Blog post by Hans Blonk, Theun Vellinga (WUR) and Joan Reijs (WUR)
Dutch climate policy must broaden its scope
Dutch climate policy is on the move! A draft climate agreement has been presented, a fierce political debate is raging about how to proceed, and Urgenda (a Dutch foundation pressing for a faster transition to a sustainable society) is piling on the pressure. Some are worried we are not moving fast enough, while others think it is all going much too quickly. Leaving the question of the pace of change aside, in this article we discuss a different aspect of Dutch climate policy – its scope. The current climate policy takes too narrow an approach and is missing out on opportunities. We concentrate our discussion here on the production and consumption of food, but parallels can be found in other sectors as well.
Life cycle assessment (LCA): calculating the climate impacts of entire production and supply chains
Climate policy contains agreements on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture, but only for emissions of nitrous oxide and methane from the farms themselves. Moreover, primary production is only one part of a much larger production system that includes global chains of companies and raw materials. There is an internationally recognised method for calculating the climate impacts of entire production and supply chains: life cycle assessment (LCA). This ‘farm to fork’ approach has been used for years and has been improved and refined by scientists, industry and the EU, but has not yet been embraced by Dutch climate policy. Opportunities are being missed and there is a risk that priority will be given to measures that from a global perspective are not effective at all.
Some examples of missed opportunities
- For example, a quarter of all emissions from milk and meat production in dairy farming occur outside the national agricultural registration system. For pigs and poultry the figure is as high as two-thirds to three-quarters of all emissions. These 'hidden' emissions are mostly from the production of animal feed, including emissions from deforestation for the cultivation of feed crops such as soya, and from the production of chemical fertilisers and transportation. It is perfectly possible to reduce these emissions – options include choosing the right raw materials and adapting production processes – but the current climate policy ignores these emissions as a potential target for reductions. Parties that could make such changes are therefore not stimulated to take any action.
- Another potential source of reductions is the Dutch fertiliser industry, which produces nitrogen fertiliser with a very low climate impact. Stimulating this production to help reduce worldwide climate emissions would not be such a bad idea, but this possibility does not get a look in within the current framework of climate policy.
- We are missing out on opportunities to define the most effective measures, which limits the options for taking action across the whole agricultural supply chain.
Link to climate policy
A positive aspect of the climate agreement is that it does call for the use of carbon footprinting and LCA, but unfortunately it makes no concrete suggestions on how this could be done. At the moment there is nothing to link the LCA approach to the national approach in climate policy.
In discussions we had with companies from across the whole agricultural value chain in 2018 it emerged that this is something they are keen to see.
We find the same narrow scope regarding food consumption. Although Dutch climate policy talks about adapting our diet, the current emissions registration system is not capable of showing what effects that will have. As an illustration, if the Dutch population reduced its consumption of meat by 60% and all the beef produced in the Netherlands was consumed in the country, it would be theoretically possible to avoid importing any beef from Ireland and Latin America. However, this fact is not revealed by the national emission registration system, because that only counts emissions from Dutch farms.
Reveal the effects of actions
We argue for broadening the scope of Dutch climate policy in order to open up more opportunities for action by producers and consumers and to reveal the effects of actions taken both within and outside the Netherlands. Every organisation and individual wants their efforts to be recognised and accounted for. We believe we should start by setting up an integrated monitoring system that makes the national climate monitoring system of emissions registration compatible with the life cycle approach.
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Contact Hans Blonk or call +31 (0)182 579970.