Rotterdam, Striving to Be Green, Downplays CO2 Targets

First of a five-part series on Rotterdam’s efforts to become a sustainable and “climate-proof” city. REVISED AND UPDATED, 11-11-16.

Evening view of Rotterdam skyline and waterfront with the suspension cables of the city’s emblematic Erasmus Bridge illuminated against the sky.

Rotterdam, the Netherlands—Although it is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, Rotterdam—the Netherlands’ second largest metropolis—no longer tries to rally the public behind its carbon dioxide reduction goals.

“It’s a very deliberate political decision,” said the city’s climate program director, Paula Verhoeven. The city focuses instead on air quality, noise pollution, energy efficiency and other measures of sustainability. “There is no target on CO2 emissions at the moment,” Verhoeven stated.

“When you talk to the public about CO2 emissions,” she said, “it doesn’t appeal very much. . . it’s very abstract.” Instead, the city talks about making its buildings, industries, and transport systems cleaner and more energy efficient.

“Of course,” added Verhoeven, “we do have a target on all these other things that we do, and we thereby reduce our level of CO2 emissions.

“People want a clean environment, Verhoeven said. “They want healthy air quality. They want low-energy bills. They want a green city. They want affordable houses. They want nature in their city. Those are all elements that help in fighting climate change and in making Rotterdam a more sustainable place.”

The city is endeavoring to create a low-carbon economy by focusing on three sectors: industry, the built environment, and transportation. The city’s industrial sector is currently CO2-intensive and in 2010 produced 88 percent of the city’s CO2 emissions.

Before the city opted to stop highlighting its CO2-reduction goals, its plan was to cut CO2 emissions 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2025. The achievement of that ambitious goal, however, was predicated on the viability of an experimental and commercially unproven technology known as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

Despite warnings from critics that the technology was immature and risky, city officials allowed two new coal plants to be built in the Port of Rotterdam on the theory that their emissions would be captured and reinjected into depleted oil and gas fields beneath the North Sea.

But the technology is not operating and experts have concluded that the Rotterdam Climate Initiative’s CO2 goal will not be achieved. To do so, the city would have to reduce its CO2 emissions by 17.5 million tons a year, according to a study on CCS and the initiative. The city’s pilot CCS project, however, is currently designed to only capture 1.4 million tons a year, according to data from the port of Rotterdam. Faced with the slow and uncertain roll-out of CCS technology, the city has abandoned its carbon reduction commitment.

Offshore CO2 Storage

Rotterdam plans to lower its industrial emissions by pursuing the following practices:

· reducing energy consumption,

· sharing residual heat,

· creating more renewable energy generating capacity,

· co-firing biomass with fossil fuel,

· using bio-based materials in the chemical industry, and eventually some industrial carbon capture and storage

The combination of the city’s concentration of energy-intensive industry and the presence of empty oil and gas fields just offshore in the North Sea is ideal for a major CCS demonstration project.

A consortium of 11 Rotterdam businesses is developing a regional CCS pipeline that will link industries producing lots of CO2 to potential offshore CO2 storage facilities. Known as the Rotterdam Capture and Storage Demonstration Project (ROAD), it is one of the world’s largest CCS demonstration efforts.

Rotterdam 2042

Rotterdam might be said to be a city that “makes no little plans.” Its goal is to be the most sustainable port city of its kind—pleasant, safe, and healthy, with a flourishing economy.

In addition to its carbon storage program, its air quality and noise reduction efforts, and its vigorous promotion of energy efficiency in the corporate and residential sectors, the city is already also boosting its renewable energy production, developing non-fossil fuel feedstocks for its chemical industry, and encouraging the trading and use of sustainable biomass.

Modern architecture of Rotterdam’s Binnenrotte neighborhood including the city’s new market hall.



In Rotterdam’s strategic sustainability and climate plan, Investing in sustainable growth, Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb and Vice Mayor for Sustainability Alexandra van Huffelen declare that by 2042, “Rotterdam . . . will have been transformed into a system of recycling streams of water, energy, raw materials, goods and waste products: a network of information and knowledge, of synergy and vigor…”

“Compared to today, twice as many people will live in the inner city, but the impact on the environment will be minimal. In 2042, Rotterdam will be an attractive city which offers high-quality living, working and mobility.”

According to the mayor and vice mayor, this vision of next-generation Rotterdam, “fits in with what many of the people of Rotterdam consider to be the most important motivation in their lives: a better future for their children and grandchildren and for future generations.

“Our task,” the Mayor and Vice Mayor said, “is to ensure that the world is not squandered but is carefully managed and passed on to those who come after us.”

“For us,” they explain, “sustainable development means meeting current requirements without jeopardizing the potential for future generations of inhabitants of Rotterdam.”

They intend the people of Rotterdam to ultimately “feel much happier living, working, studying and spending their leisure time in a healthier and more child-friendly city.”

To learn more about how Rotterdam is executing its long-range climate change and sustainability plans, see parts 2-5 of our ongoing series of articles on the city’s sustainability efforts.

Dutch Wind Power Proponents Face Opposition


Amsterdam, The Netherlands—For the past nine years, a Dutch cooperative wind power project in Amsterdam has been stalled by regulations imposed by political opponents.

The project was initiated in 2007 by local co-op Onze Energie along with venture partner NDSM Energy and other wind co-ops. It would be the largest project involving Windvogel, a democratically run citizens’ wind energy co-op of 3,300 members. If successful, the project could supply enough power for thousands of Amsterdam households and all 400 companies on its proposed location, Amsterdam’s NDSM Wharf.

After nine years of collaborative effort, the coalition has learned how time-consuming the planning and political process for wind energy development in the Netherlands can be.

In addition to meeting national environmental regulations, the project, like other wind farms in North Holland, has to meet stringent and, some would say unnecessary, additional provincial statutory requirements. The province requires that wind farms must consist of at least six turbines, each sited at least twice as far from residential areas as national laws require. For each new wind turbine, developers must also buy and retire two old turbines.

Although NDSM Energy and its partners cannot meet all the provincial statutory requirements, the co-ops have decided to seek an exemption from these regulations and apply for a license anyway, with the support of the Amsterdam city council, which owns the proposed project site.

In May 2016, NDSM representing itself and its citizen co-op alliance, submitted a license application for its 15 MW wind project near the NDSM Wharf. Provincial authorities later reversed the permit, claiming jurisdiction over wind projects on their territory.

“The province actually limits the number of wind turbines that Dutch people can put in North Holland,” NDSM Director Martijn Pater said. When the conservative-liberal political party VVD won control of the provincial government in 2011, “they actually promised the voters that they will put up as few wind turbines as possible…. They don’t believe in sustainable energy because it is heavily subsidized.”

