A clean economy in 2050 requires cross-border collaboration

To reduce the emission of greenhouse gases sufficiently, the Netherlands depends on collaboration with other countries. This applies to the exchange of clean energy and to the import of biomass and storage of captured CO2. These conclusions have been formulated by researchers of ECN and the Environmental Assessment Agency PBL in their report ‘Naar een schone economie in 2050: routes verkend’. On assignment of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, they elaborated hundreds of scenarios for reducing the CO2 emission in the Netherlands with 80 percent in 2050. This is the minimal reduction that is needed to keep global warming in Western countries below 2 degrees Celsius.

Four elements

According to the researchers, the Netherlands should focus on a combination of four elements: energy saving, use of biomass as energy source, capturing and storage of greenhouse gases and use of clean electricity. The latter three are pathways that the Netherlands cannot pursue on its own.


The only source of biomass from the Dutch soil that can be used as source of energy will probably be waste; it is unlikely that the expensive Dutch soil will be used to cultivate energy crops. This means that we will need to import a significant share of our biomass from abroad. If we want to do this in a sustainable manner, for example without being responsible for conversion of tropical rainforest into agricultural lands, we will need to consider sustainability criteria and possible supply routes today.

CO2 storage

Capturing of greenhouse gases at large industrial plants is an essential component of sustainable energy policy. These gases need to be stored underground in a safe manner. Although the Netherlands has a reasonably large storage capacity in empty gas fields, it is not certain that this capacity will be sufficient for long-term storage of the envisaged amount of CO2. The northern part of the North Sea may offer a solution. In theory, this location offers enough capacity to store the greenhouse gases of the whole of Europe for many decades. To this end, collaboration will need to be sought with Norway in addition to practical research on the suitability of these locations.

Green electricity

Generating renewable electricity from solar or wind is one of the elements that is needed for a clean economy in 2050. As our electricity system becomes greener, it becomes less predictable and controllable. This can be dealt with by exchanging electricity with abroad in case of shortage or excess. For example, wind energy can be exported to the central or eastern part of Europe, or hydropower can be imported from Scandinavia or solar power from Spain. Reinforcing the exchange capacity among European countries is an important solution according to the researchers: the larger the scale of collaboration is, the less volatile the supply and demand patterns will be.


Read the press release (Dutch) on the report of ECN and PBL.

Watch a short video (Dutch) in which the report is explained.

Read the full report Naar een schone economie in 2050: routes verkend.