02 May Towards a green economy
Climate and environmental problems aren’t left or right wing. However, they are made possible by political choices. For example by allowing polluting industries to operate, or by agreeing on deforestation, or by letting millions of cars drive on fossil fuels.
We can prevent these problems by making different political choices. That is important because climate and environmental problems have major social consequences: they cause drought, floods and disease. They create large-scale migration, poverty, famine and social unrest. Social democrats should therefore take responsibility and strive to make the right choices to avoid these problems. Whenever possible, they should negate consequences and initiate and boost change.
The most fundamental change, necessary to tackle climate and environmental problems, is switching from using fossil fuels like oil and gas to renewable raw materials like sun, wind and biomass. Biomass is often unjustly forgotten. Sun and wind are incredible sources of energy, but the advantage of biomass is that it can be used to produce materials and chemicals. Because of this quality, it can replace oil as a raw material for chairs, phones, airplanes, forks and millions of other objects.
Especially in the Netherlands there are major opportunities to make money out of biomass. Because of our technical knowledge and experience, we are able to gain the highest possible production value out of organic raw materials: raw materials for the pharmaceutical and medical sectors, green chemicals, animal feed, and so on. This offers unique opportunities for the economy and employment. The transition to a bio based economy offers opportunities for agriculture, the agro-food industry, the chemical industry, the biotech industry, trade, the knowledge infrastructure, the energy sector, the ports, industrial complexes and the logistics industry, as well as for economic and ecological sustainable innovations. The latter is very important, because biodiversity, the unique conditions of local economies, and preventing new food-for-fuel-like dilemmas have to be taken into account. The Dutch business industry thinks it is possible to raise domestic GDP by €20 billion per year, as early as in 2020, by focusing on the bio based economy.
The Netherlands as market leader
Many bio based initiatives are being launched as we speak. For example, the paper and cardboard industry expects to achieve an energy reduction of 50% by 2020. Within the chemistry industry, the aim is to replace a quarter of the fossil fuels being used in this sector by sustainable organic raw materials. It is important for the new government to strengthen and accelerate the development towards a bio based economy by acting as a facilitator. In this way, our dependence on fossil raw materials and fuels can be reduced and the Netherlands can become a leading economy within the bio based economy. That is a big challenge, since the past century our whole economy has been adapted to the use of fossil fuels. A complete system change is thus required.
The development of the bio based economy requires on both the national as the European level an integrated, systematic approach. Besides technological solutions, a focus on infrastructure, logistics, market developments and changes in government regulation is necessary. The transition can succeed only through close cooperation between industry, government and science. The current programmatic approach of the state is very suitable for this purpose. The four main issues which should be arranged by a new cabinet are: ensuring a coherent, integrated policy, creating a level playing field, supporting technological development by investing in innovation and a market-driven approach.
For instance, creating a fiscal investment climate with similar grant and demonstration schemes as abroad can do this. In this way equal economic and ecological opportunities are guaranteed. Also, the innovative strength of the industry can be enhanced by jointly investing in pilot and demonstration facilities in the field of bio refinery, which is necessary to convert biomass into for example fuel, energy, chemicals, and animal feed.
By taking this kind of action, we can take serious steps towards preventing new climate and environmental problems. It will take time and effort, and worldwide a lot of social consequences have to be tackled worldwide, but “a better environment starts with you”, we learned in the 80s. So let us take these steps.
Marieke van der Werf