Why the Dutch Don't Need a Car Industry

Sluggish renewable energy transition is more impactful than VW cheating in emission tests
Why the Dutch Don't Need a Car Industry Why the Dutch Don't Need a Car Industry
Publ. date 15 May 2015
The recent Volkswagen emissions scandal, and the new Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations, the topic of climate change is more prominent on the political agenda than ever. Rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is one of the most effective ways to abate greenhouse gas emissions and to address climate change.

Across the globe, many fingers were pointed in the direction of Volkswagen and its diesel cars emitting much higher levels of NOx than originally reported. For the company, the costs of deceptive communications are mounting to stellar levels. For society, the costs are steep as well, according to the Sustainable Development Goal number 7 “By 2030 the share of renewable energy should have increased substantially”. But how can the performance in energy transition from a country like the Netherlands, the fifth competitive nation in the world, actually compare to the case of the diesel deception?

The Netherlands is predicted not to make its renewable energy target of 2020

The European Union’s renewable energy directive, enforced in 2010, has set a target of 20% of the final energy consumption to be sourced from renewables by 2020. In order to achieve this, EU member countries have individually committed to reaching their own national renewable targets.

In 2010, the Dutch government decided that by 2020, 14% of total energy needs to come from renewable sources. By 2023, this number is projected to grow to 16% and by 2050, the aim is to source the complete energy supply from renewables. However, at current the Netherlands is far from reaching its first 2020 milestone. If the present trend continues, by 2020 only 11.9% of the energy consumption will come from renewable sources short changing society with 2.1% in absolute terms. Translated into energy usage, this 2.1% shortage relates to 39.8 petajoules of ‘gray’ energy that was promised to become ‘green’.  

As the EU-graph indicates, the Netherlands already has one of the lowest 2020 targets among its European peers. Switzerland and Germany, for example, have renewable energy targets of 24% and 18%, respectively. Nevertheless the World Economic Forum recently put the Dutch in the 5th position in its Global Competitiveness Index, a ranking which is led by Switzerland and has Germany following as the second most competitive European country.

Paper tigers are causing smoke screens

Every two years, the European Union releases a progress report in which it describes the movement towards the 2020 goal. The 2015 report states that currently 25 member countries are expected to meet their 2013/2014 interim targets. Obviously, the Netherlands does not belong to this group. The EU states that one of the main reasons for the Netherlands to miss their target is the uncertainty concerning investment incentives resulting from reforms of supporting schemes: the Netherlands has switched to a feed-in premium as of 2012. Next to this, a recent study conducted by the leading Dutch consumer association Consumentenbond revealed that energy providers choose more for gray energy because of price advantages. In recent years, two coal plants were built which both led to a reverse affect on the transition towards green energy.  

Volkswagen versus the Dutch government

So what, one might think. To put things into perspective, comparative data illustrates how this relates to the recent revelations of Volkswagen manipulating NOx emissions tests. In the Netherlands, approximately 160,000 Volkswagen cars are involved and release emissions that are around 5-6 times higher than official test results. With Dutch law stating that cars are only allowed to emit 0.18 NOx g/km, the Volkswagen cars thus  actually emit 0.99 NOx g/km, leading to an amount of fraud committed by Volkswagen of 3,110 tons of NOx per year.

Looking back at the green energy gap in the Netherlands, the 2.1% shortage results in extra emissions of approximately 5.5 million tons CO2 equivalents. This number is expected to increase even further, as the Dutch are also behind in reducing their overall energy consumption in order to maintain a linear trend. Comparing the 3,110 tons of NOx, an indirect greenhouse gas, to 5.5 million tons of direct greenhouse gases in the form of CO2 equivalents, the conclusion can be made that the unaccounted for Volkswagen emissions are pale in comparison to the amount of emissions that the Netherlands is behind on reducing by transitioning to a clean energy society.

Concrete action is needed beyond COP21 discussions

In conclusion, the Dutch did not need a car industry for creating their own “black hole”. By being one of the lowest in class in terms of projected reduction of environmental impact and actually falling short of this target, the Netherlands is clearly lagging peers such as Germany and Switzerland and in the foreseeable future this will impact the countries’ competitive position. In an open letter to the Dutch government, 64 sustainability professors explained that the only way to achieve the 2020 goal, is to close all current running coal plants. By doing so, the Netherlands will improve on its CO2 reduction score and decrease the risk of health damage. Additionally, the Dutch may gain back a bit of confidence when it comes to “green” efforts in achieving the climate objective. Beyond all well intended discussions at COP21, the Dutch government needs to concretely assess how current policies and tools can be enhanced towards meeting the renewable energy objective.

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About Bas Nuijten

Sustainability professional aiming to help organizations to continuously improve their sustainability strategies. | 
bas@finchandbeak.com

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