A Central Role for Residents in Amsterdam’s Energy Transition

The energy transition in the Netherlands is underway. Developments concerning global warming in the past few years have arguably forced us to reconsider the relationship we have with our environment, especially our addiction and dependency on natural resources such as fossil fuels. At the recent COP24 that took place in Katowice, it was apparent that a lot still needs to be done in order to put the ideals of the Paris agreement into practice. With the Netherlands annually being responsible for roughly 0.7% of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions (Klimaatakkoord.nl, 2019), it has among many other advancements, decided to engage in an energy transition. What does this exactly entail you may ask? Broadly defined, an energy transition encompasses a shift in the energy sector from fossil fuels to zero-carbon fuels such as renewable energy resources.

Under the guidance of the Dutch climate agreement, the Netherlands is seeking to implement sector-wide transformations. Changes are to be implemented in areas such as industry, land use, mobility, and in the built environment (Klimaatakkoord.nl, 2019). These alterations will have significant implications on how us humans will go about living our lives in the near future. Aside from these sector-wide transformations, the Netherlands seeks to bring about improvements with regards to its energy mix, and gradually close its renowned gas field located in Groningen on which millions rely. Currently, renewable energy sources make up for approximately 7% of the Dutch energy mix while the consumption of fossil fuels amounts to 89% (02025, 2018). Achieving a zero-carbon energy sector by the desired 2050 requires a series of processes must take place in which large energy companies must be replaced by decentralised wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass systems (02025, 2018).

In order to contribute towards these national ambitions, local and municipal targets have been set. The Amsterdam metropolitan region has displayed its desire to take up a leading role in the energy transition through various stringent policy documents. This aspiration mainly stems from the city’s long standing history of modernization and innovation, in which its flexible stance has allowed it to further develop on the urban technological front (van Winden et al., 2016). Relevant policy documents include the ‘2018 municipal coalition agreement’, the ‘2040 Energy Strategy’, and the so-called ‘Routekaart Amsterdam Klimaatneutraal 2050’ (in english, the roadmap for a climate neutral amsterdam by 2050). According to the regulations set out in these documents, the city must reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 55% in 2030 and by 95% in 2050. Additionally by 2040, the consumption of natural gas in all sectors must be phased out.  

Aside from the municipality, Amsterdam’s residents are considered to be fundamental stakeholders in the energy transition. As stated in all policy documents, citizen engagement and participation is crucial for the transition to be a success. With there still being significant ground to be covered, a small percentage of residents have already taken matters into their own hands. Their contributions differ in scale but mainly take shape in the form of associations of homeowners seeking to retrofit building complexes and energy cooperatives pursuing neighbourhood-wide renovations. These developments have been made visible through platforms and community of practices such as ‘02025’, Amsterdam Smart City, and ‘Hier Opgewekt’.

A visualisation of Amsterdam’s leading resident initiatives; screenshot taken from: https://02025.nl

As previously mentioned, a lot of ground still has to be covered before Amsterdam has successfully met its demanding energy targets. Arguably standing in the way of this is a constrained and inflexible relationship between the municipality and residents of the city. Recent research conducted by the National Ombudsman has highlighted that municipal workers have a hard time finding a reasonable balance between providing assistance and a form of independence to individually carry out activities, to local initiatives. Reasons for this vary, but mainly pertain to to the fact that the activities and ambitions of residents generally don’t adhere to the specific frameworks and rules that have been set up (Verhoef et al., 2018). Municipal workers are therefore less willing to provide assistance in scenarios where subsidies and non-financial aid is needed by residents (Verhoef et al., 2018).

