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Dutch pressed to double pace of emissions cuts

Environment agency says gas-dependent nation needs to dig deeper and introduce more measures to reduce GHG emissions

The Netherlands must double its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in order to meet its 2030 climate target, according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) in its annual check of the country’s progress in reducing emissions.

The traditionally natural gas-dependent nation is legally bound to reduce its GHG emissions by 49pc below 1990 levels by the end of this decade. Under current and proposed emissions policies, GHG reductions by 2030 will fall 15 percentage points short of the 49pc target, the PBL says in its Climate and Energy Outlook 2020.

“The good news is that emissions output in the Netherlands is declining. The bad news is that the pace of that decline is not going fast enough. The study shows that the decline needs to double in speed over the next ten years,” says Pieter Hammingh, PBL’s project leader for the report.

The agency estimates Dutch GHGs will continue to decline at a rate of 3mn t/yr of CO2 equivalent, while a drop of 6mn t/yr is required to meet the 2030 target.

“The good news is that emissions [are] declining. The bad news is that the pace of that decline is not going fast enough” Hammingh, PBL

“In order to reach the target… more measures are needed. This cannot wait, certainly not against the background of the proposed tightening of the European reduction target to 55pc,” says the Dutch Council of State, which advises the government. In September, the European Commission proposed lifting the bloc’s 2030 GHG emissions reduction target to 55pc, up from 40pc.

The Dutch government says it remains determined to reach the 2030 target and that the PBL’s study had not taken into consideration its latest policy announcements, such as the creation of zero-emission zones in transport or a carbon tax for industry.

“Additional expenditure has already been planned or brought forward to this year… In the coming years, additional investment resources may also become available through the National Growth Fund to achieve the targets,” says minister for economics and climate Eric Wiebes.

Gas is key to lower emissions

The Netherlands has depended on gas since the 1960s, so lowering its consumption and production of the fuel is a key battleground in its fight to reduce GHG emissions. The PBL study shows the Netherlands has made considerable progress in this area. It forecasts that, as a result of efficiency measures, the average consumption of a gas-fuelled household will be 50pc lower in 2030 than in 2000.

Due to the planned 2022 shutdown of Groningen, Europe’s largest onshore gas field, Dutch gas production is set to meet less than a quarter of domestic gas demand by 2025, the PBL estimates.

15 percentage points – Amount by which the Netherlands set to miss 49pc GHG reduction target

Natural gas is also playing a crucial role in the Netherlands reaching its 2020 climate goal. After losing a legal case in 2015 against environmental foundation Urgenda, the Dutch government is legally obliged to reduce GHG emissions by 25pc below 1990 levels by the end of this year. One month away from this deadline, it remains uncertain whether the country will make it.

“The Urgenda objective can only be achieved under certain circumstances—namely if the second wave of corona infections is extensive, the last months of the year are not too cold and production levels at Dutch power plants will not be too high,” the PBL says.

Weak gas prices have meant that Dutch gas-fuelled power plants have been more profitable to operate. The government says it expects gas-fired power plants to operate more regularly than previously expected towards 2030, as neighbouring countries are closing coal-fired power plants and importing more electricity from the Netherlands. “This leads to more CO2 emissions in the Netherlands, but actually reduces overall European CO2 emissions,” the government says.

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