Sharon Dijksma, Dutch Environment Minister: “To reach the 2 degrees target we have to change everything”

Author:
Ilario D'Amato
19 July 2016

Sharon Dijksma, Minister for Infrastructure and Environment, Government of the Netherlands

LONDON: The European Union must “make its Emissions Trading System (ETS) much more effective” if the bloc is to achieve ambitious climate targets set-out in the Paris Agreement last December, according to Sharon Dijksma, Minister for the Environment, Government of the Netherlands.

In a Climate TV interview filmed at the Business & Climate Summit, convened by The Climate Group in London in June, the Dutch minister says that “bringing on a real price on carbon is the actual game-changer we need […]. It has a real low price at the moment, and we should bring it up.”

Sharon Dijksma was one of the political leaders behind the historic climate agreement reached at the COP21 summit last year, when 195 countries agreed to reach net-zero emissions before the end of the century and to keep the rise in average global temperatures “well below” the 2 degrees Celsius threshold, which experts say is needed to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change.

NET-ZERO FUTURE

“I think that we have to look at the future,” says the Minister. “In the Netherlands, we are now using all the possibilities to align with the Paris Agreement. We have seen that if we would like to reach the 2 degrees [Celsius] target, there is no choice: we have to change everything”.

Sharon Dijksma added: “We have to invest much more in renewables; we have to make the transport sector zero-emission – for instance, in the Netherlands we will have all buses zero-emission by 2025; we have to look at the cars; we have to look at the agriculture [sector].”

To achieve a prosperous, net-zero economy it will also be necessary to bolster the European ETS, the minister states. The mechanism is based on the “cap-and-trade” principle, with every nation having a ‘cap’ of total emissions its industries can emit, and every business having its own free allowance.

Companies that emit less than forecast by the mechanism can then ‘trade’ their permits to the firms that emit more. Over the years, the ‘cap’ is lowered – encouraging companies to find new innovative ways to reduce their emissions.

A FLEXIBLE MECHANISM

The European ETS recently experienced one of the biggest drops in its value since 2014, and many policymakers are calling for the scheme to be restructured with new, bold policies.

The Netherlands, which held the presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first semester of this year, has called for flexibility within the new directive on the ETS, “because we think that if you have within the Paris Agreement a five-year scale to level-up and actually increase your commitments, then the ETS should be able to follow that.

“For us it’s very important that if we step up our efforts, then the directive that is dealing with the ETS is also that flexible and can also go with our ambition.”

The Netherlands is already experiencing significant impacts of climate change: “since a lot of the land is below the sea level,” says Sharon Dijksma, “we face the problems of flooding and rising sea level already now. We can understand very well why some small islands […] have huge problems at the moment.”

EUROPEAN CLIMATE AMBITION

During the COP21 summit, a range of small island states called for more ambitious climate action to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – the limit beyond which they risk to be cancelled by sea rise.

The European Union was an ambitious participant at COP21 and has committed to bold climate targets: “we were all present there,” states Sharon Dijksma, “from Poland to Spain and the UK. This unity on the climate dossier is really unique, and I think it is also something which is going to stay.

“What I have seen within the European Union is actually a huge friendship, a common sense on the issue. We all have our own abilities and responsibilities, and obviously there are differences: some countries as my own are heavily dependent on fossil fuels, some others are much more depending already on renewables. There are differences, but the goal is the same, and that is the beauty of this.

NON-STATE ACTORS

Along with the climate ambition proposed by national governments, the success of COP21 is also due in large part to the determination of businesses and sub-national governments, which have demonstrated how the low-carbon economy is being implemented and needs to be sustained by new policies.

“I think that the Dutch government is always advocating for bringing in the non-state actors,” concludes Sharon Dijksma, “because what we need to do is actually to bring all our efforts together and then see what we can contribute.

“For instance, my government is organizing in October a National Climate Congress, a gathering with all kinds of non-state actors: government will be present, even the Prime Minister, but also private sector will be there. We will all try to see what we can contribute, each from our own responsibility, in order to change – and that this is really necessary for future generations.”

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