According to the Flemish Green party, Belgium can become fossil-fuel free and in a video they identified nine steps (translated from Dutch) to do that. When I found this article this week on their website, I was rather curious how they envisioned becoming fossil-free. Until then, I came across vague claims. Unfortunately, this campaign is no different.
The page was not dated and there was also no date incorporated in the the url slug, but since the campaign was inspired by Trump becoming president, I guess it is from the beginning of this year. The greens stated that now a “climate denier” became president, it was time for Europe and Belgium to show leadership in clean, renewable energy.
The proposals are presented in the present tense. I understand that this is a way of planting the idea in the heads of the people that it is possible already now. They also give an example of a country that accomplished this step already to support their claim. The problem is that they are also present them in the present tense, although some of them are not accomplished yet. This gives the impression that more is being accomplished than there is in reality.
These are their nine “steps” to become fossil-fuel free (transcript of the video, translated from Dutch):
Our country can do perfectly without oil, gas and coal.
Belgium fossil free in 9 steps
- Repair of appliances will be cheaper thanks to a VAT reduction on repairs. Manufacturers create their devices often in a way that they break after a while by themselves. We stopped that.
Sweden showed us how to do it.
Firstly, I am not sure that they “stop(ped)” manufacturers creating appliances that will break by itself after a while. As far as I can tell, they want to make repairs cheaper. That is something different than acting against manufacturers to force them to create more durable appliances.
Secondly, in the best case, less products will need to be produced and transported. I am not sure how this helps Belgium to become fossil-fuel FREE. Not just lowering fossil-fuels, but running WITHOUT them. By the way, most of those appliances are made abroad anyway (China, USA, Germany,…), so no emissions were made in our country to produce them (only a part of the transport).
Don’t understand me wrong. It is a good initiative for sure, I am all for cheap repairs, but I doubt it will help much in getting our country fossil-fuel free. Which was the intention of this nine steps plan.
- From 2030, no petrol or diesel cars will be sold. We encourage electric vehicles and investing in public transport.
Norway showed us how to do it.
Also here, in theory that is all nice and well, but 2030 is within 13 years. Who is going to produce those batteries and where will the electricity to load all those vehicles come from?
Norway is indeed on its way to do what they claim, but they are not there yet. So Norway didn’t showed us that it is possible, at least not yet. It is then rather misleading to give this example in the present tense, as if it is already been done.
- Polluting diesel buses disappear from the scene. Belgian bus operators only buy electric vehicles.
California showed us how to do it.
Again, where will the electricity come from to load the batteries of all these buses?
- Plastic shopping bags belong to the past. Packaging is recycled and recyclable.
France showed us how to do it.
I am a bit puzzled by this claim. The use of the plastic shopping bags shown in the video dropped significantly since 2005 (they could however still be found for packaging fresh fruits and vegetables or products like cloths,…). So the green party needs to explain why replacing the shopping bags still in use will make the difference in making Belgium fossil-fuel FREE.
By the way, the French didn’t ban all plastic bags, only those thinner than 50µ. Bags thicker than that will still be produced/transported/used.
Again, a nice initiative, but it probably will not help much in their intention of making Belgium fossil-fuel free (meaning no fossil-fuels).
- We don’t install any new heating oil tanks and natural gas heating anymore. We heat with renewable energy.
France showed us how to do it.
I hope they don’t mean wind and solar… Which I think is the case when I see the accompanying clip in their video:
Also their example points in that direction: France.
According Wikipedia, homes in France are primarily heated by electricity:
France heavily relies on electric heating, with about one third of existing and three-quarters of new houses using electric space heating due to the low off-peak tariffs offered.
And yes, their electricity is hardly produced by means of fossil-fuels:
Unlike its neighboring countries of Germany, Italy and the UK, France does not rely very much on fossil fuels and biomass for electricity or home heating and taken as a whole, the country therefore has superior air quality, and lower pollution related deaths.
Nice example of course, but the French can do that because about 90% of their electricity is produced by nuclear power plants. It is easy for France to support electric heating because nuclear power is readily available in winter.
