By our editor
The climate gains brought about by the corona crisis have already largely been undone in the Netherlands. Last spring, greenhouse gas emissions were close to pre-crisis levels. This is reported by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) on Wednesday. Greenhouse gas emissions were 11 percent higher in the months of April to June than in the same period in 2020. At the time, strict lockdown measures were in place across Europe.
The increased emissions are making it increasingly difficult for the Netherlands to achieve its own climate target for 2030. By the end of this decade, the CO2emissions have almost halved compared to the benchmark year 1990; new European legislation is even stricter.
Moreover, with these emission figures, the Dutch state does not seem to comply with the judgment of the Supreme Court in the Urgenda case, which already calls for a strong reduction in CO2 before 2020.2emissions prescribed. The Urgenda Foundation announced in June that it will demand a penalty if the state does not comply with the court’s requirements.
The corona crisis has caused an unprecedented decline in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. In the Netherlands, emissions were 9 percent lower in 2020 than in the previous year, RIVM reported earlier this month. That is the strongest annual decline ever.
This national decline was partly caused by the corona crisis. As a result, fewer cars were driven and the production of heavy industry shrank. In addition, in the winter the market conditions for coal-fired power stations – which contain a lot of CO2 emit – unfavorable. The power stations were unable to compete with the competition due to the very low natural gas price at the time and the emergence of wind and solar parks. In addition, the winter of 2020 was very mild, so that the Dutch did not heat much.
Last year, climate scientists and economists expressed the hope that the corona crisis would lead to an accelerated farewell to fossil fuels, especially if the corona support from governments was interpreted as ‘green recovery’. However, these sustainable support measures have largely failed to materialize. Earlier this year, observers such as the International Energy Agency warned that global CO2emissions would immediately rebound, so that global warming continues unchecked.
Emissions as usual
The figures published today by Statistics Netherlands show that this scenario is unfolding in the Netherlands. Heavy industry is recovering from the corona crisis, but largely still produces as polluting as before. In addition, the temperature was against: the spring of 2021 was cool. As a result, households and companies burned more natural gas for heating, and the lamps in greenhouses were switched on more often due to the gloomy weather.
According to the (provisional) RIVM figures published earlier this month, the Dutch state probably narrowly complied with the verdict in the Urgenda case in 2020. The highest court considers a 25 percent decrease from 1990 to be the minimum to limit the dangers of climate change. Expressed in tons of CO2 was allowed to emit a maximum of 166 million tons in 2020; the counter got stuck at 164.5 million tons. The corona crisis was therefore an unprecedented windfall for the cabinet, which has taken few drastic measures in recent years to comply with the Urgenda judgment.
However, the new CBS figures make it plausible that national emissions this year will exceed the level at which the risks of climate change are still acceptable. In the second quarter of 2021, greenhouse gas emissions were 3.9 million tons higher than in the same period last year. At the beginning of 2021, emissions were also higher than a year earlier. These figures show that the Urgenda target is unattainable in the current economic circumstances.
The Urgenda judgment will remain in force after 2020. Outgoing State Secretary Dilan Yesilgöz (Economic Affairs and Climate, VVD) wrote to the House of Representatives in June that a CO2reduction of at least 25 percent also in 2021 and thereafter ‘must’. The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency warned a year ago that it will be difficult for a new cabinet to meet this requirement in the coming years.
Measures against coal-fired power stations
Yesilgöz’ predecessor, the resigned minister Eric Wiebes (VVD), prepared measures for this purpose against coal-fired power stations. It concerns a law that temporarily limits the production of two Dutch coal-fired power stations, and a paid closure of a third coal-fired power station. The law was passed by the Senate in July and it is not yet known when it will enter into force. Negotiations have been going on with the owner for almost a year now to close the third plant.
Yesilgöz already suggested in her letter that the CO2emissions ‘in the short term’ will prove too high. Additional climate measures that the ministry is considering, however, are primarily aimed at 2030, the state secretary wrote.