Small approach, big results

By Jeroen Rijssenbeek and Jan Willem Bruins Slot

Paris 2015, the United Nations Climate Change Conference. A treaty signed by 174 countries. All undersigning countries acknowledged the destructive usage of fossil fuels. They agreed on a 1.5 degrees Celsius rise of the earth’s temperature. We want to show how centralized decisions reflect on decentralized, local initiatives.

Article 2.1.a of the FCCC/CP/2015/L.9/Rev.1 states: …the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C…


The Paris Agreement seems like a huge accomplishment. And maybe it is, but can effective change be achieved on such a large scale? Is it not that the smaller governments and initiatives have the key role in reducing global warming? Of course, we will need to secure the basis in a treaty like the COP21 from 2015 in Paris. But the treaty seems to lack specific solutions or legal binding.

‘’Yet again, this is not the impression one gets by the celebratory remarks made by world leaders. In fact, some of them engaged in systematic misrepresentation about the pact’s actual content. For example, the President of the Paris climate conference, French Foreign Minister Laurant Fabius, described the agreement as “legally binding.”
It is legally binding but it binds the signatories to nothing. Legally.’

Says Graciela Chichilnisky in her article Paris COP21 Climate Agreement is Bound to Nothing: What is the Solution?

Indeed, what is the solution to global warming? The biggest threat to the human existence in modern history. The solution might lie in a decentralized approach. With decentralization responsibility and authority is conveyed to local governments, communities and private institutions.

What is meant with a centralized approach?

It is practically impossible to fight climate change just on a single level of governance. To accomplish the goals set on the Paris Climate Conference, efforts will have to be made on a dozen of levels, and decision-making will have to find place both centralized and decentralized. In this context the highest form of centralized decision-making is the COP21 and the purest form of decentralized decision-making will find place in peoples houses.

What centralized approaches to reduce climate change exist?

The most recent centralized approach to the reduction of climate change is the Paris Agreement of 2015, where almost 200 countries agreed to keep global warming below the critical 2 degrees Celsius. We can’t think of a more centralized approach of fighting climate change. But there are more , although less, centralized forms of preventing the earth of getting warmer. Because the Paris Agreement is reflected in lower forms of centralization.

To see how this agreement reflects on the Dutch climate change policy we have to take a look at the ‘Energieagenda’, which was presented the 7th of December this year. In this document the Dutch government presents the targets our country must meet by 2050, namely: close to zero CO2-emission.

In The Netherlands industry and power generation forms about 50 per cent of the total greenhouse gas-emission. An example of actions the Dutch government takes is to close term-agreements with more than 1.100 companies in about 40 sectors to reach 20% CO2-reduction by 2020 and 50% by 2030.

Traffic and carrying trade form about 20% of the emission. A recent motion of the House of Representatives is to exclusively sell electric cars by 2035. There are several ways to accomplish this. One of these ways is to adjust legislation, by enact that no fuel-powered cars may be sold by then. Of course this can’t be done without making electric cars more affordable and attractive for the consumer. This can be done by subsiding the consumer and invest in research to extent the driving range. Also fuel-powered cars can be made more unattractive by taxing emissions. But maybe the goal of reducing warming has to be sought much closer to the people. Make people act on their own and achieve a remission in global warming by initiatives on a small, local scale.

A Decentralized approach on climate change

The decentralized approach for tackling the enormous problem of climate change is a lucrative one because people and local companies, compared to the national institutions, have an exceeding knowledge in environmental and socio-economic problems of the local area. Local initiatives and institutions are fittest to tackle environmental issues in their region. It seems evermore that people have acknowledged the fact that global warming is a threat, but also that it is something people fight on a local scale.

For example Plaatselijk Belang, a local initiative from a group of visionary inhabitants in Friesland, Idskenhuizen.


Idskenhuizen is a small village with less than 200 households. Plaatselijk Belang is an union which promotes the interests of all its inhabitants, 451 people to be exact. The board of this union understood the importance of a sustainable use of natural resources and keeping the local flora and fauna intact. That is why they came with a progressive initiative to make the whole village use green energy. They founded the Cooperative Union of Sustainability of Idskenhuizen. The two core goals of this union are to let the village and its inhabitants create and use their own created energy and to invest the profits of sold energy in local businesses and projects.

In an interview with de PvdA(2013), one of the public parties of the local and national government, one of the members of Plaatselijk Belang explained why it is possible to achieve something within this village:

The people in Idskenhuizen clearly get why it is important to act on climate change. The people here want to sustain the image and characteristics of this small, concerned village. On the other hand, they want to renew and improve the villages carbon footprint.

The project of CUSI started in 2013 and has grown enormously and already expanded its reach. Now, in 2016, three villages have combined their strengths and are working together under the name of Northerly Locally Sustainable. NLS wants to take a lead in transitioning the north of the Netherlands, Friesland and Groningen, completely to sustainable energy.

The orange markers implicate energy suppliers
100% sustainable energy

Right now over 62 energy cooperation’s are affiliated with NLS. NLS is a private union with no liability. The energy delivered by NLS also comes from local farms and houses who are selling back the energy they don’t need. But mostly wind energy. Wind energy, generated by the strong winds in the north of our country, is the main sources of green energy, almost 80 percent. But the important fact is, that energy you will get from NLS is 100 percent green. 100 percent sustainable energy. It al started with a local initiative from a group of people who saw the importance of a sustainable way to generate energy, the importance of keeping nature healthy for future generations.

