What is the scale of greenhouse gas emissions?

Annual emissions of greenhouse gases stood at 158 megatonnes of CO2 equivalents in 2022. That was 8 percent lower than in 2021 and 31 percent lower than in 1990. One megatonne of CO2 equivalents has the same effect as emitting one megatonne of carbon dioxide (= 1 billion kilograms of CO2). CO2 emissions in 2022 were 22 percent lower than in 1990, while in 2010, they were 11 percent higher than 1990 levels.

Meanwhile, total emissions of other greenhouse gases (methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases) were 56 percent lower in 2022 than they were in 1990. They had already been almost halved by 2010 (-46 percent). The share of CO2 in total greenhouse gas emissions rose from 73 percent in 1990 to 85 percent in 2010, before falling back to 83 percent in 2022.

The Urgenda target was for emissions in 2020 (and beyond) to be at least 25 percent lower than 1990 levels. This target was achieved in 2020 (-26.2 percent), but narrowly missed in 2021 (-24.9 percent), before being missed by a wider margin in 2022 (-30.8 percent). There was a significant reduction in natural gas consumption in 2022 due to the higher price of gas.

Greenhouse gas emissions
 Carbon dioxide (megatonnes of CO2 equivalent)Methane (megatonnes of CO2 equivalent)Nitrous oxide (megatonnes of CO2 equivalent)Fluorinated gases (megatonnes of CO2 equivalent)Urgenda target (megatonnes of CO2 equivalent)Climate agreement target (megatonnes of CO2 equivalent)
Source: CBS, RIVM / Emissions registration

What do the calculations include?

Greenhouse gas emissions were calculated according to the regulations in the Kyoto Protocol, as established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This excludes greenhouse gas emissions from international air and maritime transport and from biomass. In order to calculate total emissions of the various gases, the emissions of each gas were converted into megatonnes of CO2 equivalent based on their global warming potential (GWP). This is the degree to which a gas contributes to the greenhouse effect. The IPCC defines the GWP to be used for each gas.

New GWP factors have been in use since mid-September 2022 as a result of new IPCC rules. The GWP of methane (CH4) has been increased (factor 28 as opposed to 25), while nitrous oxide (N2O) has a lower GWP (factor 265 instead of 298). The GWP for fluorinated gases has also been adjusted.

Greenhouse gas emissions by sector
 1990 (megatonnes of CO2 equivalent)2005 (megatonnes of CO2 equivalent)2020 (megatonnes of CO2 equivalent)Target for 2030 (megatonnes of CO2 equivalent)
Built environment29.929.321.615.3
Source: CBS, RIVM / Emissions Registration

What is the target for 2030?

As part of its European Green Deal ambition, the Netherlands (and the European Union) is aiming for greenhouse gas emissions to be at least 55 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. This 2030 target includes emissions from the the climate sector of Land Use, which includes CO2 emissions from peat oxidation in the soil and emissions associated with changes in land use (such as new-build at the expense of green space or natural areas).

The target for the Netherlands (-55 percent) is stated in the Netherlands Climate Act, following its amendment on 21 July 2023. Dutch policy is aimed at achieving a reduction of around 60 percent to be on the safe side. This is more ambitious than the 2030 target stated in the Dutch Climate Act on 2 July 2019 as part of the Climate Agreement, which aimed for a 49-percent reduction.

The Dutch government has not set formal targets for specific sectors in order to achieve the reduction target of 55 percent. Instead, ‘indicative residual emissions for 2030’ have been set for each sector. These are indicative in the sense that a failure to meet the reduction target in one sector may be offset by a larger than required reduction in another sector, making it easier to achieve the 55 percent reduction for all sectors combined. Information provided by the government to the Dutch House of Representatives on 26 April 2023 lists indicative residual emissions by sector (‘Target 2030’ in the figure), which add up to reductions of 58 percent in total.

The emissions reduction associated with the ‘blending requirement for green gas’ has not yet been allocated to individual sectors. This amounts to -3.2 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent. By including this in the 58 percent reduction mentioned previously, the policy aims for a reduction of 59 percent. This is consistent with the more ambitious Dutch policy of aiming for a reduction of 60 percent rather than the 55 percent reduction that is formally required.

