Extreme heat, floods, stronger hurricanes and what not. Anyone who keeps up with climate news does not often get a smile on their face. Rightly so, because the prospects are certainly not always hopeful. But things are also moving in the right direction.
Because all those solar panels, more sustainable companies, electric cars and you name it all the climate measures: they make sense. CO2 emissions are leveling off, also sees Maarten van Aalst, director of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI). He immediately makes a comment. “The turnaround is coming, but there is still a very tough task ahead. We must reach 0 emissions by 2050. It is unclear what that path looks like.”
Huge growth in emissions is leveling off
Now you might hope that emissions will already drop. It’s not that kind of party (yet). 2022 was the year with the highest emissions ever, at 37.49 gigatons. And yet.
In the graph below you can see that the enormous growth of the early years of this century (from 25.45 gigatons in 2000 to 33.36 gigatons in 2010) is leveling off. Over the past ten years, emissions increased from 35.01 tons in 2012 to 37.49 in 2022.
That in itself is positive, but it shouldn’t make us really happy. “It seems to be stabilizing at a very high level,” says KNMI climate scientist Bart Verheggen. “But it is seen as a signal that global climate policy is starting to bear fruit. The strong upward trend appears to have been reversed somewhat.”
Van Aalst endorses that idea. He refers to the four climate scenarios that were presented in an extensive report. “We cannot rule out the highest scenario, but it is no longer the most likely. It is no longer the best guess of business as usual.”
Cautious words from both scientists, because it is still possible that the increasing trend in greenhouse gases will be found again. “Consider the melting of permafrost (permanently frozen ground, ed.). That can release a lot of greenhouse gases into the air. That is not included in the models at the moment,” says Van Aalst. And Verheggen: “It is now really important to reduce emissions.”
The above emission figures are worldwide, but progress is also being made in the Netherlands itself. Not too long ago, we found ourselves at the back of the pack when it came to renewable energy, such as solar and wind energy. “We have really made incredible progress there,” says Verheggen.
Claims in the Netherlands
Even if you look at CO2 emissions in the Netherlands, things are moving in the right direction. A dashboard has been created for this purpose on the government website, which clearly shows CO2 emissions in the Netherlands. Below is the general picture:
In the Netherlands, 158 megatons of CO2 were emitted last year, as you can see in the government graph. In 1990 that was still 229 megatons. In the period in between the figures rose, but in the last period the trend has started downwards.
Emissions fell sharply, especially in industry: from 87 megatons in 1990 to almost 50 megatons in 2022. Part of this is due to sustainability, but lower production, partly due to corona and high energy prices, is also a major cause of the decline.
Climate neutral by 2050
“It is therefore not yet possible to say with certainty what this means for achieving the climate goals in 2030,” Mark Bressers, director of the Dutch emissions authority, said this summer.
For many people, the reduction in emissions is not happening fast enough. Take the activists of Extinction Rebellion. They allow themselves to be arrested for the climate. You can see more about it in the video below:
Decreasing figures can be seen not only in industry, but also in the areas of mobility, agriculture, electricity generation and construction. But is it enough? By 2030, the aim is to emit 55 percent fewer greenhouse gases than in 1990. At the current pace, this should be achievable. The Netherlands wants to be climate neutral by 2050. So 0 emissions.
We are not only making progress in the area of emissions. We are also making progress in consciousness. Because how do we deal with a climate that is becoming increasingly warmer? The first action for this was the heat plan, which was introduced in 2006. And the KNMI is trying to warn people even better about the risks of impending extreme weather with an ‘early warning centre’.
That is necessary, says Van Aalst. “Since 2006, the weather has become much more extreme. We no longer find heat waves strange at all. At the same time, we are dealing with an aging society. You have to take extra care for that.”
We often don’t do the maximum
So we warn, but we have also learned to some extent from our shortcomings. Think of Limburg, where rivers flooded in 2021, with all the consequences that entails. Van Aalst: “They have thought about how to deal with our small rivers and streams. They have been working on faster water drainage, and if that doesn’t work, it’s all about being able to get away on time.”
And that’s where early warning comes into play again. Because Van Aalst is not always positive. For example, when it comes to damage caused by extreme weather. Not only in the Netherlands, also abroad. “Experience shows that we have often not done the maximum to prevent it. Everyone has to keep working.”
Some examples of adaptation to climate change
In Amsterdam people are combating the heat by planting more greenery. This happens on roofs, facades, walking routes and squares, among other things. It provides natural cooling.
In the Amstelwijck district in Dordrecht, approximately 800 homes are being built with attention to nature and climate. Heavy rainfall and heat will soon have less impact here than in regular residential areas. Fun fact: the residents there are obliged to keep their garden green.
In the Breklenkamp in Twente, farmers have taken various measures, such as installing dams and adjusted water level management (aimed at water retention), improving the water-storing capacity of the soil (sustainable soil management) and adapting the cultivation with herbs-rich, deep-rooting grassland.