Other examples of local sustainability initiatives

In a couple of years 70% of the world population will be living in urban regions. Therefore it’s mostly these regions that contribute in the global CO2-emissions. Already for a couple of years Europe and the Dutch government finance local initiatives to innovate on the field of sustainable energy. An example of a platform where these initiatives arise is called ‘Amsterdam Smart City (ASC)’, where a diverse community of businesses, residents, the municipality and knowledge institutions combine knowledge and skills to bring the sustainability and livability of Amsterdam to a higher level. A big amount of the platform’s attention goes to the theme of ‘Energy, Water & Waste’. There are several sustainability-related projects involving the generation and storage of sustainable energy, like ‘City-zen: Virtual Power Plant’, which goal is to close the gap between renewable energy and actual energy-demand, much like the initiative in Idskenhuizen we just mentioned. In the pilot 50 participants will receive solar-panels on their roofs and home-batteries to store the energy. Also the energy that will not be used will be traded on the wholesale market. The goal is to store the energy when the energy-price is low and to discharge and trade when the energy-price is high. Therefore it pays of to use less energy than you generate.

Another sustainable initiative from the same company is called ‘City-zen: Comfort Cooling residential buildings in Houthaven district’ which is realizing that the Houthaven district in Amsterdam will be 100% climate neutral by using wasted heat from the Amsterdam Waste Management Company during winter, and cooling from surface-water during summer.

Interview with Sytze van Stempvoort, founder of PeelPioneers

For the last sustainable initiative we want to mention, we interviewed Sytze van Stempvoort, founder of PeelPioneers, a company that processes citrus-peel waste to for example bio-degradable packaging.

Can you explain what PeelPioneers exactly does?

“PeelPioneers strives to be the leading processor of (initially) Dutch citrus peels (orange, lime, lemon, grapefruit). With a smart biorefinery concept we extract components from the peel that serve as material in other products. Components that we isolate from the skins: essential oils (fragrances that are used in cosmetics, detergents and the like), fibers (used in packaging) and high quality flavonoids/pectin (both widely used in the food industry). By working closely with suppliers of the peel and manufacturers of detergents for example, we can check the chain and work circular. An example: Schiphol Airport has 10.000 kilos of peel waste on a weekly base. In a pilot study in March, we will collect a part of that peels and (together with a producer) we will make a cleaning solution which will be used in the terminal. So we go from waste to resource and we contribute to the circular economy.”

Do you receive (financial) support from the government?

“PeelPioneers has two investors: Bas & Lindy who together run Tekko (a small investment fund). In addition we have just received a European subsidy: SUPERBIO. But we are still in the preliminary stage for other funding sources.”

Would it be possible without this support?

“Yes, eventually we want a factory that processes about 60–100 tonnes of peels every day. This is not simple to achieve, so we want to start small. In March 2017 we strive to do a commercial pilot with 1,000 kilograms of peels per day.”

What is the difference you want to make; for instance, how much plastic and other materials do you want to replace?

“The Netherlands discards 250 kilotons of peels each year: burnt or fermented. Both options are less than ideal because peels consist for 80% of water (burning water or trying to make biogas out of water are both inefficient). We make a difference by providing a processing route that is unique for peels in non-citrus producing countries and we think that we will be able to process about 70 kilotons of peels annually. That means we tap into local resources. We also try to sell our products in the Netherlands as much as possible to avoid negative externalities associated with logistics. We will also produce a fair amount of bio-based materials that will replace virgin raw materials for plastics/paper and cardboard. Per ton of peels we process this will be about 40 kilos.”

What kind of legal issues do you have to face?

“On peeling from retail organizations rests a waste status, which makes it impossible to use the peels for feed/food applications. We are talking with the NVWA (food and drug administration) to get this reversed.”

Where do you hope to see yourself and PeelPioneers in ten years?

“I hope I’m in a place with a lot of peels around me! PeelPioneers has the potential to also become a supplier of finished products in addition to a raw material producer and to build its own citrusbrand for cosmetics, cleaning and packaging. In addition: We want to extent to Germany, UK, France etc.”

The reason we mention these initiatives is because they’re not only important for Amsterdam and the Netherlands, but for all urban regions - and even smaller communities - around the world, who struggle to make the transition to renewable energy and sustainable products.

World-leaders play a major role in determining which direction we should go, like we have seen with the COP21, but because the speed of the direction will be determined by the rollout of local initiatives, businesses like City-zen and PeelPioneers are essential to achieve the desired result.

Better legislation, fewer regulations

On the 20th November 2013 the Urgenda Foundation and 886 individual civilians have summoned the State of the Netherlands in a case where the Dutch State was held accountable for contributing to climate change by not doing enough to reduce the CO2-emissions. The State lost and is appealing but is in fact acting to make a step forward by revising the Environment & planning laws, which (for example) has to make it easier to make sustainable adjustments on buildings and to build wind farms, by improving the legislation and reducing the amount of regulations.

What makes these kind of initiatives so lucrative is that they are private companies. They have the capability to enforce help from the government when the Dutch government does not act actively enough in favor of companies who are trying to get The Netherlands into a greener and brighter future.

Because of jurisprudence, now given by the Urgenda case, it is possible for these companies and unions, similar to NLS and City-Zen, to prohibit legislation that would endanger profitable green energy generating. The Dutch court has acknowledged the fact that the state can act contrary to their duty of care. So when a law is passed by the Dutch government that would increase taxes or make the way these companies are harvesting green energy more difficult the companies can appeal to the court, via tort law, and secure their rights. Let’s hope that The Dutch government isn’t planning on doing so. Let’s hope that the Dutch government, like the people, is going to fight for a greener and brighter earth.


Interview with A. Rijssenbeek co-founder of the energy cooperation Werstal (Plaatselijk Belang)

Interview with S. van Stempvoort, Founder of Peelpioneers