In addition, on 2 November 2021, the Netherlands committed itself to the Global Methane Pledge, which requires a 30 percent reduction in methane emissions between 2020 and 2030. This implies a reduction from 19.2 megatonnes to 13.5 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent over the course of that decade. In 2022, methane emissions were 18.3 megatons of CO2 equivalent. That was 5 percent lower than in 2020.

What is the scale of emissions according to other calculation frameworks?

Various calculation frameworks can be used to calculate greenhouse gas emissions, depending on the focus that is chosen. The best known method is that of IPCC, which includes the volume of emissions due to human activity within a given country. The climate targets outlined above are based on the calculation framework of the IPCC. The IPCC estimates that the Netherlands’ emission in 2021 were 172 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent. Of this, 74 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent fall under the European emissions trading system. Power plants and the large industrial emitters are required to participate in this system.

Another calculation method is known as the Environmental Accounts. This includes all greenhouse gas emissions as a result of production and consumption within the Dutch economy, excluding emissions by the climate sector of Land Use. In 2021, according to the Environmental Accounts method, the Netherlands’ emissions in 2021 were 207 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent. That is higher than the IPCC emissions estimate for 2021 by a factor of 35 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent. Under the Environmental Accounts calculation framework, emissions from the burning of biomass (22 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent) and international air and shipping (8 and 7 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent, respectively) are counted, for instance, whereas these economic activities are not counted under the IPCC calculation framework.

In order to establish a picture of emissions from international aviation and shipping under the IPCC calculation framework, countries must, in accordance with IPCC guidelines, report the emissions associated with bunker fuels sold in their countries. These emissions do not count towards the IPCC national emissions totals. In 2021, emissions associated with the sale of bunker fuels at Dutch airports (particularly at Schiphol Airport) amounted to 7 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent. For international shipping, that was 37 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent (mainly supplied by the Port of Rotterdam).

The emissions associated with international shipping under the IPCC calculation framework are about 5 times higher than those under Environmental Accounts calculation framework. For international aviation, the two calculation frameworks result in approximately the same volume of emissions. In other words, the amount of fuel consumed by Dutch airlines (both inside and outside the Netherlands) is about the same as the amount of fuel supplied at Dutch airports (to both Dutch and non-Dutch airlines). By contrast, international shipping took on five times more fuel in the Netherlands than the amount of fuel taken on by Dutch ships around the world. This reflects the fact that more ships refuel in Rotterdam than at any other port in Europe.

The combustion of biomass does not count towards emissions under the IPCC method because this is short-cycle. Indeed, the CO2 released by burning biomass is assumed by the IPCC to be sequestered back into biomass in the short term, and it therefore does not contribute to any increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Biomass burning includes not only the co-firing of biomass in power plants, but also the consumption of biogas and transportation fuels such as biodiesel and biofuel.

Another difference between the IPCC and Environmental Accounts is that the IPCC looks at what happens within Dutch territory, while the Environmental Accounts method looks at what residents of the Netherlands do. The resulting correction is equal to 2 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent. For example, the IPCC guidelines require greenhouse gas emissions from road traffic to be calculated on the basis of how much fuel is purchased in the Netherlands (regardless of where the associated vehicles originate from), whereas the Environmental Accounts are based on how much fuel is consumed by residents of the Netherlands (regardless of whether or not they are driving in the Netherlands).

The ‘footprint’ indicates the emissions related to the consumption of goods and services by residents of the Netherlands. It therefore includes greenhouse gases emitted abroad due to the production of goods and services that are consumed in the Netherlands. Conversely, goods and services that are produced in the Netherlands but consumed abroad do not count towards the Netherlands’ footprint.

In 2021, that footprint amounted to 279 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent. This excluded fluorinated gases. When calculating this footprint, emissions of fluorinated gases (1 megatonne of CO2 equivalent) are first subtracted from the Environmental Accounts emissions (207 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent). Greenhouse gas emissions (excluding fluorinated gases) associated with imports are then added, and emissions associated with exports are subtracted. In 2021, emissions associated with imports exceeded those associated with exports by 73 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent. As a result, the Netherlands emits 36 percent more greenhouse gases from a consumption perspective than it does from a production perspective.