written by
Jeroen Boon

The recipe for the Dutch energy transition: citizen participation and open data

Climate Actions 5 min read, April 8, 2020

For a long time, the Netherlands was considered a climate policy pioneer. Today, there is much work to be done to turn ambitions into actions, and to direct the proliferation of initiatives. But help is on the way: Futureproofed is opening an office in the Netherlands to give Dutch cities and municipalities a boost. 💪 The recipe: more citizen participation and smarter use of open data.

Climate pioneer lost his shine

Let's start with the good news. Greenhouse gas emissions in the Netherlands are falling. In 2018 those emissions were 15 percent lower than in 1990. But it needs to go faster. A lot faster. Over the next ten years, we need to reduce emissions twice as much as in the past thirty years. Crucial in this respect is the energy supply: away from gas and coal, towards renewable energy on a massive scale.

The Dutch ambitions are clear: in 2030 two thirds of the electricity must come from renewable sources. The Netherlands also has a (binding) Climate Act that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Netherlands by 95% by 2050 compared to 1990. In order to achieve this goal, an intermediate target of 49% reduction by 2030 and fully climate-neutral energy production by 2050 have been set.

The climate agreement offers clear objectives, but there is a gap between ambitions and implementation.

Mind the gap

But a gap seems to appear between ambitions and implementation, the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis warns. Several targets for 2020 will not be achieved either, such as the Urgenda target imposed by the court (25 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions) and two targets of the Energy Agreement: the 14 percent share of renewable energy and 100 petajoule energy savings.

Thanks to Urgenda's emission monitor, the Dutch can keep a close eye on how the gap between ambitions and achievements is growing. How do we get the plans back on track? Based on our experience with 105 European cities and towns, we see two key principles.

Lesson 1

It will happen with the citizens, or it won't happen at all.
Give citizens ownership of the transition process, and it will move forward.

It may be called a cliché, but there is something of truth in it: the Dutch speak their mind frankly. They want to have a say in decision making and demand a place at the table. They are right, because after all, it is about their future. 🙌

Moreover, it is becoming increasingly clear that enthusiasm, involvement and creativity of citizens will ultimately determine whether the energy transition succeeds. A lesson we learned by guiding local authorities through the process: citizens enjoy the transition as soon as they feel that they can play a key role. This is now often out of sight. Those who devise measures usually focus on the results, rather than on the citizens.

How could we be doing things differently?

The internet and smart software offer opportunities to transform decision-making into a joint, open and participatory process. Nowadays, governments are able to gather input from citizens on a large scale, increasing trust and enriching the decision-making process. Through a platform such as FutureproofedCities, citizens can not only be informed, but also involved. From Smart Cities to Smart Citizens. 🧠

Transparency about data ensures that everyone knows where we stand, and how to proceed. If we take a smart approach to this, residents will think along and participate.

Isn't all that participation slowing down the transition indefinitely? Not at all, as advocated by Tilburg University's administrative expert Eva Wolf in her essay and podcast (NL). More democratic debate and local resistance will rather bring the Dutch energy transition one step closer.👌

Also a social challenge

Sometimes you may get the idea that the energy transition is nothing more than a large-scale, technical operation. But it definitely is a social challenge too. Because if you need to do it together with citizens, we mean that you have to do it with all citizens. Broad involvement from all sections of the population (and not just the conscious, wealthy white middle class) is a precondition for success. How to do that? In vulnerable neighbourhoods, the energy transition requires extra support and a tailor-made approach.

In this way, the transition can become a flywheel for district development in a broad sense: people can participate and benefit themselves, and the transition to sustainable heat creates new opportunities for participation, education, jobs and income. Wondering how the city of Ghent approached this?

Lesson 2

Open data should be leading
The Futureproofed tool brings clarity in the number jungle.

The number of local and supra-local climate initiatives in the Netherlands is legion. So is the number of institutes that collect data. The result: a data labyrinth in which the average citizen cannot find his or her way. Not quite transparent. 🤯

The biggest challenge in the Netherlands is to give direction to the whole, to keep a clear view on the results and to learn from each other. The Dutch recipe needs, as it were, some cornstarch. 👨‍🍳

And that is exactly where FutureproofedCities can make a difference in the Netherlands. With our online tool, cities and provinces can jointly develop, monitor and focus all sustainable measures within the framework of the local and regional energy strategy internally. Moreover, they can share their own experiences, or get inspired by others. At the same time, it offers an opportunity to involve energy cooperatives, citizens and businesses.

The monitoring is based on national data (e.g. climate monitor, heat atlas, ETM model) and enables municipalities to make well-considered choices. In this way, the overload of data flows can be made accessible in a transparent way. And decision-making based on real-time data is a step closer.

From plan to action

And now: from plan to action!

The challenges of the Netherlands are not unique. Across Europe, governments are struggling to set priorities, monitor and manage progress, engage and involve businesses and citizens and the aspect of social justice in the transition. Very often, the engine sputters between the plan and the action.

However, governments are still often trying to solve these problems on their own. In this way, we risk losing valuable time which we don't have at all. By sharing solutions and insights, we can accelerate the much-needed transition. And before you'll notice, climate pioneer the Netherlands may be once again at the forefront.

☀️FutureproofedCities makes it easy to set priorities, focus and monitor concrete climate measures. Not a user yet? Download our free tool guide to discover the platform.

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