According to Pater, the province has blocked NDSM from building a turbine for which it had strong local support, a city permit, and federal subsidies. The turbine would have been the first of the six-turbine NDSM-Windvogel project. Four of the project’s turbines would be sited along a highway near NDSM, and two would be along the waterfront.

This experience exemplifies the difficulties that citizens of the Netherlands have encountered in trying to help the nation meet its clean energy goals.

NDSM, joined by the City of Amsterdam, took the provincial government to court last November. The Environment Department for the North Sea Canal Area is currently reviewing the Amsterdam Wind and NDSM application along with others, and the province expects to issue its first licenses in 2017.

“Although politics and restrictive government policies can be a frustrating phenomenon,” NDSM Projects Manager Keijen van Eijk observed, “I think the bottom-up movement of citizens and businesses is here to stay and plays a crucial role in the energy transition.”

*This article was published at Renewable Energy World on Aug. 31, 2016

Sustainable Amsterdam — Port Embarks On A Clean Energy Transition

Fourth of a four-part serieson Amsterdam’s efforts to become a more sustainable city.


Westhaven, Amsterdam’s western harbour area. Image by JVHERTUM.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands — Change is coming to the Port of Amsterdam. The Port is seeking to become one of Europe’s most sustainable ports.

Competing ports are modernizing and these days, that means reducing their environmental impacts. So Amsterdam must do the same to remain competitive.

The Port is part of the World Port Climate Initiative, which launched in 2008 when 55 ports from around the world signed the World Port Climate Declaration at the encouragement of the C40 Climate Cities Leadership Group, with support from theClinton Climate Initiative.

Amsterdam is the fourth busiest port in Europe in cargo tonnage, has 350 employees, and an annual investment budget of 10-15 million. More than 2,000 companies use the port every year and generate 6 billion in revenue. Companies in the port area employ 55,000 people.

The Port is thus not only of substantial economic importance to the city of Amsterdam, but to the Netherlands as well.

Like every major world port, Amsterdam has many opportunities to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). According to the port’s Vision 2030 statement, the port seeks to become “an innovative hub for [an] energy transition [and a] circular and biobased economy,” that will create jobs, new products and value-added, in partnership with the surrounding community.

(A bioeconomy means an economy based on the use of renewable biological materials―from fields, forests, and oceans―for producing food, energy, and industrial raw materials.)

Cooperating with the Inevitable
Jan Egbertsen has worked at the port for 20 years and previously was responsible for energy transition-related business development. Now he is the port’s project manager for innovation logistics business development.

“We have to change,” Egbertsen said. “The world around us is changing. We can’t wait until companies in the port area change. Sometimes you have to take the lead.”

So the port is now reducing its CO2 emissions, reusing materials (read: creating a circular economy), generating and cogenerating clean energy, and implementing the aforementioned biobased and circular economy.

The port therefore now functions not only as a catalyst for green development, but as an incubator, funder, innovator, research and development entity, and business partner for sustainable enterprises.

Harvesting the Wind
Private companies have installed 65 MW of wind power in the port area, making it one of the largest onshore wind power parks in the Netherlands. The port is hoping to reach 100 MW of capacity in the next two to three years.


A project team has been working with the Port Authority on developing new windmills as well as upgrading older models since 2015. The port plans on increasing wind production from 64.2 MW to 100 MW. Image by Port of Amsterdam.

Because the wind park sometimes produces more power for the grid than the market demands, the port is studying the possibility of using surplus wind and solar power to generate hydrogen for buses and is exploring other methods of energy storage, including flywheels and batteries.

Under the Netherlands’ national grant program for sustainable energy known as SDE+, wind energy producers receive federal price support for 12 years in the form of a guaranteed minimum price for each unit of energy produced.

Support for projects at the port can come from the Amsterdam Climate and Energy Fund, from North Holland’s provincial Sustainable Economy Funds, and from the port’s own funds.

Moving Collaboratively Toward a Biobased Economy
As a facilitator of green development, the port is working with the city’s local waste incinerator, water company, and sewage company to produce renewable energy in the form of biogas. All the firms are sited within the port’s boundaries.

The Amsterdam Waste Incineration Plant currently cogenerates heat and power from the city’s municipal refuse. The power is fed into the grid, and the heat is used for district heating.


The Amsterdam waste management company AEB converts 99 percent of the 1.4 million tons of municipal and industrial waste it receives annually into sustainable energy and raw materials. Image by AEB Amsterdam.

The port currently leases space to Orgaworld, a company that takes in fruit and fatty waste from restaurants, groceries, and other businesses to make biodiesel fuel. The port is also home to two other bioplastics companies: Plantics and Avantium.

Plantics is conducting research with the University of Amsterdam to make biodegradable bioplastics. Avantium, a spinoff of Shell Oil, in partnership with Coca-Cola, is using bacteria to produce lactic acid from CO2 and sunlight for non-biodegradable biobased bottles.

While the port can partner with biobased companies, “we as a port authority,” Egbertsen said, “don’t produce bioeconomy products nor do we have extensive knowledge about the technology and market.”

Years ago, ports used to function primarily as landlords providing space for companies to conduct their industrial activities, Egbertsen explained.  Now, however, modern ports, can be innovative and proactive.

The Port of Amsterdam thus increasingly sees itself as a prospective matchmaker capable of bringing together companies active in the biobased economy and that handle biomaterials with start-ups that have innovative new biobased technologies.

Therefore the port in the future conceivably might be interested in developing a project, such as a biomass power plant, in partnership with companies who want to produce bioplastics.

Greening the Future―and the Future Bottom-Line
To nurture still more new green technology companies, the port has just opened a new incubator known as Prodock that provides start-up companies in energy, biomaterials, and the circular economy with space to operate pilot plants.

In a circular economy, economic processes are planned and designed to operate without waste or pollution so that neither biological nor inorganic materials used are wasted.

After use, the biological materials flows can ideally be safely returned to the environment or reused as feedstock in another production process. Similarly, engineered materials are designed from the start for eventual reuse in a subsequent production process or application.

Thus the circular economy differs from an economy dependent on recycling. The former plans its production intentionally to avoid waste. By contrast, a system reliant on recycling often creates waste as an integral part of its production process in the hope that a portion of it may eventually be recycled.

One of the reasons that Amsterdam and other ports are interested in nurturing a “bioeconomy” is because biomass is a bulky raw material, and the port already has terminals that handle it.

These terminals are currently handling coal and oil among other cargo, but as the European economy shifts toward renewable fuels, fossil fuel cargo will ultimately be replaced at some time in the future.


Amsterdam container terminals. Image by Joost J. Bakker.

Lots of commodities are already being recycled in the Port of Amsterdam today, including paper, scrap metal, concrete, and tires. Both recycling and the biobased economy depend on economies of scale, and the port helps companies to concentrate large volumes of these raw materials.

