementation of the climate agreement are not expected to impact the Dutch Gross National Product (GNP); the Netherlands is a rich country. But there must be support for solutions to prevent resistance and an unfair distribution. The contribution of industry vs. citizens will be important. There is a need to search for a balance between what is fair without harming the business climate.
It is also true that there are both citizens and political parties who do not believe in the seriousness of climate change. In addition, a persistent prejudice about climate policy is that we are already well on our way, while we are still facing major challenges. Also, the difference between compensating emissions and actually reducing GHG emissions is not clear to everyone. People are also afraid of losing prosperity and that the costs will ultimately end up with ordinary people. Sustainable measures, such as wind farms, also affect people in their physical environment.
Even though a better environment starts with the citizens, it is up to the central government to determine how this climate policy should take shape and to devise a way to share the costs and benefits fairly. The government must ensure that more sustainable choices in people’s daily lives are made easier. It is not surprising that people choose to fly instead of taking the train when flying is cheaper. Central government can create a climate policy framework that will make citizens and businesses behave more environmentally friendly.