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Rotterdam, Striving to be Green, Downplays CO2 Targets

Second of a five-part series on Rotterdam’s efforts to become a sustainable and “climate-proof” city.

Although committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, Rotterdam—the Netherlands’ second largest metropolis—no longer tries to rally the public behind its carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction goals.

“It’s a very deliberate political decision,” said Director of Urban Planning and City Development Paula Verhoeven. The city focuses instead on air quality, noise pollution, energy efficiency, and other measures of sustainability. “There is no target on CO2 emissions at the moment,” Verhoeven stated.

“When you talk to the public about CO2 emissions,” she said, “it doesn’t appeal very much . . . it’s very abstract.” Instead, the city talks about making its industries, buildings, and transport systems cleaner and more energy efficient.

“People want a clean environment,” Verhoeven said. “They want healthy air quality. They want low-energy bills. They want a green city. They want affordable houses. They want nature in their city. Those are all elements that help in fighting climate change and in making Rotterdam a more sustainable place.”

As part of the Rotterdam Climate Initiative (RCI), the city endeavored to create a low-carbon economy by focusing on the industrial, built environment, and transportation sectors.

Rotterdam’s industrial sector is particularly CO2 intensive, producing 88 percent of the city’s CO2 emissions in 2010. As a result, the city developed a plan to cut CO2 emissions 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2025. The achievement of this ambitious goal, however, was predicated on the viability of an experimental and commercially unproven technology known as carbon capture and storage (CCS). 

Despite warnings from critics of the technology, city officials allowed two new coal plants to be built in the port of Rotterdam on the theory that their emissions would be captured and reinjected into depleted oil and gas fields beneath the North Sea. However, the technology proved costly and did not operate as planned.

The city would have had to reduce its CO2 emissions by 17.5 million tons a year to meet its CO2 reduction goal. However, according to data from the Rotterdam port, the pilot CCS project was only designed to capture 1.4 million tons a year. The city, faced with the slow and uncertain roll-out of CCS technology, has abandoned its original CO2 reduction commitment.

Offshore CO2 Storage

Rotterdam, however, is still planning to lower its industrial emissions by:

  • Reducing energy consumption
  • Sharing residual heat
  • Creating more renewable energy-generating capacity
  • Co-firing biomass with fossil fuel
  • Using bio-based materials in the chemical industry, and eventually some industrial CCS

The city’s concentration of energy-intensive industry and the presence of empty oil and gas fields offshore in the North Sea is an ideal combination for a major CCS demonstration project. Thus, a consortium of 11 Rotterdam businesses is developing a regional CCS pipeline that will link energy-intensive industries producing CO2 to potential offshore CO2 storage facilities. Known as the Rotterdam Capture and Storage Demonstration Project (ROAD), it is one of the world’s largest CCS demonstration efforts.

Rotterdam 2042

Rotterdam might be said to be a city that “makes no little plans.” Its goal is to be the most sustainable port city of its kind. In addition to its CO2 storage program, air quality and noise reduction efforts, and vigorous promotion of energy efficiency in the corporate and residential sectors, the city is already boosting its renewable energy production, developing non-fossil fuel feedstocks for its chemical industry, and encouraging the trading and use of sustainable biomass.

In Rotterdam’s strategic sustainability and climate plan, Investing in Sustainable Growth, Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb and Vice Mayor for Sustainability Alexandra van Huffelen declare that, by 2042, “Rotterdam . . . will have been transformed into a system of recycling streams of water, energy, raw materials, goods and waste products: a network of information and knowledge, of synergy and vigor…”

According to the mayor and vice mayor, this vision of next-generation Rotterdam, “fits in with what many of the people of Rotterdam consider to be the most important motivation in their lives: a better future for their children and grandchildren and for future generations.”