Thus, by diverse means, the port is trying to do its share to reduce its carbon footprint and usher in a greener and more sustainable economy.

*This article was published at The Huffington Post on Aug. 3, 2016

Sustainable Amsterdam — Ambitious Electric Mobility, District Heating, and Circular Economy Goals

Third of a four-part series on Amsterdam’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and become a more sustainable city.


Cyclists crossing one of Amsterdam’s many bridges. Image by Jorge Royan.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands — How did Amsterdam formulate its ambitious climate and energy planning programs, stealing a march on many other cities?

During a wide-ranging interview last fall, Peter Paul Ekker, spokesman for Amsterdam Alderman Abdeluheb Choho, vice mayor for sustainability, described the city’s ambitious sustainability goals and why Amsterdam is so receptive to innovative climate-protection programs.

Ekker explained to me that Amsterdam has had a municipal climate agency since 2006, long before most other cities, and that same year also embarked on its first intensive studies of climate and energy .

Those studies culminated in a 2010 report, Amsterdam: A Different Energy: 2040 Energy Strategy. Over the next four years, the city council and vice-mayors led the city in creating and implementing a clean energy strategy that included goals for energy efficiency, as well as for solar and wind power.

Fertile Ground for Innovation
Ekker believes Amsterdam has high sustainability aspirations partly because “there’s a lot of creativity and entrepreneurship” in Amsterdam and partly because the city has universities, a high-tech community, and “people with bright ideas.”

“If you come with a new idea” in Amsterdam, Ekker asserts, “everybody is open to it. This is also why the city council has quite unanimously supported working on climate change and climate mitigation.”

Since 2014, the city has begun to hit its stride, scaling up programs and, according to Ekker, focusing on getting results across the board while developing and refining policy instruments.To an observer, the city also appears to be blessed with good leadership.

Winning Popular Support
A big reason why climate mitigation has strong public support in Amsterdam, Ekker explained, is that the municipality rallies support for climate mitigation not by trying to debate the impacts of climate change or scare the public, but by calling its climate policies “sustainability measures” and underscoring their economic and public health benefits.


Municipalities in Amsterdam rally support for sustainability measures by emphasizing their economic and public health benefits. Image by Edwin Van Eis.

“Our analysis is that the public in general doesn’t need convincing on the need for mitigation measures, but it does need examples and solutions on how to become a sustainable economy,” Ekker said.

The city therefore talks about what is technologically possible and cost-effective along with the co-benefits of sound climate policies, including cleaner air, fewer respiratory problems, and a more livable environment.

Thus, for example, the city’s policies on electric vehicles (EVs) are not “climate change-driven,” Ekker notes. Support for those policies is borne of concern about public health.  Of course, the net results benefit the climate, too.

Moving away from fossil fuels also has real economic benefits, and “we are not afraid to celebrate that,” Ekker says. These benefits include attracting large companies, like Tesla, to Amsterdam. The electric auto maker now has its European headquarters in the city, and Ekker attributes this in part to the fact that, “we are frontrunners in electric cars and electric transport.”

Carrots and Sticks: Subsidies and Regulation
Amsterdam is also discouraging the use of inefficient fossil fuel vehicles by establishing restricted “environmental zones” from which older, less efficient vehicles are barred. “Dirty trucks, dirty cars, [and] motorcycles in the future, will not be allowed to enter the city anymore,” Ekker stated.

Apart from imposing progressively tighter regulations on polluting vehicles, the city also provides incentives to encourage the switch to EVs.

“Public transport is going to be totally electric by 2025,” he declared. Some businesses have already opted to have their delivery trucks drive to the edge of the city using fossil fuels and then transfer to an EV because it’s cheaper to enter the city in an EV.  This, Ekker believes, could be a model for other cities.


Amsterdam plans for its public transit to be emission-free by 2025. Image by Jan Oosterhuis.

The city is currently changing from diesel to electric buses and has 40 electric buses on order for delivery within three years. Ultimately, all Amsterdam’s public transport will be emission-free.

By 2025, all the city’s taxis will have to be electric.  The city’s taxi fleet will have gradually worn out by then and been replaced by electric taxis. “Technology is coming to our aid,” Ekker observed.  “In two or three years, you’re going to have a fine Tesla for $35,000 [that will be] comparable to any taxicab that you buy now.” The electric vehicle, however, will be cheaper to maintain and operate than a fuel-burning car.

Amsterdam also has a subsidy program for EVs and provides five or six thousand euros to a business buying an electric van and up to 40,000 to a business buying a large, heavy electric truck.


Amsterdam has a subsidy program to encourage businesses to buy an electric truck.

What motivates people to want an electric vehicle in Amsterdam and the Netherlands? “Even if you don’t believe in climate change,” Ekker notes wryly, “you still can believe in a great Tesla car. . . .”

In addition, EV owners in Amsterdam also get EV tax credits and avoid the increasingly onerous regulations being applied to fossil fuel vehicles in the city. . In fact, those with the dirtiest vehicles will not be granted city parking permits at all.

Finally, fuel costs in the Netherlands and Europe are far higher than in the U.S., which makes EVs even more attractive economically. Gasoline in the Netherlands now costs $1.80 per liter ($6.80 per gallon).

Moreover, as part of a city noise abatement policy, commercial vehicles are not allowed to come into the city center on Sunday, unless they are electric. (Electric vehicles make less noise than fossil fueled vehicles for city center dwellers to endure.)

A Clean and Circular Economy
Cycling is a big part of Amsterdam’s clean transport story. There are more bikes than people in Amsterdam. “More and more we’re biking,” Ekker said, and the city is increasing the number of green bike ways separated from the roadway.

Amsterdammers are also solicitous of their next generation. “All schools will have green roofs, solar panels, [and] good insulation,” Ekker said. Green roofs insulate the building, reducing the need for heating and cooling. They thereby improve air quality along with occupants’ comfort. “It’s a win-win situation.”

The city has a whole set of clean energy targets. For example, it plans to increase the number of households with rooftop solar generators from 5,000 to 80,000 by 2020 while it expands the city’s wind power generating capacity from 67 MW to 85 MW. The challenge Amsterdam faces in this regard is that whereas many residents are interested in solar, relatively few have suitable roofs.


While Amsterdam does plan on increasing the number of solar generators, many residents do not have suitable roofs to install one. Image by Edwin Van Eis.

Since the spring, the city has therefore been working with owners of large factory and commercial roofs to arrange for them to lease their roofs to residents for solar generation. The city has even arranged for the siting of residential solar collectors on the roof of a metro station.

