Dutch quality of life is high, but not sustainable

This is a joint press release of the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB), the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) and Statistics Netherlands.

Dutch quality of life is high: in general, the Dutch are satisfied with their material and social circumstances. However, the resources required to realise this quality of life are not sustainable for future generations and also cause environmental problems within and outside their own country. Innovation is an important factor for continued sustainability in the Netherlands, and for the continued efficient use of diminishing natural resources.
Current government policy in the Netherlands is aimed at the 2020 energy and climate targets and hardly looks at the future beyond then. As a result, the development of innovative, still overly expensive, long-term energy options is too limited. This reduces the chance of a successful transition to a low-carbon power supply in 2050. Little attention has also been paid as yet to creating public support for this transition. Recent petitions are an important point of departure to increase public support for new energy technologies. More room for experimental projects will benefit social innovation. These are the main conclusions of the Sustainability monitor of the Netherlands 2014, presented today to Wilma Mansveld,  Minister for the Environment.

This third edition of the Sustainability monitor of the Netherlands (of which an English version will be published in 2015) consists of two parts: an indicator report compiled under the responsibility of Statistics Netherlands and a review of energy-related innovation under the responsibility of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the Netherlands Institute for Social Research.

Dutch quality of life is high...

On average, the Dutch give their lives a mark of almost 8 out of 10. They are relatively healthy and the level of trust in society is high.  In addition, the Netherlands is one of the most prosperous countries in the world.

...but comes at a price

This high quality of life has its price, however. Per capita greenhouse gas emissions are relatively high in the Netherlands. Natural resources, such as energy reserves, are limited and are having to be shared with an increasing number of people. As a result, it will be more difficult for future generations to generate prosperity. In addition, the Netherlands imports and exports large volumes of goods. The production of goods in exporting countries, especially developing countries, often causes environmental damage, reduction in biodiversity, and exhaustion of natural resources. In brief, there is concern about sustainability in the Netherlands and the impact of Dutch consumption and production processes elsewhere in the world.

Innovation requires intermediate targets for 2030 and a portfolio approach

Innovation is crucial to make the Netherlands sustainable; and for the transition to the low-carbon energy supply that the cabinet wants to realise by 2050. Present government policy is aimed mainly at the realisation of a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide and a share of 14 percent of renewable energy in 2020, at the lowest possible cost. Little attention is being paid to the development of innovative energy options for the period after 2020, such as carbon capture and storage, biomass gasification, and hydrogen or green-gas powered goods vehicles. This reduces the chance of a successful energy transition. In addition, the 2050 targets are too far ahead to boost innovation processes. A hard intermediate target for carbon emissions in 2030 may help in this respect. Moreover, innovation policy should not concentrate on just one aspect, but enable the development of various technologies.

Increase attention for public support and social innovation

Acceptance of new technology in our day-to-day lives is the fundament of energy innovation. But acceptance depends on a number of factors in addition to technology, costs and revenues. The cheapest option for low-carbon energy, for example, onshore wind energy, is currently under public dispute. Another low-carbon technology, solar cells, has been received with enthusiasm by the public, partly as a result of the existing incentives policy. However, as solar technology is relatively expensive, it accounts for only a small share of clean electricity. This contradiction is illustrative of how complex the innovation issue is, and of how many aspects are involved. Innovation policy is not only about developing and rolling out technology, but also about getting it accepted by the public and enabling bottom-up initiatives. The motivation of people who are now developing solar initiatives may be a good basis to win over the general public for a low-carbon society.