On 23 September 2016, the Dutch parliament voted to cut the country’s CO2 emissions by 55% by the year 2030, which would allow it to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement when ratified. Bellona believes that a 55% cut in CO2 emissions is essential, but the tools to reach such an objective in a timely manner are equally critical.
What measures should be taken to reach the 55% target?
A report commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and published by CE Delft, concluded that it is possible to reduce the total CO2 emissions of a coal plant to the level of a typical gas plant. Yet, although such gas-powered installations emit roughly half of the CO2 compared to a coal plant, that amount is still far too high and incompatible with the country’s targeted 55% reduction by 2030, let alone limiting global warming to 2oC.
Several reports, including the Spring Associates Report, form the foundation on the view that the most cost-effective way for the Netherlands to reach its climate goals is to close down coal plants. Five coal-fired power stations have already been shut down. Of the remaining five, three became operational in 2015. Those three alone have been blamed for a rise of 5% of the emissions of the Netherlands.
Closure of all Dutch coal power plants, however, would present the country with a major energy challenge. As long as there is no zero-emissions energy alternative that could replace coal, the energy will have to be generated by CO2-emitting gas plants or alternatively imported. These alternatives would undermine any Dutch efforts to cut its emissions. Comprehensive long term thinking on decarbonisation is required, not simply jumping from one unabated CO2 intensive fossil to the other.
Replacing coal with gas is not enough
A full phase out of coal with renewable energy sources does not do the trick alone. Replacing coal with gas delays early and deeper reductions and might create a new lock-in into another fossil fuel infrastructure (gas) incompatible with a 1.5oC or 2oC paradigm. In order to maintain its power supply and decarbonise, the Netherlands must deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in electricity generation, be that remaining coal or new gas. Although the study by CE Delft did consider the application of CCS to coal-powered plants, it is equally important to enable its application to its gas-powered equivalents.
“Without the correct mix of climate technologies we will continue to see conflicts between national priorities and climate targets. Coal and gas have no future without CCS”, argues Keith Whiriskey, Manager Climate Technologies at Bellona Europa.
A full phase out of coal by 2030 is an important part of a potential 55% greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target, but this needs to be complemented by a structured phase-in of CCS in electricity generation and industry, as well as the substantial uptake of zero-carbon sources of renewable energy, energy efficiency, electric mobility and energy storage.
The Norwegian government has already demonstrated its commitment to making CCS happen. Last Friday 30 September 2016, following consistent efforts by Bellona, the Norwegian Ministry for Petroleum and Energy confirmed the Norwegian government’s decision to move forward with the country’s three CO2 capture projects from the feasibility study.
The capture projects represent three different industries: Yara, the world’s largest ammonia production company, Norcem, Norway’s sole cement producer, and Oslo’s waste management and energy recovery CCS project Klemetsrud. This will thus add immense value for the development of CO2 capture technologies in Norway and throughout the EU. For further details see here.
Surprising vote in Parliament
The call for more and quicker government action with regards to climate goals has intensified since a court ruling against the Dutch state, which demanded a 25% emissions cut by 2020.
The motion was initiated by the liberal party D66. Arguing that radical action is to be taken in order to reach the objectives of the Paris Agreement, D66 leader Alexander Pechtold was able to gather enough votes (77 to 72) for the motion to pass. Together with the Labour Party, which is a coalition partner of the more conservative VVD, D66 hopes that the country’s centre-right government will implement the non-binding motion soon.