Amsterdam has also become a strong proponent of the “circular economy” once the city realized that it could replace a third of the building materials it used every year by recovering and reusing building materials.“But to do that,” Ekker said, “you need to build smart,” by which he means constructing buildings so they can be more easily recovered once the building has reached the end of its useful lifespan.

In addition, all concrete that the city will be using in the future is going to be recycled. That will be “a huge CO2 reduction,” Ekker says. In contracting with developers for buildings in Amsterdam, 30 percent of a prospective project’s rating is based on its sustainability score. High-risk projects get loans from the city’s new 50 million sustainability fund.

Amsterdam is already reusing municipal waste to co-generate heat and power for residents in northern and western Amsterdam. The waste is collected and delivered to a central incinerator with advanced pollution controls. Heat from the plant is distributed to households in large insulated pipes, replacing individual gas furnaces.

Excess heat from a gas-fired power plant on the east side of Amsterdam in Diemen serves residents in the city’s southern and eastern quadrants. Meanwhile, the city plans to create a regionwide heat network, extending from its Tata Steel smelter on the North Sea shore in Ijmuiden 25 km west of Amsterdam to the city of Almere, 25 km east of Amsterdam.

All told, Amsterdam plans to have 102,000 homes on district heating by 2020 and 240,000 by 2040. Geothermal heat sources and surplus heat from urban greenhouses where flowers and vegetables are grown will provide heat to the regional heat-network.

Amsterdam has clearly built a public consensus favoring its ambitious energy and climate program by emphasizing its health and economic benefits.  Rather than focusing on the problem of climate change and arguing about the severity of climate impacts, city leaders chose to focus on the opportunities that ambitious solutions offered, particularly the money that could be saved or earned. “We are really focused on solutions,” Ekker said, “because that’s where we can make an impact.”

*This article was published at The Huffington Post on Aug. 2, 2016

Sustainable Amsterdam — Mobilizing for A Clean, Prosperous Future

This is the second of a four-part series on Amsterdam’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and become a more sustainable city. It highlights Amsterdam’s plans to slash its greenhouse gas emissions 75 percent by 2040.


Residential and commercial neighborhoods of Amsterdam stretch as far as the eye can see along Prinsengracht, the longest of Amsterdam’s four main canals. Image by International Energy Agency.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands — Amsterdam has set forth ambitious aspirations to slash its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). In Amsterdam: A Different Energy: 2040 Energy Strategy (2010), the city outlines its intention to become sustainable by 2040, emitting only a quarter as much GHG as in 1990. If Amsterdam succeeds, its emissions would be 15 percent below the European Union’s 60 percent emissions-reduction goal for 2040.

Municipal officials see the city’s 2040 GHG target as a milestone that must be attained if the city is to reach an 80 to 90 percent reduction in GHG by 2050. City leaders have long recognized, however, that achieving the 2050 goal will be a lengthy process requiring broad cooperation as well as patience and perseverance.

That’s why city officials have made it a practice for almost a decade to reach out to the business sector, government, and civil society groups to build a broad social consensus in favor of the city’s new energy and climate strategy.

A Broad Sustainability Vision
What’s especially interesting about Amsterdam’s sustainability vision is the way it integrates economic and social aims with environmental and climate goals. Thus, as Amsterdam plans to phase out fossil fuels to usher in a clean-energy future, the city anticipates that the transition will bring a broad range of co-benefits, rather than unrequited costs.


Less than half of Amsterdam’s citizens report a passenger vehicle as their primary mode of transportation. Image by International Energy Agency.

That’s because the same steps that Amsterdam must take to reduce and ultimately eliminate fossil fuels will also improve Amsterdam’s air quality, reduce its traffic congestion, make its buildings more comfortable, render its workforce more productive, and save its citizens money.

The city’s sustainability vision is panoramic in scope, encompassing the use of public space as well as how energy, water, and material resources can be used more efficiently. For example, the city plans to make greater efforts at recycling urban waste and construction debris.

The goal is to more than double today’s recycling rate by separating 65 percent of urban waste by 2020 into resource flows of glass, paper, plastics, and even textiles. Simultaneously, the city plans on becoming more flood-proof with the help of green roofs and better stormwater management.

City leaders believe that accomplishing all these goals will make Amsterdam a more prosperous, cleaner, quieter, safer, more pleasant, and more affordable place to live. These improvements will help make Amsterdam a more socially diverse, inclusive, and sustainable city.

If successful, city leaders will also reduce both the cost and quantity of energy used per person and the carbon dioxide each inhabitant emits.

Dual Motivation for Change
The move toward sustainability has both an approach and an avoidance dimension. Amsterdam’s leaders are drawn toward a vision of Amsterdam as a clean, prosperous, and sustainable city, while simultaneously wanting to avoid the problems that fossil fuel dependency entails.

These include air and water pollution, price volatility, and limited fuel reserves, hence the looming threat of eventual fuel shortages and price increases. Renewable energy, by contrast, is ever-present; virtually nonpolluting during operation, and inherently more predictable in price. In addition, its prices have been dropping steeply for several decades and in many places are at parity or cheaper than new fossil fuel power.


Amsterdam plans to have 4,000 public electric vehicle charging stations by 2018.

City leaders foresee that their sustainability plans will thus provide a bulwark against an eventual era of fossil fuel scarcity and higher prices. The Netherlands has been drawing down its once-abundant natural gas supplies for some time now and will have to start importing natural gas by 2025, as will much of the EU.

Two additional factors are increasing Dutch political support for renewable energy. In Groningen province, where most of the Netherlands’ natural gas is extracted, gas wells are being blamed for severe earthquakes over the past four years. Historic monuments, including 800-year-old churches, have been damaged, and Groningen residents have demanded a halt to gas production. If that happens, the Netherlands would become more dependent on Russian natural gas, a dependency which is politically unpopular.

Accentuating the Positive
By reducing the need for fossil fuels, Amsterdammers expect that investments in modern, efficient, clean energy systems will ultimately pay for themselves in energy cost savings for citizens and corporations. They see this as a “win-win” that will render the city more pleasant and healthier in the near-term, while insuring that, in the long-term, future energy supplies stay affordable and predictable in price.

Amsterdam’s leaders have also understood that clean air and clean water are essential if the city is to be habitable, sustainable, and attractive to residents and businesses in the future. They know that a clean environment is intrinsically more attractive than a polluted one and that it is not only compatible with economic prosperity, but conducive to it.


Deloitte Ltd.’s Amsterdam headquarters received the Building Research Establishment’s highest sustainability rating ever for an office building. Image by Ronald Tilleman.

Chic, modern, energy-efficient buildings are more pleasant for occupants and command higher prices than older, inefficient units. All else being equal, property values will be higher in a clean, well-managed city with good public transport, compared to a city where public infrastructure has been allowed to decay and fossil fuel industries’ dominance remains unchallenged.

