Gov’t ready to slash CO2 emissions; Activists criticize nitrogen plan
On Friday, Ministers Erik Wiebes of Economic Affairs and Climate and Carola Schouten of Agriculture presented how they plan to reduce CO2 and nitrogen emissions. One goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 25 percent by the end of this year, compared to 1990, and thereby comply with a Dutch Supreme Court ruling in a case brought by sustainability foundation Urgenda. This goal will likely be achieved in 2020 solely due due to external factors like the mild winter and the coronavirus crisis, according to the PBL Envirionmental Assessment Agency which looked at the impact of both a short-term and long-term crisis caused by the pandemic.
However, the reduction in emissions from the crisis is not expected to continue beyond 2021, and the Cabinet would rather put a system in place to comply with the Urgenda ruling now and remove future barriers to economic recovery, Wiebes said in a letter to Parliament on Friday. The biggest decrease in emissions would then come from cutting coal-fired electricity. The government plans to implement an emissions cap on its remaining coal-fired power plants, with penalties in place if the plant exceeds that limit.
The Economic Affairs Ministry had also been investigating the possibility of shutting the country's last coal power plants. However, Wiebes wants the plants to be able to provide a higher energy output should there be a shortfall in supply. The situation with coal will be re-evaluated later in the year, but in the meantime, Wiebes has allocated four billion euros to get more sustainable energy projects up and running, which can then increased the country's power supply.
The government is also taking on a number of recommendations made by Urgenda. This includes a subsidy scheme for LED lighting and energy efficiency in greenhouse horticulture. Those who replace their old refrigerators and freezers with more efficient models by trading them in with the purchase of a newer model will also qualify for at least 35 euros cash back from the government.
Subsidy schemes will also be introduced for making homes energy-neutral and for solar panel installations, but this will likely only affect emissions in the coming years. More resources will also be made available to combat the illegal trade in fluoridated gasses.
These measures - combined with a lot of help from external factors - should achieve a 25 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by the end of this year. External factors include that this past winter was extremely mild, resulting in less gas being used. The coal-fired power station on Maasvlakte has also been out of operation since January due to a defect.
To reduce the impact of nitrogen, the government is committing 300 million euros annually for the next ten years to restoring and strengthening nature sites. "The resources will go to accelerating and intensifying restoration measures, improving hydrology in and around nature reserves and planting new forest," the Agriculture ministry said.
Another 200 million euros will be spent in each of the next ten years to invest in other measures to help businesses reduce the amount of nitrogen which dumps out into more sensitive nature areas. "This concerns, for example, cleaner technologies, different animal feed and financial arrangements for farmers who want to stop," the ministry said.
However, activist Johan Vollenbroek said Schouten's plan to tackle nitrogen does not go nearly far enough. "A 50-percent emission reduction in ten years is a necessary lower limit," he told broadcaster NOS. "The Cabinet is only offering 26 percent, which is also based on implausible and non-mandatory reduction measures," he said, adding that stricter goals are needed. "The majority of the measures (16 percent) are already existing measures and mainly concern unproven environmental measures."
Vollenbroek said that the plan is too similar to a nitrogen emissions approach which was thrown out by the Supreme Court. His organization, Mobilisation for Environment, plans to join association Vereniging Leefmilieu in a new court filing against the Dutch state to reduce nitrogen emissions further, like the court ruled in the Urgenda case with regard to carbon emissions.
Urgenda is a environmental group that took the government to court, saying that the State is not meeting its duty of care because it is failing to combat climate change. In 2015, the court ruled that Urgenda was right and ordered the government to reduce emissions. The government twice appealed against this ruling, both times unsuccessfully. The court of appeal ruled in Urgenda's favor in 2018, and the Supreme Court did the same in 2019.