That clean air must stay

October 25, 2021 by No Comments

The corona crisis affects everything, including climate policy. “According to my personal estimation, the pace of greening has slowed down in many respects. The question is whether companies still have the financial resources for their planned sustainable investments,” says Flevoland deputy Jop Fackeldey (PvdA).

According to him, this does not necessarily mean that sustainability will eventually be delayed. “There are two sides to the coin, because you hear people say that the air has never been so clean. Wait a minute, they see, it’s possible!”

Fackeldey is responsible for the energy transition in Flevoland and also plays an important role in the climate agreement that was concluded last year. As a representative of the provinces, he is involved in the development of the Regional Energy Strategy (RES). The Netherlands is divided into thirty regions that must now indicate where and how much sustainable energy can be produced in their region. That RES is crucial to the success of the climate agreement, and apparently prone to delay. Because the thirty regions had to hand in the draft plans before June 1, but that deadline has been pushed back four months due to the corona crisis.

According to Fackeldey, the regions are “quite far” with their plans, but they have run into difficulties because council meetings and meetings with residents and companies had to be canceled. As a result, consultations about the arrival of solar or wind farms could not take place. “And support is our Achilles heel. I don’t think that will cause any major delays. The regions already submit what they have ready before 1 June, then the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) can look at it.”

However, it will only become clear four months later whether the regions together are doing enough. For example, to achieve the goal that 70 percent of the electricity will be generated sustainably by 2030. Fackeldey: „If all goes well, you will not notice this in 2030. The goals remain the same.”

Tempoverlaging

However, corona can cause extra time pressure. “You really notice a slowdown in all areas. You can see this, for example, in the postponement of insulation work. At some companies, that work has been halved,” says director Olof van der Gaag of the Dutch Association for Sustainable Energy (NVDE), which represents 6,000 companies. “When people get insecure, they play it safe. They postpone everything that is not necessary.”

An NVDE survey published last week shows that almost half of companies expect corona to have a (very) large negative effect on achieving the climate goals. The current impasse can be remedied if the economic recovery is sustainably boosted, says Van der Gaag. “If you are going to stimulate, combine that with sustainability. We missed that opportunity during the financial crisis around 2008. Because we have the climate agreement here, it should become the green answer to the economic side of the corona crisis.”

The government is now investigating a Green Recovery, in response to the crisis. Even before the summer, Minister Eric Wiebes (Economic Affairs, VVD) reported to the House of Representatives this month, it must be clear in what way “the recovery measures can promote the greening of the economy and vice versa”.

Wiebes writes that he is looking for “a recovery strategy that monitors both economic recovery and the energy transition”. For his research, which is separate from the ‘Urgenda measures’ taken last week, the minister asked all key figures in the climate agreement how the economic damage can be repaired with an extra boost for sustainability.

Accelerate heat transition

Maarten van Poelgeest envisions recovery and faster greening. Within the climate agreement, he coordinates the sustainability of houses, schools and offices. By 2030, 1.5 million homes must be off natural gas. “The heat transition of the built environment is very labour-intensive. I can imagine that you will accelerate that transition if there is an economic dip.” He thinks the timing is right. “Even in previous crises you saw stagnation in the new building for a few years. Due to the heat transition, you can offer installation companies an alternative. And you have to do that conversion anyway.”

According to Van Poelgeest, there is no question of a delay in the climate agreement. Policy work still has the upper hand, so many districts are not really getting started.

Pieter van Geel, the ‘agricultural man’ within the climate agreement, observes that little is happening at the moment. “It’s putting out fires, everything is standing still. Look at floriculture, look at horticulture with all its problems due to corona – do you want to start making policy there now?”

According to the former minister, the consequences for the slightly longer term are difficult to foresee. “We recently tried to look at the consequences of corona with chairman Ed Nijpels. Say it. I do not know.”

Van Geel has seen the climate debate in agriculture slow down before, due to the nitrogen problems. “The negative sentiment about the approach in the agricultural sector has not passed the table of the climate agreement,” he says. “At the same time, you see that organizations want to implement many measures because they see the usefulness themselves. Take, for example, the great interest in the buy-out of pig and dairy farms. The positive is also that 80 percent of the nitrogen measures simultaneously contribute to the CO2-reduction.”

According to Commissioner Fackeldey, thinking about a green recovery just at the beginning. “Of course it is good to think about how you include sustainability in – a somewhat loaded word – reconstruction. But what doesn’t help is that you have no idea how long this crisis will last.”

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