The Amsterdam perspective on the economic and lifestyle benefits of a clean-energy transition are in sharp contrast to the view promulgated by people who juxtapose environmental protection against economic growth and attempt to link clean energy with higher energy prices, privation, and economic distress.

By contrast, in Amsterdam: A Different Energy: 2040 Energy Strategy, the city’s aspirational climate and energy strategy study, city leaders declare that “being a leader in transitions that affect the basic facilities and infrastructure of the city, such as energy and communication, creates extra jobs, economic growth and an open playing field for innovation, thereby helping to move the city into the future.”

They therefore plan to mitigate GHG emissions while preparing the city to withstand the inevitable effects of climate change.

*This article was published at The Huffington Post on Aug. 1, 2016

Sustainable Amsterdam — An Ambitious Green Agenda

First of a four-part series on Amsterdam’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and become a more sustainable city.


Residential neighborhood in Amsterdam adjacent to the Amstel River. Image by Miguel Anaya.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands — Knowing that a large and increasing share of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from cities, and that the world is currently projected to warm 4 degrees Celsius by 2100, if not sooner, it is clearly imperative to reduce cities’ GHG emissions.

Cities account for 71-76 percent of global GHGs and a large fraction of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. (The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate puts the number at 85 percent; the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs puts it at two-thirds of the total.)

To get a better understanding of how leading European cities are planning to reduce their GHGs and accommodate to climate change, I traveled to Amsterdam (as well as Rotterdam, Ghent, Copenhagen, and Stockholm) in November 2015 to learn more about their successes and struggles.

Reducing cities’ GHGs to protect the climate may sound like a straightforward, linear process. Just set municipal targets, conduct appropriate studies, create policies, apply them, and watch emissions fall. Amsterdam’s experience as a front-runner in the global race to reduce GHGs, however, reveals that reality is messier

Reaching for Sustainability
To achieve its sustainability plans, the city is collaborating and seeking agreements with industries, supply chain managers, real estate developers, and its bus and taxi companies. It has also established a revolving Sustainability Fund of almost €50 million in addition to an existing €40 million in the city’s Climate and Energy Fund. Organizations needing low-interest loans for sustainable energy projects or for waste reuse-and-recovery efforts, can apply to the new fund.

Through various programs, the city’s energy and environmental agenda, Sustainable Amsterdam, calls for increasing per person renewable energy production 20 percent from 2013 to 2020 while increasing the city’s installed solar energy capacity from 9 MW to 160 MW and reducing overall per person energy use by 20 percent.


Hardy Amsterdam cyclists navigate puddles in Nieuwezijdskolk, central Amsterdam. Image by Edwin Van Eis.

The city is also planning on an 18 MW increase in its installed wind power capacity by 2020―up 27 percent over current levels. (For more on that, watch for “Wind Energy Challenges in the Netherlands,” Huffington Post,forthcoming.) By then, the city plans to improve its air quality by reducing soot emissions by 30 percent and nitrogen dioxide concentrations by 35 percent.

Challenges Remain
While the city is, in general, making good progress on its agenda, some things are somewhat behind schedule. The city government had planned to be energy-neutral by 2015, but hasn’t yet succeeded.

After the goal was established in 2007, not enough money was initially allocated to retrofit the hundreds of city-owned buildings (29 percent of municipal CO2-emissions), or replace 110,000 existing streetlights (45 percent of emissions) with dimmable LED-lights. Thus the goal was postponed in 2013.

Progress toward the goal has increased since last year, however, and the municipality is now on track to reduce its emissions by 45 percent in 2025 (compared with 2012).

The city also had planned to increase its solar generating capacity to 25 MW by 2016 but is only at 16 MW. (That’s still a 78 percent increase over 2013.) And whereas the city was going to drive 2016 per capita energy consumption down by 15 percent, it has only managed to reduce it by six percent relative to 2013.

Electric Transport
Despite these quibbles, lots of good things are being accomplished in Amsterdam, and many ambitious, innovative programs are underway.

To stimulate electric vehicle (EV) demand to reduce air pollution, Amsterdam is increasing the number of its public EV charging stations from 1,000 in 2013 to 4,000 by 2018. (The city currently has 1,900 regular public charging stations and roughly an equal number of private charging points.) There are also fast chargers for taxis.


Electric cars fill Dam Square during car2Go’s Amsterdam launch in 2011. Image by Alphons Nieuwenhuis.

Vehicle owners in Amsterdam who buy an electric car get a public charging outlet in front of their house, and the city plans to give EV drivers more privileges, such as allowing them to deliver goods to stores during hours when deliveries by fossil-fueled vehicles are restricted.

Whereas the city’s taxi and bus companies originally were strongly opposed to the city’s climate and energy program, the city has successfully enlisted the cooperation of both groups. It reached an agreement with its municipal bus company in 2015 to have all-electric bus transport by 2025 and is studying how its municipal ferries can be made cleaner.


A Tesla Model S taxi picks up a passenger at Schiphol, Amsterdam’s international airport. Image by Schiphol Group.

In addition, the hundreds of mostly diesel boats now used for tours through the city’s historic canals have to be electric by 2025.

The city also reached an agreement with its taxi fleet: All taxis within the city will have to be electric by 2025 and, during the transition, electric taxis are getting preferential treatment at certain city taxi stands, so they have to wait less for their fares, making the switch to electricity more profitable.

As part of a deal with delivery companies, Amsterdam will also increase the number of freight transfer hubs on the outskirts of the city. There, gasoline and diesel-powered commercial vehicles are encouraged to transfer cargo to low-emission or zero-emission vehicles and to combine loads to reduce the number of delivery trucks in the city.

Over the seven years from 2013 to 2020, the city intends to increase the number of homes connected to district heating from 62,000 to 102,000 and to provide an €8 million subsidy to one of the city’s public housing corporations to retrofit 1,000 apartments to a zero-net-energy standard. The city hopes that this program will encourage other building owners to follow suit.

Amsterdam’s solid waste is burned in an incinerator to produce heat and power for the city. The electricity goes into the grid, and the heat is distributed to residential and industrial customers. Although the plant burns municipal waste, the city is nonetheless seeking to increase the separated percentage of its solid waste from 19 percent in 2013 to 65 percent in 2020.

Peter Paul Ekker, a spokesman for Amsterdam Alderman (and vice mayor for sustainability) Abdeluheb Choho said that in Amsterdam, there is unanimous support for greening the city and making it more sustainable, “especially since we now also see that it brings new jobs, new wealth, [and] new business opportunities.”

Amsterdam is one of the world’s most politically progressive, socially cohesive, and technologically advanced cities. So the challenges it has encountered in moving toward sustainability should serve as a cautionary tale. Less developed, less well-governed, more fractious societies face far greater obstacles on their paths toward eventual sustainability.

