The Dutch delivery of Sustainable Development Goal 7
YASH AGARWALA (YOUNG PROFESSIONAL), SUSANNE VAN DER KOOIJ (YOUNG PROFESSIONAL)
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 7:
Verzeker toegang tot betaalbare, betrouwbare, duurzame en moderne energie voor iedereen
Access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and clean energy for all: this is the vision conveyed by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, as part of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN, 2016a). In this article, we will zoom into the Netherlands’ energy transition with regards to SDG7. Our aim is to offer recommendations on how to transition to a sustainable and clean energy system by 2030.
Dutch dynamics within the energy sector
Even though the Netherlands scores highly on access to energy and energy efficiency (Sachs et al., 2016), 94% of its energy consumption still stems from fossil fuels (CBS, 2016). The Netherlands is lagging behind the rest of the European Union in the transition towards sustainable energy (EEA, 2016). Even though the national consumption of natural gas has been decreasing, the consumption of coal has increased, mainly due to the opening of three new coal plants (Argus, 2013; SER, 2013). Therefore, the main challenge for the Netherlands in reaching SDG7 lies with the transition towards sustainable energy (Sachs et al. 2016); defined here as renewable energy derived from hydropower, biofuels, biogas, waste, wind, sun, and geothermal and marine sources (UN, 2016b; MoEA, 2016).
The ambition to reach SDG7 is already partly covered in the Dutch ‘Energy Agreement’ (Lucas et al. 2016), which aims to increase renewable energy use to 14% by 2020 and 16% by 2023 compared to 1990 levels (SER, 2013). Furthermore, based on a ruling of The Hague District Court, the Dutch Government is required to reduce emissions by at least 25% by 2020 (Urgenda, 2016a). The energy sector will be critical in this transition, as 75% of total Dutch emissions are related to this sector (Rijksoverheid, 2016). Additionally, the recently published Energy Report (MoEA, 2016) shows that the Dutch government is willing to enable the transition to sustainability through policies on CO2 reduction, economic opportunities regarding energy transition, and the integration of energy (generation) in spatial planning policy.
However, even with these developments, the share of renewable energy is predicted to stabilize at 12% in 2020 (Schoots & Hammingh, 2015). This is mainly due to the Dutch government, which tries to find consensus and satisfy all parties to whom the required transition will be detrimental (Laes et al., 2014). The absence of a long term action plan with quantifiable targets, and a lack of vigour and a strong position on renewable energies, undermines the desired transition (NVDE,2016). The key question of how the Netherlands will advance towards a sustainable energy system by 2030, still remains.
The Dutch Pathway towards 2030
To fulfill the ambition of SDG7, we argue that a combination of efforts is essential. Firstly, the government should take a leading role in the energy transition. It should develop a more ambitious and long term pathway supported by quantifiable targets, in which fossil fuels are slowly phased out and renewable energy is supported, scaled-up, and made economically viable (NVDE, 2016). However, policy makers should take into account that the potential to generate renewable energy in the Netherlands is relatively low due to limited hours of sun, little space for large projects, and a flat landscape, amongst other things. Therefore, the Dutch government should seize the opportunity to increase its integration with the European energy market. This is essential for the transition process as it can potentially provide the required security of energy supply, as well as the required incentives to reduce emissions (MoEZ, 2016).
On a more national scale, the Netherlands should take into account energy reduction and efficiency, focussing on high consuming sectors. For example, it is necessary to reduce the energy used for industrial process heating, transport, power and light (MoEZ, 2016). Additionally, more knowledge dissemination on energy efficiency practices and applications is needed, as this forms a barrier for increasing energy efficiency (Sauve, 2016). However, it is essential that policy makers do not lose sight of the required shift towards renewable energy. Major long-term steps within this shift are the switch from natural gas consumption to (sustainably sourced) electricity, as well as closing down coal plants. Advancing the storage of energy will complement this transition as it helps to bridge the gap between fluctuating supply and demand.
Additionally, innovation is key for the energy transition (Rijksoverheid, 2016). This innovation is not limited to technological innovation, but includes innovations in business models, the economic system, and a more governance-based approach. The government should support the development of innovations and bottom-up initiatives through economic incentives, the adoption of regulation and legislation in favour of renewable energy, working together with the private sector, and by leading by example on different governmental levels (de Bakker, 2016). Additionally, a shift from large energy producers to individual or community based energy production is necessary, for instance through solar rooftops (Tesla, 2016), a community owned windmill (Windcentrale, 2016), and buying energy directly (VanDeBron, 2016).
To conclude, for a plan to succeed, it must combine strong leadership, decisiveness from government, governance from the civil society, and innovation by the private and public sectors. Only in this way can we foster the desired transition towards sustainable and clean energy by 2030.
Susanne has a background in Environmental science & Economics, and has just received her master’s degree in Sustainable Development and Environmental Governance (University of Utrecht). Her master thesis focused on the advancement of electric mobility in developing countries. The last couple of years, she had been working in the development sector focussing on sustainable cocoa and chocolate. Her most recent occupation involved the coordination and development of a journal on sustainable cocoa for ViceVersa, a journalistic platform for international cooperation in global challenges. Additionally, Susanne acts as a discussion leader and moderator for ViceVersa.
I studied Mechanical Engineering for my bachelors, which I have complimented with a MSc. Sustainable Energy Technology from Delft University of Technology. I specialize in the energy and society track and am currently pursuing my thesis on Energy Transition in the Caribbean Islands through Backcasting. I strongly believe in policy creation through stakeholder engagement, and therefore believe that, this is what is essentially lacking; a strong and comprehensive public policy package. Therefore, in the past I worked at the Youth event (COY11) which was a precursor to the COP21 to co-author the SDG7 Section of the COY11 Manifesto. Earlier, I have been involved in attending student energy conferences and also winning the Smart Energy Challenge of the NRG Battle, 2014. Apart from this I have been active, over the years, in various roles in helping improve Delft University of Technology.
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