Court-ordered climate goal reached; Coincidence due to pandemic, activists say
The climate target imposed by the court on the Dutch government was achieved. Greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 were 25.5 percent lower than in 1990, according to final figures published by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). The goal was achieved mainly because of coincidences, Urgenda director Marjan Minnesma said. "Not because of policy." She wants action from the government. "Otherwise, I expect that there will be new lawsuits for 2030."
In 2015, sustainability organization Urgenda won the lawsuit against the State for the first time. The court obliged the government to take measures against climate change. By 2020, emissions of CO2 and other gases that contributed to global warming had to be reduced by at least 25 percent. The Supreme Court confirmed that ruling at the end of 2019. Lower courts had previously upheld the ruling, but the State continued to appeal all the way to the highest court.
The Supreme Court ruled that science has made the dangers of climate change evident. These can also seriously affect the residents of the Netherlands in their right to life and well-being.
It was uncertain whether it would be possible to achieve the Urgenda target for a long time. The final emission registration now makes it clear that it has been achieved. In total, emissions in 2020 were 8.8 percent lower than in 2019. The decrease is partly due to a substantial reduction in coal use. Coal-fired power stations are major CO2 emitters. Luck also played a role: 2020 was relatively warm, so less natural gas was needed for heating.
Furthermore, the coronavirus measures played a "limited" role. Emissions from industry remained about the same as the previous year, but emissions from road traffic decreased by 15 percent. According to CBS, this decrease is linked to the lockdowns and people staying home as much as possible.
The main greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2). The gas traps heat in the atmosphere. As a result, the Earth is getting warmer. The result is melting ice caps and rising sea levels, heat, drought, and extreme weather. Methane, nitrous oxide, and F-gases also contribute to global warming. The effect of those gases is converted into CO2 equivalents so that there is one clear number.
Emissions must continue to fall in the coming years. The Climate Act stipulates that the decrease must be at least 49 percent by 2030, compared to 1990. The Cabinet wants to increase this to 55 percent.
Urgenda is not very impressed with the figures. "It is great that the goal was achieved, but it is due to three flukes," Minnesma said. She pointed out that lower coal use was partly because natural gas was relatively cheap in 2020. The question is how exactly the figures for 2021 will turn out. Preliminary CBS figures showed in December that about 3 percent more greenhouse gases were emitted in the first three quarters than in the same period in 2020. The provisional figures for the fourth quarter will be published in mid-March.
At the end of December, the Cabinet agreed in the coalition agreement to allocate over 35 billion euros to a climate fund over the next ten years. "It is important that the money is used quickly," the Urgenda director said. "It really has to be different. That target of 25 percent less emissions is the minimum lower limit needed to get below global warming of 2 degrees Celsius. We already know that it needs to actually be below 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid serious consequences of climate change."
Reporting by ANP