Developing nations are increasing their GHG emissions rapidly today, typically at 5-6 percent per year. These countries and their large, rapidly growing cities, tend to be less homogeneous, less affluent, and less orderly than Amsterdam and other Western European capitals. Their challenges will likely be far greater than those Amsterdam has encountered.

*This article was published at The Huffington Post on July 29, 2016

Netherlands Faces Climate Challenges And Struggles For Consensus

First of a series of articles about the Netherlands’ efforts to increase its reliance on renewable energy and energy efficiency.This article tells how the Netherlands took its first major step toward a sustainable energy future beyond fossil fuels, plus the challenges that remain for the nation and the world.

Panoramic view of the Binnenhof, The Hague, where the Dutch Parliament meets. In 2015, a Dutch federal court in The Hague ordered the government to lower its carbon emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

Panoramic view of the Binnenhof, The Hague, where the Dutch Parliament meets. In 2015, a Dutch federal court in The Hague ordered the government to lower its carbon emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Image by JESTERHAT84.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands― I visited the Netherlands in November of last year as part of a European research trip to learn more about European cities seen as “front runners” in the global effort to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Today, 55 percent of all people on Earth live in cities, and two-thirds of all people or more are expected to be city dwellers in just 34 years, when global population will swell to 9.7 billion, according to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Therefore, unless the world’s cities are able to radically reduce their carbon emissions, it will be impossible for the world to keep greenhouse gas emissions from soaring to dangerous new heights.

Leader and Laggard

The Netherlands would like to be regarded as a pace-setter in clean energy but lags most other nations in the European Union. It currently gets only 5.8 percent of its energy from renewable sources, according to the Netherlands Statistical Bureau (CBS).

However, the capital city of Amsterdam has been making important strides toward sustainability and has ambitious climate goals. The city plans to reduce its carbon emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2025 and 75 percent lower by 2040. (Amsterdam’s efforts will be described in subsequent articles in this series.) Whereas the Netherlands, meanwhile, is striving to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, its climate policy is less ambitious and is marred by controversy.

Boats reflected in an Amsterdam canal, The Netherlands. Image by Geoguessr

Boats reflected in an Amsterdam canal, The Netherlands. Image by Geoguessr.

Breach of Duty

In response to a federal lawsuit in The Hague initiated in 2013 by Director Marjan Minnesma of the Urgenda Foundation and nearly 900 co-defendants, the Dutch government in June 2015 was put under a court order to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, compared with 1990 rates.

The court sided with the plaintiffs’ argument that under Article 21 of the Dutch Constitution and other binding legal documents, including the European Convention on Human Rights, the government’s failure to take more effective action to prevent climate change was breaching its duty to protect its citizens from harm.

Previously, the government’s 2020 goal was an emissions reduction of only 17 percent relative to 1990. It has appealed the decision, but while the case works its way through the appeals process, the government is implementing the ruling.

Eighteenth century windmills, once used to drain Holland’s fenlands (a type of marsh), are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the village of Kinderdijk, the Netherlands.

Eighteenth century windmills, once used to drain Holland’s fenlands (a type of marsh), are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the village of Kinderdijk, the Netherlands.

Reducing Reliance on Coal

Partly as a result of the ruling, the Dutch Parliament voted in November 2015 to phase out the use of coal in the Netherlands, although coal still provided about 40 percent of the nation’s electrical power in 2014. .

Three older coal plants have been shut down since 2014, and two more are now scheduled to close in 2017. However, three new ones with even greater capacity were opened in 2013 and 2014. Seven coal plants are currently operating, and it is not yet clear how long the coal phase-out will take.

N.V. Nuon Energy’s 630 MW Hemweg coal power plant in Amsterdam, built in the 1990s, supplies energy to 3.1 million households. Image by VATTENFALL

N.V. Nuon Energy’s 630 MW Hemweg coal power plant in Amsterdam, built in the 1990s, supplies energy to 3.1 million households. Image by Vattenfall.

A Sustainability Accord

Confronted by criticism over its energy policy and the need to change, the government recognized that it needed business, labor, environmentalists and all segments of civil society on board to create a breakthrough energy policy.

On the initiative of a new coalition government comprised of the liberal-conservative Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie(People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), and the Partij van de Arbeid (Labour Party), the Netherlands in 2012 adopted an Energy Agreement for Sustainable Growthcontaining an energy strategy to guide the country in a transition to a wholly sustainable national energy supply by 2050.

The Agreement was drafted by the country’s multi-stakeholder Social and Economic Council (SEC), comprised of politicians, scientists, and other experts from 40 organizations representing business, labor, the environmental sector, and other civil society groups.

The council advises the Dutch government on important social and economic issues with the goal of helping to insure that social prosperity is not construed solely in terms of material wealth and goods, but also in terms of social welfare and social cohesion.

Clean Energy Goals

Milestones set by the agreement include saving 1.5 percent of the country’s final energy consumption per year and increasing the proportion of the energy supplied by renewable energy from a mere 4.4 percent in 2011 to 14 percent in 2020 and 16 percent in 2023.

Activists such as Greenpeace Netherland’s Director Sylvia Borren view the planned 364 percent increase in renewable generation as a major milestone on the path toward a clean energy economy. “Holland [earlier] had done really badly on all aspects of climate change,” she said, unlike Germany and Denmark.

“A few years ago, Greenpeace managed to stop plans for a new nuclear plant,” Borren noted, and the group would like to see all fossil fuel phased out.

Borren was a pivotal participant in the negotiating process that led to the energy accord, and she shared her insights about the process with me in a far-ranging Amsterdam interview.

The Netherlands has got some of the cleaner and more energy-efficient industries in the world, Borren said, and could be a leader in decarbonization.

Carbon Pricing

“The chemical industry has said to me,” Borren reported, “that if the CO2 price in the European carbon trading market were €50-80, then we have so many good plans lying in our cupboards,” to cut our carbon emissions. But currently, she said, “the CO2 price is €8” and industry is not prepared to invest in them for that reason.

Not only is the European emissions trading scheme not working, Borren asserted, but she called it “a perverse scheme,” no more legitimate, for example, than a system for trading child labor rights.

A child labor trading system, she explained, would provide that if you bought a child labor permit in one area, “you [could] trade child labor rights and have a bit more child labor in another.”

Some important energy efficiency measures have already been adopted in the Netherlands. Laws require that all businesses must implement any cost-effective CO2-saving production method that will pay for itself within five years

“That’s a good law,” Borren said, “but it’s not being being implemented and enforced enough.”

