Anton Buijs, GasTerra: "Go for practical and results-focused solutions "
One of my colleagues has just returned from a dream holiday in western Canada. One of the many places she visited was the Colombia Icefield Glacier in Alberta. I’ve also been there, a long time ago, in 2001 to be precise. I parked my hire car on what was literally the nearest parking spot to the glacier. You could practically step straight from the car onto the glacier.
Now, 16 years later, that’s no longer the case. My colleague told me that the ice had shrunk. The edge is now at least a kilometre from the same parking spot.
Why am I writing this? To make clear that climate change is sometimes shockingly visible. It is a problem that everyone can see and feel, that we have to solve as quickly as possible before it becomes a real crisis. So you would expect that everyone who really cares about the future of life on our planet would want to deal with the issue with primarily practical and results-focused solutions. Step by step, assessing each measure for its costs and benefits from both a socioeconomic and environmental perspective. Free from dogma and attitudes that are set in stone.
You would indeed expect that. But sadly the debate about the future of energy and climate change is heavily polluted. On the one hand by what could be called the school of Trump, whose adherents deny the scientific consensus and just act as if there were no climate problem. On the other hand by ideological hair-splitters who focus not on the results of measures and efforts, i.e. a rapid reduction in greenhouse gases, especially CO2, but on the question of whether energy is generated completely from renewable sources.
“It’s best to deal with problems by pragmatic thought and action”
This starting point seems at first sight to be logical and indisputable, but of course it isn’t. What was the problem again? It was climate change caused by human activity, wasn’t it? So the solution is the drastic and rapid reduction of additional emissions of CO2. How do you achieve that? By working as a project organisation that has to successfully resolve a complex, long-standing problem according to a plan, on time and within budget. The first thing a team like this does is to create a timeline and cut it into sections. Each part of the whole represents an essential step in the process and has to be completed according to predetermined requirements. That’s the only way of bringing the project to a successful conclusion. Otherwise you end up with something like the North-South line in Amsterdam: a metro line that has gone way over budget and timetable.
How should this work when translated into energy and climate policy? In the same way. That means that we must today agree achievable targets on the basis of the final objective, that when added together will lead to the desired final outcome. The means that you use for this purpose are essentially secondary, so long as a number of primary requirements and conditions are met: necessary reduction in emissions, availability, feasibility and, not to be forgotten, affordability.
If using natural gas as a replacement for coal leads to the greatest emission reduction in the short term (which definitely is the case, as is shown by recent figures published by the Dutch Statistics Agency CBS), then you need to work quickly. If replacing your gas infrastructure and related equipment by an electricity grid costs much more than using (renewable) gas but does not produce a greater reduction in CO2, then using renewable gas is the best solution. If you are building a new residential area with well-insulated houses you don’t need gas and would be better off going for a heat network or an all-electric system. If you know that in the short and medium term wind farms and solar panels are not going to be able to meet the high demand for energy in the Netherlands, then you should soon start on capture and storage of the CO2 that is released during the combustion of natural gas (CCS). If we are not able to produce enough sustainable energy in the Netherlands, there is no reason not to import it, because sustainability within national borders will certainly not solve the world’s climate problem.
It’s best to deal with problems by pragmatic thought and action. Not by wishful thinking and flights of fancy. If we don’t do that, then the glacier in Canada that I talked about and many other glaciers will disappear completely within a very short space of time.
And that is without going into the consequences of climate change for every living thing.
Anton Buijs is Chief Communications Officer at GasTerra