Surely, windmills (and solar panels) produce electricity that can be used for heating. However, there is a catch. In Belgium we need most heating in winter, but then production of wind and solar is rather small to non-existing. Wind and solar produce the least when demand for heating is at its highest. Then we will need another power source available to replace for failing wind (and solar).
By the way, can anyone guess what energy source, besides fossil-fuels, is vilified by the Flemish greens? Well, yes: nuclear energy.
To get this straight: they provided an example of how heating by “renewables” can be done, but showed as the example of a country that accomplishes this with an energy source they desperately want to get rid of.
- We only build in residential areas. So we save nature, and we need less transportation.
The Netherlands showed us how to do it.
Not sure what they exactly mean by that. We can only build in residential areas right now, so it is not clear what the difference is with the current situation. I understand that The Netherlands has a different town and country planning. Residential areas are for example concentrated in and around cities, so I guess this is what is meant.
- We close all coal and gas-fired power plants in Belgium. In 2030, 50% of our energy is renewable.
Denmark showed us how to do it.
We don’t have that many coal fired power plants anymore and most of them are old, so that is an easy one. But why would they want to close the gas powered plants? I think they will need them for balancing the grid when the share of intermittent energy sources is growing.
The example of Denmark is utterly ridiculous. Sure, Denmark is having lots of windmills which are producing a rather big part of their electricity needs already now. But they have a large shore line (which we don’t have) and they have two big neighbor countries with huge amounts of water power (which we don’t have either). I am pretty sure that we can not import the solution shown by Denmark because we are not comparable in that regard.
Sure, we are also increasing our share of wind (and solar) energy, but all our neighbors are doing exactly the same. So none of them are complementary and can help us with the intermittency of wind (like Norway and Sweden can do with water power in the Denmark example). On the contrary, when we have a surplus, The Netherlands and Germany most probably will have a surplus too. When we have a shortage, our neighbors most probably will have a shortage too. Currently France is there to help us in times of surplus or shortages thanks to its nuclear power infrastructure, but also they have plans to decrease the share of nuclear energy and increase the share of wind and solar…
- The government does not invest anymore in fossil energy. Also not indirectly through banks and funds.
France showed us the way.
Not sure what these “investments” are exactly, but apparently they are somehow important enough to be part of their plan to make Belgium fossil-fuel free. They make it seem as if our government is supporting fossil-fuels and that stopping those investments is an important step in making Belgium fossil-fuel free. I am rather curious what those “investments” are exactly. As far as I know, fossil-fuels are heavily taxed and are an income for our government.
- We ensure that travel by train over distances shorter than 500 km is always more interesting than flying.
Spain showed us the way.
Although Belgium is only about 280 km from South-East to North-West and about 220 km from North-East to the South-West, it has one national airport (Brussels), five regional airports and a bunch of military and recreational airports. There are indeed short distance flights to ensure full airplanes to holiday destinations. The greens are absolutely right that travel by train is not very interesting between those airports. Belgian Railways are notorious for for example delays. I am quite interested to hear their plan to change that…
Anyway, it is a quite limited number of flights. In 2013 it were about 300 short stops per year from or to Ostend. Not sure whether those flights compare well against a total of 25 – 30 million passengers overall. Why only focus on the limited number of short stops at those regional airports and forget about all the rest? I guess those other flights also use fossil-fuels as well.
Again, how will these measures make Belgium fossil-fuel FREE?
Concluding. Most of those proposals are rather vague and it is not really clear what is meant by them. They are also in the undefined future. Some probably will have very little effect (like the cheaper repairs or the shopping bags). There are also many questions left. What about for example transport, industry, agriculture,…? Will they just outlaw those? What is their proposal for electricity production? What energy source or storage will be used as backup for intermittent sources like wind and solar?
Also some of the examples are dubious. If some other country can accomplish something in their situation, it doesn’t mean that we can do the same in our situation. A solution in one country is not necessarily usable in another country.
Basically, it is a nice campaign, but I don’t have the impression that they really thought that through.