Tough Negotiations

That’s when the Council entered the picture to conduct a collaborative and traditional multi-stakeholder Dutch negotiating and decision-making effort based on the country’s venerable “polder model” to help get results. (See “The Polder Model.”)

Realizing that this forum would play an important role in deciding the nation’s energy future, Greenpeace in 2013 abandoned its customary role as an outsider and decided to join in the process.


The Polder Model

A polder is an area of land reclaimed from the sea by diking. The polder model is a pragmatic, consensus decision-making process that is based on the historic efforts undertaken by Dutch communities from the Middle Ages on to cooperatively build and maintain dikes, both to protect themselves from the sea and to reclaim land for farming and development.

A quarter of the Netherlands lies below sea level. The need for the regular maintenance and repair of dikes and windmills for the pumping of the polders engendered the Dutch habit of cooperation—even across social classes—and a respect for strong governance to manage the polder to prevent disastrous flooding. Cooperation was a matter of life and death.

Today the polder process is internationally known as a way of negotiating a multi-party deal with as little social disturbance, strikes, or top-down government mandates as possible. Labor unions and business groups have used the process to share the impacts of government austerity.

“We have a long history of slow political decision-making through getting all the interested parties in a room and coming to a deal. That’s very much part of our political heritage.” Sylvia Borren explained.

“It is sometimes seen as slow and torturous [but] on the other hand, we do get results with the polder model, because many interested parties have to commit themselves,” she noted.

An array of polders and dikes in the countryside of Grootschermer, the Netherlands. Image by Edward Burtynsky.

An array of polders and dikes in the countryside of Grootschermer, the Netherlands. Image by Edward Burtynsky.


After months of tough negotiations, the Energy Agreement for Sustainable Growthdeal was signed on September 6, 2013, and Borren saw it as a big breakthrough on renewable energy and energy saving.

The deal provides for increases in wind and solar power production, energy conservation, and some 50 sub-goals, including the closure of old coal plants. “We could easily provide all our energy needs by wind and solar with smart grids to flatten out power peaks and troughs,” Borren asserted.

Towards the end of the negotiating process, Greenpeace conducted demonstrations outside Heineken’s and other large multinational Dutch companies to pressure them to support an ambitious agreement.  

“We had other environmental organizations who worked very hard with us on this. We also had a number of green industry leaders who wanted to move faster in the same direction,” Borren said.

Poldering Coalitions

There were many coalitions among the 49 parties to the SEC negotiations, including a green business community coalition and a general business community coalition.

“One of the hardest things of even getting to a deal is that we’re working with coalitions,” Borren said. “The business coalition always listen to the more conservative voices in their huge coalition.” Two major trade unions also participated.

“The real breakthrough came when we managed to put pressure on the big members of the business community coalition to move with us and put more pressure on the [government] ministers.” Final negotiations were thus held with government ministers and state secretaries.

Mandatory vs. Voluntary Compliance

Both the liberal-conservative party and the association representing the business community have not wanted compulsory carbon-reduction measures, Borren said. The environmental community in the Netherlands was willing to give voluntary measures a try, but now believes that compulsory measures are needed.

The current policy of just encouraging business to act through good will but without financial incentives or eventual compulsory requirements “will not produce transformation fast enough,” she said. “I do believe that we are moving in the right direction, but far too slow,” she declared.

 Implementing the Energy Agreement

The main mechanism for achieving the Netherlands’ projected growth in renewable generation under the Agreement was to be the Sustainable Energy Incentive or SDE, revised as SDE+ in 2011. SDE+ is a subsidy payment from the government to renewable energy producers of power, gas, and heat, paid for by a surcharge on consumers’ energy bills.

Known as a feed-in tariff or premium, SDE+ is designed to ensure that renewable energy production is profitable by covering the difference in the price of renewable energy compared with fossil fuel-based energy for 12- or 15-year periods.

To fulfill the agreement’s wind energy goals, the Agreement calls on the nation to scale up its wind capacity. Offshore wind was to grow from about 1,000 MW in 2010 to 4,450 in 2023. Onshore wind—then about 2,000 MW of capacity—was to be tripled by 2020. This was to be done under regulations set by the Netherlands’ provincial governments. But this process has not always gone smoothly.

The 122 MW Zuidlob wind farm in the central province of Flevoland, Netherlands, where most of the country’s wind power is produced. Image by Jan Oelker.

The 122 MW Zuidlob wind farm in the central province of Flevoland, Netherlands, where most of the country’s wind power is produced. Image by Jan Oelker.

(In a forthcoming article, “Wind Energy Challenges in the Netherlands,” [part 5 of the Netherlands series], I will describe some of the problems that people in the Province of North Holland have encountered in expanding the area’s wind capacity in order to move from clean energy planning to reality.)

Lessons Learned

Towards the end of the interview, I asked Borren what she thought the most important lesson was that the world could glean by looking at the process that the Netherlands is going through right now in trying to wean itself from fossil fuels?

“The positive lesson,” she replied, “is that you can get nearly 50 partners around a table and get to a half glass half-full deal. The negative lesson . . . is that when you have a lot of signatures under such a deal, and leadership changes,” then people negotiate backwards after the deal is done.

“[W]e’ve got to have a carrot and a stick in order to keep moving in the right direction. I don’t believe that good will is enough, in terms of the time that we have.” If it was, she added, “we would have had a successful climate deal 25 years ago.”

Borren spends her weekends in a small conservative farming village of 3,000 people outside of Amsterdam. Young people have been leaving, and the community is aging. Borren is encouraged, however, that the village has “re-engaged” some people and now seems to be moving toward a renewable energy economy. “They’re actually revitalizing both the local economy and their social life in a way that’s quite astonishing,” she said enthusiastically.

In the next article of this series, “Sustainable Amsterdam, Part 1—An Ambitious Green Agenda,” I will describe the city’s plans for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

*This article was published at The Huffington Post on July 27, 2016

Crisis in the Cryosphere


The global climate agreement reached in Paris late in 2015, which sets specific targets nations will aim for in limiting emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gas, was widely and justly regarded as a diplomatic triumph.

But the accord never mentions the cryosphere, the frigid regions that include the planet’s polar ice caps; ice fields; mountain glaciers; and permafrost, or perennially frozen soil. Even if the emission-reduction targets are met, it won’t be enough prevent the cryosphere from thawing, tipping us into the sort of climate the world hasn’t seen in 30-50 million years, and certainly not since humans have existed.

A Planetary Freezer

The crucial element in this scenario is permafrost, which is like a giant carbon deep-freeze. If we pull the plug on it by allowing it to thaw, plant matter that has been on ice for ages will decompose, and release carbon dioxide or methane or both into the atmosphere. Those gases will trap extra heat and raise global temperatures beyond what our fossil-fuel-based carbon emissions would do on their own.

