A zero-emission future

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The coalition led by the Green Left approves the law to reduce polluting emissions by 95% by 2050, exceeding the objectives of the Kyoto agreement.

At the end of June Holland’s politicians achieved a historic agreement: a cross party majority including the governing liberal parties – the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VDD) and Democrats 66 (D66) – as well as the left wing parties of the opposition, said yes to a wide-ranging agreement on climate change that by 2050 will transform the Dutch economy, reducing 95% of harmful emissions. The first to greet the new agreement was Jesse Klaver, leader of the Green Left (Groenlinks )and promoter of the legislation, who tweeted “Holland has agreed on the most ambitious Climate Law in the world”.

The Netherlands have thus decided to commitwell beyond the limited objectives outlined in the Kyoto Protocol or those of the Paris Agreements in the conviction that a practical example can function better than complex, and often ignored, multilateral agreements between nations. Thus the centre-right majority, led by the party of the Premier Mark Rutte, and the left wing opposition, reached a binding agreement on a project drawn up by Groenlinks, the Labour Party (PVDA) and the Socialists (SP) that aims initially to establish targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases accompanied by a mechanism to enable annual verification of progress.

Klimaatwet is the name of the law that the Tweede Kamer, begin to debate in detail in October, the legislation being the fruit of long and arduous work, especially by the lobbies, involving diverse associations and political parties. “It has taken 10 years toachieve this agreement,” explained Evert Hassink, researcher from the environmental organisation Milieudefensie, one of the main promoters of the law, “but in the end we managed to find an agreement between the parties.” The association began work on a draft document in 2008, taking its inspiration from the Climate Change Act approved in the United Kingdom, which nevertheless set a much less ambitious target for 2050 ofreducinggreenhouse gas emissions by 80%.

So what exactly does this legislation, which has also been praised by Al Gore as a historic step forward in protecting the environment, actually consist of? “The law will establish a series of measures that will outline the gradual abandonment –with some obligatory steps – of non-renewable energy sources,” explains Hassink. “The first step will be a 50% reduction in harmful emissions compared with 1990 levels by 2030. The second, the conclusive phase, involves ensuring that 95% of energy sources are green by 2050.” So, is Milieudefensie satisfied with the achievement? “More could certainly be done,” says Hassink, “for example, we called for the establishment of a government agency tasked with evaluating the progress of the application of Klimaatwet. The majority, however, preferred to entrust the implementation to the diverse organs already existing, without centralising the evaluation procedure.”

In order to free the climate issue from the numerous technicalities and to prevent that the question remains merely a niche area of political debate, the large cross-party majority, which includes two thirds of members of parliament, also proposed the establishment of “National Climate Day” to be held on the fourth Thursday in October when the government will announce whether the planned targets have been met or whether additional measures will be necessary. Moreover, every five years, future governments will be obliged to comply with the agreement and will have to present a detailed plan of measures that they intend to implement during their mandate in order to achieve the targets.

But in practice, what actual measures will the Klimaatwet include? The details are still hazyand they will be the subject of parliamentary debate, but it can bepresumed that the starting point will be the implementation of the current “bipartisan green agenda”, focused on overcoming thereliance on hydrocarbons.The liberal democrats of D66 agreed an informal alliance with the left wing opposition that forced the VVD, the party of Premier Mark Rutte – traditionally anallyof the multinationals – to pursue a tough balancing act between the popularity of the proposed legislation and the concerns of big business, in particular Shell, which has requested guarantees above all concerning the costs of reconversion.

Solar power, wind and biomass are being developed while gas is being abandoned as a source of heating; electric cars and good practices in construction in order to avoid heat loss are just some of the measures. The list of interventions to build a “green nation” is long, very long and potentially infinite. If the main part of the intervention will be represented by the energy sector, transport policy is also set to play a key role in the Klimaatwet. According to some, however, there is a significant risk that the ambitious plan remains only a dream. “It is not very clear how the policy intends to reconcile the development of public transport and cyclepaths with the massive sums granted for the extension and construction of new motorways,” explains Paolo Ruffino, an Italian expert in sustainable mobility in Holland and a consultant to the Amsterdam council. “The government’s infrastructure programmeto 2040 includes 35 billion euro destined for roads and motorways. It’s worth asking the question of how that money and other investments incompatible with an environmentalist agendawill coexist with the Klimaatwet.For Ruffino, the problem is that investment in roads, which is consequently an incentive for road transport, deviates resources from the public transport network. “Trains and buses enable the authorities to implement sustainable public policies more than private transport can.” According to the Italian consultant, the principle of Klimaatwet is certainly an important step forward but its implementation risks clashing with reality, especially in the productive sectors.

For the shift to clean energy and the scaling back of the reliance on coal and oil, a committee of experts, presided over by former Labour leader Diderik Samsom, has already been working for some weeks on a list of priorities that includes the productive sectors that must invest more in renewables, especially solar energy and wind power, and to indicate how to reduce the “dependence on hydrocarbons”. To date, the first suggestion of the commission has concerned domestic gasuse;the proposal being to increase the cost by 75% in order to discourage use and push industries towards adopting ecological solutions.

The other problemconcerns the difficulty during this period of political turbulence of investing in a thirty-year commitment approved with ordinary legislation. Geert Wilders populist right wing group, the Party for Freedom (PVV) has little relevance in parliament but the Forum voor Democratie, the Dutch “alt right” climate change deniers whose popularity is flourishing, could, sooner or later try to introduce a series of limitations to a project that in its current state is of fundamental importance but so far is still on the staring blocks.

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