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Covenant of Mayors

Covenant of Mayors - 06.12.2017

Interview with Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam
The City of Amsterdam joined the Covenant of Mayors in 2009, and has committed to reducing its CO2 emissions by 40% by 2025. Could you tell us more about your city’s long term vision as regards climate and energy?

(Interview conducted by the Covenant of Mayors)

Amsterdam is a dedicated supporter of the Paris Climate Agreement and integrated sustainability concepts. We consider sustainability as an engine for society and a driver of the economy. Therefore, Amsterdam strives to become entirely fossil-fuel free and independent from coal, oil and gas on the long term. The result will be a creative and varied city, economically and socially strong, with a healthy living environment.

Amsterdam has positioned itself as one of the frontrunners in climate action by taking the bold decision to phase out of natural gas heating by 2050. We have made this decision without clearly knowing how to reach our goal. But if you never start, you’ll never be able to find out what it is the best way to do it! Setting objectives and timelines is necessary to show what we wish to achieve regarding major issues such as climate change, air pollution and natural resource scarcity. However, the real challenge is to start action: going beyond visions and scenarios, and pragmatically start acting in our city with many stakeholders involved.

The city government has adopted an integrated sustainability agenda, focusing on five priorities: (1) energy savings and a clean energy supply for electricity and heating, (2) broad circular economy concepts, (3) clean and healthy air, (4) urban adaptation to a changing climate and (5) setting the example with a sustainable municipal organisation. To achieve these goals, we support citizen initiatives, and work together with local partners such as non-governmental organisations, businesses and experts. We are working with major stakeholders such as housing organisations, energy network operators and heating companies in a so-called City Deal. In this public private partnership, housing organisations agreed to identify, by the end of 2017, 10,000 housing units where Amsterdam will start the discussions with the residents about how and when the gas supply can be disconnected. Currently, we are considering the following alternatives to natural gas: district heating, zero energy systems, geothermal energy and bio gas.

Our city works according to a district-oriented approach. Each district has its unique characteristics, there is no “one size fits all” solution. Nevertheless, we have adopted the principles of affordability, sustainability, openness and space for alternative district heating systems for the transition towards a 100% sustainable energy supply.

What are the main difficulties you have been facing in developing and implementing this strategy? What do you think are the best solutions to overcome them?

We have encountered different types of obstacles. From a socioeconomic point of view, the energy transition towards a sustainable Amsterdam affects many people, this is a collective shift and requires support from all citizens. A common ‘mind-set’ is therefore needed. By communicating and involving residents at an early stage, possible fears, objections and pitfalls can be overcome. We would very much welcome a national campaign to emphasize the urgency to the Dutch citizens on a national scale.

Furthermore, it is crucial for us to offer affordable alternatives to natural gas. The current price for natural gas is relatively low in the Netherlands. Alternative means of heating that the city has found so far can hardly compete with this price, they are often more expensive. This is why the city of Amsterdam has been advocating at national level for the government to implement a higher energy tax on natural gas.

Then, legislation sometimes proves to be a barrier to the energy transition. For example, the Dutch law currently still grants all citizens the right to have natural gas heating in their homes. It means that there is a jurisdictional mandate to connect residents to the natural gas network. However, there is no jurisdictional mandate to disconnect residents when alternative heating is possible. As a local government, the City of Amsterdam operates within this limiting legal framework. We are asking for more financial and legal means to implement our policies and thereby pursue our energy transition.

I have used our transition for phasing out of natural gas heating as an example here, but the difficulties we have encountered can also be found in the more ‘general’ energy transition. Cities close the gap between global ambitions - like the Paris Agreement - and action at local level. Now is the time for implementation. We, as local leaders, must dare to take a step further in implementing fossil-free strategies. I know it needs courage to take bold measures, to decide on structural changes in our cities’ energy systems, to get started, even if the path is not clearly visible yet. But we know where we have to go.

How has being part of the Covenant of Mayors been supporting Amsterdam in its energy and climate action?

Throughout Europe, and the rest of the world, cities play a leading role in addressing contemporary problems and can urge national and supranational governments to push for even more ambitious goals. The energy transition in Amsterdam, like in any other city, is a very complex task. It requires cooperation at regional, national and international level. The Covenant of Mayors is a suitable platform for cooperation, peer-learning and knowledge-sharing, something the City of Amsterdam highly values.

The energy transition goes beyond our own borders, so international cooperation is needed to address this issue. By offering many networking tools and opportunities, the Covenant of Mayors allows Amsterdam to get inspiration from policies implemented in other cities. The Covenant of Mayors is a platform where urban problems and solutions meet! Despite the fact that contexts may differ from a city to another, it is highly valuable to share best practices. We, as a city, are also glad to share our knowledge with the Covenant Community, notably regarding e-mobility. In Amsterdam, we use our city as a laboratory for experiments. Cities are where innovation takes place!
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