The faster these gases emerge from the permafrost, the less carbon human society can release and still keep global temperatures from rising far above the aspirational temperature targets set by the Paris accord. The official goal of the agreement is to limit the increase in global average temperature to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C …”

But that official goal is unrealistic. Modeling by independent climate research groups has shown that the pledges outlined in the agreement would actually result in global average temperature gains of 2.7 °C to 3.5 °C by 2100, with an ultimate peak of 3.4 °C to 4.2 °C by the time Earth’s temperature stopped rising. And that doesn’t include the extra carbon now expected to be released from thawing permafrost. New calculations about the likely extent of those releases was simply too recent to incorporate into the accord.

What the Freezer Holds

“We know that the permafrost contains an enormous amount of carbon,” said Dr. Max Holmes, a senior climate scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, MA. “Twice as much as in the atmosphere and three times as much as all vegetation on Earth.” The more quickly the carbon emerges, the greater the risk of triggering catastrophic climate change.

Models project that 30-70% of the world’s permafrost will thaw this century to a depth of about ten feet. Dr. Sue Natali, a colleague of Dr. Holmes at Woods Hole commented, “It’s going to be a slow release, not an explosion, and it’ll be faster after 2100.” “Once permafrost thaws,” she noted, “there’s no action we can take to stop the release of carbon,” she warned. Unlike temperature changes, cryosphere processes are typically irreversible.

Dr. Natali’s concern is underscored by a recent article in Nature Geoscience showing that the permafrost covering up to two-thirds of the terrestrial Arctic is degrading rapidly, causing major landscape and hydrology changes.

Meanwhile, a new survey of 98 permafrost experts in Environmental Research Letters indicates that we can’t count on the growth of new plants in the Arctic to offset permafrost carbon releases by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, as some researchers had optimistically theorized. Instead, the permafrost region will become a source of extra carbon in the atmosphere by 2100, no matter what warming scenario the world follows.

On the bright side, the survey concluded that up to 85% of the permafrost-region carbon releases associated with a business-as-usual emissions scenario could be avoided, if net global emissions peaked within a decade or so, reached zero by around 2070, and became negative by 2100.

Our Carbon “Headroom”

The world’s permafrost stretches across 24 percent of the Arctic and contains 1.5 trillion tons of carbon. The permafrost could release as much as 130-160 billion tons of carbon just between now and 2100, according to a report from the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (ICC). That would be roughly 100 times the carbon the U.S. annually emits from all fossil fuel and cement production.

Unlike emissions from fossil fuel combustion, emissions from thawing permafrost, in the form of methane and carbon dioxide, amplify themselves by causing extra warming that leads to even more thawing.  In conjunction with society’s other emissions, the permafrost emissions could therefore lead to an out-of-control, self-reinforcing cycle of warming, thawing, further warming, and so on.

When permafrost emissions are included in the global allowable carbon “headroom” budget that the world can still in theory afford to emit and still stay below 2 °C of warming, then according to ICCI permafrost experts, the headroom for human emissions shrinks to only 115 billion tons of carbon, versus the 275 billion tons once presumed.

This means we have far less time to adjust our collective greenhouse gas emissions because we can now emit less than half as much additional carbon as we thought.  We will have to act faster; transition costs to a clean energy economy will be higher; and our technological options will be fewer.

*This article was published at the Scientific American on April 14, 2016

New Yale Study Finds Public Still Deeply Misinformed About Climate Change Risks

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A Yale Study on public perceptions of climate change risk reveals that much of the American public is deeply misinformed about climate change. Researchers with the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication organized their study results into a series of interactive maps that allow viewers to display national polling results by state, congressional district, or county. The study results included the following findings:

  • Only 48 percent of the public agreed that global warming is caused mostly by human activities.
  • Even fewer, only 41 percent, agreed that most scientists think global warming is happening.
  • 48 percent were not worried about global warming.
  • Whereas 42 percent agreed that global warming is already harming people in the U.S., only 34 percent agreed that “global warming will harm me personally” (greatly or moderately).
  • 51 percent agreed global warming will harm people in the US during the next 10 years.
  • 35 percent doubted that global warming will harm people in developing countries.

If only forty-eight percent of Americans believe that global warming is caused mostly by human activities, current educational efforts need to be greatly intensified.   Furthermore, even though many Americans have already been affected by climate change, the fact that only thirty-four percent believe global warming will harm them personally in the future also indicates profound and widespread misunderstanding about climate change

The good news is, seventy-seven percent of Americans agree that government should be funding research on renewable energy, and seventy-four percent agree that the government should regulate CO2 as a pollutant.  Thus, while many Americans remain ignorant about the causes of global warming and the severity of its impacts, they nonetheless support some policy measures that will help mitigate climate change.  Unfortunately, only forty-four percent of Americans favor a revenue-neutral (fully refunded) carbon tax, suggesting that while they support a shift to clean energy, they are unwilling to support any new taxes, even if rebated, that would accelerate the clean energy shift.


Yale Climate Opinion Maps

Largest U.S. Nuclear Power Plant Operator Seeks Carbon Credits to Keep Plants Running

Three Mile Island, one of Exelon’s more famous plants. Image by George D. Lepp

Three Mile Island – one of Exelon’s more well-known nuclear power plants.
Image by George D. Lepp

In a strategic move to obtain carbon credit payments intended for clean energy sources, a major U.S. nuclear power plant operator is asking public officials in Illinois to allow it sell carbon credits to alleviate its financial woes.

Exelon Corp., which operates more nuclear power plants than any other company in the U.S., competes today in its sale of electricity with relatively cheap natural gas. The company saysit may have to close three of its plants in Illinois if the state does not change its rules so that Exelon can sell carbon credits to electricity suppliers in the state.

That would enable Exelon to indirectly secure ratepayers funds intended to promote the production of truly clean and renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and small hydro.

By contrast, nuclear power plants cause carbon emissions during the mining, milling, enrichment, and fabrication of uranium fuel, and they produce highly toxic and carcinogenic radioactive waste in their spent fuel.

They also present unique risks of potentially catastrophic core-meltdown accidents from a variety of causes, including equipment malfunctions, operator errors, terrorist sabotage and attack, or natural disasters, such as earthquakes or tsunami’s. Some of these low-probability, high-consequence events have already occurred on a number of occasions throughout the world.

In a further contrast to truly clean and sustainable power sources like solar and wind, U.S. nuclear power plants use fuel made with uranium-235, a finite fuel that exists in limited quantities. As high-grade ores are depleted, the costs of mining and milling lower grade supplies increases.


Nation’s Biggest Nuclear Firm Makes a Play for Green Money

Three Mile Island at 30: Nuclear Power’s Pitfalls (Image),8599,1888119,00.html