“It is particularly ironic that the battle to save the world's remaining healthy ecosystems will be won or lost not in tropical forests or coral reefs that are threatened but on the streets of the most unnatural landscapes on the planet.”- Worldwatch Institute. 2007

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

October 2nd Dutch carbon emissions and the Waterboard

Holland is the smallest country I’m visiting, and the most densely populated (double that of the UK). It’s also got a low level of urbanistaion (only spacious Sweden has less) which is apparent on cycling along it’s flat roads through a relatively busy countryside with no great expanses of wilderness. Take all this into account and the fact that they’re practically underwater, it’s understandable that the Netherlands has the highest CO2 emissions per head of population (10.82tonnes/annum compared to our 8.32). They still beat us on percentage of energy generated from renewables (based on the last international energy agency figures which are for 2004) although we’re both so pitifully low that it hardly seems a competition worth having. Their carbon emissions per household are low though. This could be attributed to a large use of natural gas – their governmental policy for energy at one time was that they should use as much of their natural gas as possible before nuclear became the norm, when it would be worthless. Still getting by on their domestic reserves they have more recently decided that it’s price should be linked to that of oil and taxed it accordingly and so prices have climbed steeply over the last few years. The revenue they get from this is not channeled into subsidies for energy efficiency or renewables and so there is low uptake. From what I understand so far the subsidies sound a little like the domestic half of the low carbon building programme – a laughably low amount gone within hours of being opened to applications. Also feed in tariffs have no certainty with the government changing it’s mind too frequently to give anyone the confidence to install on their account.
Performance on other areas of sustainability seems patchy, especially waste and recycling. One area they excel, of course, is drainage. It seems crazy to me that a country that logistically speaking, ought to be under the sea, doesn’t worry about rising sea levels. There are Indonesian islands further above the waves who are already making mass evacuation plans for when it happens. ‘We have great faith in our dykes’ a Dutch friend tells me when I ask. Their Waterboard, I am told, is ‘older than the British Royal family’ (bet it’s not older than their combined ages) and ‘the oldest democratic establishment in Europe’, dating from the 9th century. They have some interest in rising sea levels it would seem as they’re investing one billion euros a year into researching it (per year for the next century), government funded. ‘Until the government changes it’s mind?’ I ask, thinking of the feed in tariffs. They laugh – no no – this is the Waterboard, they say how much they need, and they get it. They have the power to stop any project at any time, without question, although they don’t exercise it as a matter of course. It may be the case that engineers secretly rule the world in other places but here in Holland, it’s the Waterboard.

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