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Climate and Energy Transition

5 December 2018
Edward Brans
Iman Brinkman

Climate change presents an enormous challenge. According to the Paris Climate Accord, global warming must not exceed 1.5°C. In the Netherlands, we also want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 49% in 2030 as compared to 1990. This demands a great deal from the people of the Netherlands, businesses and governments.

The effort demanded involves much more than making the supply of energy more sustainable, doing away with natural gas consumption, connecting office buildings to geothermal systems and taking energy conservation measures. Measures are also needed to encourage optimal use and reuse of raw materials, as are actions to protect the Netherlands from the negative consequences of climate change.

The national Climate Agreement, preparations for climate legislation and the amendment of existing legislation and regulations are instruments that can be used for the climate and energy transition. The number of sustainable energy projects will increase exponentially. A close eye is kept on innovative projects, such as projects aimed at large-scale storage of renewable energy. What are the legal aspects of this climate and energy transition?

Realisation of the climate objective for 2030

Reducing the emission of greenhouse gases by 49% in 2030 is daunting. Preparations are being made for a large number of measures for achieving this objective. Examples include the energy transition legislative agenda, a bill prohibiting the use of coal as fuel in electricity generators, and preparations by local governments for the Regional Energy Strategies (RES), in fleshing out the draft Climate Agreement.

Energy transition

The Dutch Cabinet has cleared ample room for the construction of wind and solar farms, for reducing the number of homes connected to the natural gas network, for extracting geothermal energy and CHP, for the use of residual heat, and to stimulate electric motor vehicles and reduce CO2 emissions. The capture and storage of CO2 (CCS) are back in the picture.

Construction without natural gas

Since 1 July 2018, newly-built homes have only been connected to the natural gas network in exceptional situations. Natural gas-free construction is now the norm. Within the foreseeable future, existing homes will also be disconnected from the natural gas network. These developments present opportunities and challenges for stakeholders: from construction and installation companies to housing corporations and public bodies. How can you get inhabitants and businesses to cooperate in this transition? What are the alternatives for natural gas? Is residual heat from the industrial sector an option? Or should our bet be placed on collective heat and power plants, geothermal energy or all-electric?


In the foreseeable future, petrol and diesel will no longer be needed as fuel for passenger vehicles, buses, mopeds, lorries and ships. CO2 emissions from the mobility sector must be significantly reduced by 2030. This necessitates making a radical transition in our mobility policy and our infrastructure. The many solutions include electric transport, the use of hydrogen and bio-fuels, the introduction and expansion of environmental zones, light rail connections for public transport, and charging infrastructure and parking policy to stimulate the use of electric vehicles.

Adapting to the consequences of climate change

The Netherlands must prepare for the negative consequences of climate change, like flooding and heat stress. Measures for adapting to these negative consequences are needed. Examples include rainwater harvesting systems and underground water storage facilities in cities, overflow areas near rivers and the reinforcement and relocation of dikes. But our electricity, ICT and transport networks must also be protected from climate change. These measures must be in line with the legal frameworks of spatial planning, legal protection and network regulation. This always proves to be a challenge.

Circular economy

Raw materials are scarce and using them as efficiently as possible is increasingly important. Cities are taking waste prevention measures, for example by imposing restrictions on door-to-door unaddressed printed matter. At the same time, the European Commission is working towards improving the use and reuse of raw materials, prohibiting certain plastics and stimulating the collection of plastic waste. All of these measures are intended to contribute to the transition to a circular economy and realising the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Subsidies and state aid

For the time being, subsidy schemes will continue to be essential for the success of the climate and energy transition. The boundary between subsidy and prohibited state aid is often thin and deserving of legal scrutiny in advance in order to avoid possible problems later.

Business Human Rights

Climate change clearly has an impact on human rights, for example because heavy rains will flood homes and cause crops to fail. Businesses, banks and supervisory authorities alike often fail to take climate risks and their impact on human rights into account, or at least fail to do so sufficiently, in their risk analyses. Contracts between businesses and bank loan agreements include few, if any, provisions for reducing these risks. This could leave businesses, banks and public bodies facing litigation.

Our vision

The climate and energy transition demands a combination of technological, organisational and legal measures. Much is already possible from a legal perspective. The Dutch Crisis and Recovery Act, for example, already offers opportunities for experimenting with new heating and other types of energy provision, as well as with the storage of renewable energy. Energy legislation, including the Dutch Gas Act, Electricity Act 1998, Heating Supply Act and Mining Act, is increasingly making room for sustainable solutions.

The climate and energy transition will have a huge impact on Dutch society. This means that the necessary measures and projects require social and administrative sensitivity. The climate and energy transition is one of Pels Rijcken’s key focus areas. We know better than any the political/administrative and legal framework that is necessary for the realisation of your renewable energy project. We also keep a close eye on the social context: Pels Rijcken 1.5°.


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