CBS invests in statistics on climate change impacts
/ Author: Gerben Stolk
Collecting climate data should be just as routine for statistical institutes around the world as collecting data on the population or the economy. At least according to senior statistical researcher Arthur Denneman and head of energy statistics Otto Swertz, both of Statistics Netherlands (CBS). They explain how CBS is contributing to achieving this in an international perspective.
A remarkable episode at the COP28 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai at the end of last year: a statistician takes the floor. As far as known, the first time this has happened at a COP climate change conference. The statistician presenting his case was Otto Swertz of CBS, who addressed the role national statistical institutes can play in the realisation of climate goals. The presence of Swertz and Gosia Cwiek– statistician at the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Europe – in Dubai illustrates the growing importance of and changing attitudes towards statisticians in the area of climate change.
Swertz: ‘Very many people are concerned about climate change and its effects. This is one of the reasons politicians set climate goals: for example, the European Union’s aim to be climate neutral by 2050. Statistical institutes can measure the impact of climate change, but they can also measure the effects of climate policy. Our strength is that we measure and publish data that are relevant to society. Data that inform policymakers where we are on the road to reaching the climate goals. This is one of the things I explained in Dubai, in my capacity as chair of an international task force.’
CBS already collects a wide range of climate-related data. Arthur Denneman: ‘We collect data on energy use and economic growth, for example. But mention the term ‘climate’, and many people immediately think of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly CO2. Around the world statistical institutes have not been involved enough in measuring greenhouse gas emissions. To amend this, ten years ago the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe set up a steering group on climate change-related statistics. I have chaired this steering group for the last three years. At the group’s annual network meetings, participants have raised a very diverse range of topics: for example the Paris Climate Agreement (climate goals), energy statistics (CO2 emissions from fuels) and environmental statistics (in relation to the economy).’
Relevant and fit for purpose
What does the steering group aim to achieve? Denneman: ‘Many organisations produce statistics on climate change. As these statistics must be relevant and fit for purpose, the steering group encourages these organisations to compile them in collaboration with the people who use them.’ Swertz adds: ‘These users include staff at government ministries responsible for setting the targets. But also researchers and journalists.’
Collaboration is essential
CBS measures a wide range of climate-related topics. Swertz gives an example: ‘The cause of climate change is CO2 emissions. These can be reduced by cutting back fossil fuel use and increasing the use of renewable sources such as solar and wind energy. CBS monitors this energy transition to lower fossil fuel use.’ Denneman: ‘Other organisations supplement this information. For example, to compute CO2 emissions by Dutch vehicles, CBS has data on litres of fuel sold at petrol stations, while research organisation TNO has calculated emissions per litre of various fuel types. So it is essential that we work together with other organisations. We need each other.’
Higher temperatures, heavier rainfall, longer drought periods. These are just some examples of changes caused by global warming. Like other countries, the Netherlands needs to adapt to these changes. This is what we call climate adaptation. A centuries old example of this in the Netherlands are the dykes that keep our feet dry. Denneman: ‘Last year CBS decided to invest in statistics on both the impacts of climate change and the consequent climate adaptation.’
Heat and mortality
Denneman continues: ‘We are still at the exploration stage, but it is already clear that the statistics will be based on the people, planet, profit dimensions. In the case of profit, for example, we could measure economic loss resulting from extraordinary weather conditions. Planet-related effects could include consequences for biodiversity, and for the people dimension we could examine higher mortality rates among older people during heat waves. During periods of heat, shady green parks are better places to spend time than sun-drenched squares. Will urban planners incorporate more cooling green spaces in the future?’
CBS focuses not only on energy transition and climate adaptation, but also on justice. This is based on the concept that climate adaptation requires fundamental changes; households will no longer have the option to use natural gas to cook and to heat their homes, but will have to install a heat pump or solar panels. ‘Is there a risk that this transition will leave certain groups in society behind?’, wonders Swertz. ‘Vulnerable groups may face high energy bills, while higher income groups – who can afford a heat pump or solar panels – will pay less for their energy. The government has introduced subsidies to help people with the costs of reducing their fossil fuel consumption. But is this money ending up in the purses of the people who need it most? That’s what we mean by justice.’
Swertz: ‘CBS counts the number of households that cannot pay their energy bills. We can link these data to other data. Are these arrears related to income level?’ Denneman adds: ‘And do these households live in poorly insulated rental homes, or are health costs higher for households in poor housing. Everything is connected. For a complex theme like climate change, CBS can help by supplying consistent and coherent data. Facts that matter.’