It is arguably the case that the municipality cannot continue continue to dismiss resident initiatives. Government measures such as making neighbourhoods free of natural gas have significant implications on human livelihood. At some point in the near future, we (even those that are less enthusiastic) will all be forced to comply with the necessary measures associated with energy transition related activities. Disapproval directed at the municipalities stance towards local energy initiatives is already somewhat visible, especially at events such as 02025’s energy breakfasts. With this being said, the municipality has recently highlighted its desire to take resident initiatives on board. Initiatives such as MeerEnergie in the ‘Watergraafsmeer’ have lately received significant support to realise their aspirations. Most definitely a step in the right direction. The municipality must make to sure to keep resident participation at bay as afterall, without the commitment and trust of the city’s residents, the energy transition will not succeed.

REFERENCES:

02025 (2018). Overvloed. Reisgids. [online] Amsterdam: 02025, pp.1-32. Available at:https://02025.nl/engine/download/blob/gebiedsplatform/69870/2018/50/Krant_4.pdf?app=gebieds platform&class=9096&id=1345&field=69870 [Accessed 27 Feb. 2019].

Gemeente Amsterdam (2010). Amsterdam: a different energy, 2040 Energy Strategy. Amsterdam: Gemeente Amsterdam, pp.1-20.

Gemeente Amsterdam (2018). Coalitieakkoord Amsterdam. Amsterdam: Gemeente Amsterdam, pp.40-42.

Gemeente Amsterdam (2019). Routekaart Amsterdam Klimaatneutraal 2050. Amsterdam: Gemeente Amsterdam, pp.1-44.

Klimaatakkoord.nl. (2019). Over het Klimaatakkoord. [online] Available at: https://www.klimaatakkoord.nl/klimaatakkoord [Accessed 5 May 2019].

van Winden, W., Oskam, I., van den Buuse, D., Schrama, W., & van Dijck, E-J. (2016). Organising smart city projects: lessons from Amsterdam. Amsterdam: Hogeschool van Amsterdam, University of Applied Sciences.

Verhoef, J., Ruitenberg, M., Luttmer, C., Heirweg, D., & Andric, S. (2018). Onderzoek naar de rol van overheidsinstanties bij burgerinitiatieven (Rep. No. 2018/020). De Nationale Ombudsman.

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3 thoughts on “A Central Role for Residents in Amsterdam’s Energy Transition

  1. Really intersting Blogpost! It is great to see how solutions to the wicked problem of climate change can arise anywhere and neighboorhoods can have their own role in this.
    But while it is great to hear that citizine participation is encouraged, I am interested in how this gap between the municipality frameworks and the resident projects forms.
    Is it because of unclear communication on the municipalities side, that they are not expressing cleary what their frameworks are? Or is there some other underlying cause?
    And do you maybe have any ideas how this gap could be closed?

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  2. Dear Nicholas, I enjoyed reading your post and I especially share your interest in the relationship between individuals and the municipality for what concerns energy transition. As you pointed out, individuals are extremely important for such objective and are required, in my opinion, to take action whenever political and administrative powers seem to slow it down. This weekend I left Amsterdam for a bike ride around Noord-Holland and what I saw particularly excited me. Almost every house, farm or cattle factory had solar panels installed on their roof and wind turbines in their proximity. It is then striking to read that only 7% of the national energy supply share derives from renewable sources. This means that the majority of fossil-fuel energy consumption is concentrated in the biggest urban areas. It is then particularly demotivating to see that Amsterdam’s residents are however trying to carry out initiatives for a more sustainable future but are being let down by the municipality. Do you think that the biggest dutch energy companies, such as shell, play a certain role in the opposition against energy transition initiatives? If so, do you agree that individuals should continue to request certain (economic) aids and keep on grouping in associations until a big change is supported by the central government?

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  3. Thank you for this great blog post. You have adequate highlighted one of the lesser known struggles in the energy transition. I also see more and more resident areas becoming sustainable and self sufficient and this too makes me hopeful for the future. I was hypothesising whether this resistance could be avoided by increasing the independence of neighbourhoods and community projects let them structure and organise their own energy according to their wishes. Do you agree or do you have another option to reluctantness of the municipal workers and the consisting framework?

    Like

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