New Dutch energy policy exceeds Europe requirements; Cabinet criticized as not enough

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The new Dutch government presented a very ambitious energy policy in its government agreement on Tuesday. By 2030 the Rutte III cabinet wants the Netherlands' greenhouse gas emissions to be 49 percent lower than the level it was in 1990, a higher goal than what European rules currently demand. The governments is also planning to advocate for a 55 percent reduction in emissions in Europe. But according to environmental organization Greenpeace, while this policy is very ambitious, it is still not enough.

The government agreement contained a thick chapter on making the Netherlands more sustainable, compared to only a single page in the Rutte II government's agreement, according to NRC. The Rutte III energy policy includes a Climate Act, a successor to the current energy agreement, closing all the coal plants by 2030, taxing flight tickets and freight traffic, putting a minimum price on CO2, building more wind farms on the North Sea, and taking the first steps to stop using natural gas. The government hopes that all these measures will result in a 49 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

But even if this succeeds, it wil not be enough, Greenpeace says in its analysis of the energy policy on its website. To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees - the most optimistic goal for the Paris Climate Agreement - an emission reduction of at least 60 percent is needed, according to the planning office for the environment PBL. If the earth heats up by more than 1.5 degrees, dangerous climate consequences await.

One of the biggest measure the new government is taking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is closing the coal plants in the Netherlands by 2030. According to NRC, coal plants emit twice as much CO2 as gas plants. According to the PBL, replacing coal plants with gas plants will reduce the Netherlands' CO2 emissions by 12 million tons, a reduction of 7 percent compared to the current emissions. Greenpeace is all for closing the coal plants. The environmental group's problem with this plan is that the Rutte III government wants to do it over a period of 13 years. According to Greenpeace, this means coal plants will continue polluting Dutch air for 10 years longer than necessary. 

The second big measure the government wants to implement, is to get rid of greenhouse gasses. The government intends to store CO2 emissions of factories, waste disposal plants and power plants somewhere and destroying it there. The government agreement states that doing so will reduce CO2 emissions by 18 million tons - even more than closing the coal plants, NRC reports. According to Greenpeace, this is an expensive, and unproven technique. The organization also points out that money from the sustainable energy subsidy fund can be used for this technique. 

Rutte III is taking steps to stop the use of natural gas. By 2021 all new homes and other buildings will not be heated with natural gas. Instead they'll be connected to a heat network or a widened power grid. The cabinet is also making 100 million euros available for making rental homes more energy efficient. Greenpeace points out that while 100 million euros sounds like a lot of money, it amounts to around 40 euros per rental home. 

The environmental organization is also concerned about the fact that the subsidy regulation for installing solar panels is being cut back. And that the government did not oblige home owners to make their homes more sustainable. "Practice shows that without an obligation, very little happens", Greenpeace writes. ""That while Dutch homes, for example, have to be gas-free by 2035 in order to achieve the Paris climate agreement."

"Does this government agreement protect us from dangerous climate change? No. There is a climate law and some good plans, but in this way the Netherlands still can't meet the goals of Paris", Greenpeace concludes. 

Other environmental organizations responded cautiously optimistic to the Rutte III government's plans.

The Dutch Friends of the Earth, Milieudefensie: "The ambitions are there", director Donald Pols said. "The question now is whether the pleasures and burdens are divided fairly between companies and citizens and between citizens themselves." According to Milieudefensie, that is the biggest job the cabinet faces. "Distribute the bill fairly and ensure that all citizens can participate."

World nature fund WNF: "The ambitious climate agenda is an important signal, but a real green policy is wider than just energy policy." The WNF calls on the government to give nature a central role in upcoming decisions. "Nature itself offers smart and innovative solutions to keeping dry feet in extreme flooding and rising sea level. And future-proof agriculture produces sufficient food and protects the landscape with all plant and animal species living therein. Let nature work for us and make our country safer, more sustainable and more beautiful."