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Renewable railway technology to radically reduce Dutch emissions

The Dutch are taking the future of emissions reduction into their own hands.

In an unprecedented move, 886 Dutch citizens have demanded their own government into meeting more ambitious emissions targets. Advocating on behalf of these citizens to the court was Urgenda (“Urgent Agenda”) as part of the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions at Erasmus University. On its own, the Dutch Government had set targets that they would reduce emissions by 17 per cent by 2020. However, Urgenda argued that these targets fall short of the ethical responsibility the Dutch Government had to its citizens and the environment as a contributing body to climate change.

“The Dutch emissions that form part of the global emission levels are excessive,” read the court proceeding in favor of Urgenda’s position. Urgenda claimed the Dutch state had “systemic responsibility for the total greenhouse gas emission level of the Netherlands.” In light of this, the court determined that the Dutch state must hence legislate emission targets “so that this volume will have reduced … 25 per cent at the end of 2020 compared to the level of the year 1990.”

Railway systems as the first step

Now some work has begun to meet this ambitious target, with the first whirlwind project being to transition the entire Dutch railway system off fossil fuels. The Dutch ProRail system covers 2,900 kilometres of track consuming 1.4 terawatt hours of energy a year. Half of this energy requirement is currently already being met by wind generation.

In a contract set to take effect by 2018 the railway system will become 100 per cent dependent on renewable energy generated by both offshore and inland wind farms. Power suppliers VIVENS and Eneco signed the landmark contract with rail providers Netherlands Railways, Arriva, Connexxion, Veolia and some rail freight firms. According to Account Manager Michel Kerkhof at Eneco, mobility accounts for “20 per cent of CO2 emissions in the Netherlands” and because of this, the industry is going to set a precedent when those emissions reach zero.

This 100 per cent renewable energy target by the Dutch rail system was inspired by the government call for radical emissions targets, though it received no subsidy. “It is the result of a European tender procedure between market parties” Kerkhof said. The hope is that meeting these exciting targets and creating unprecedented partnerships will spur other industries and citizens to do the same.


This is the framework for creating real change in the future: setting goals that will create real results and demanding more than the status quo. With this Dutch ruling the precedent is set for the future of climate policy. Climate science will be used to inform climate policy and ambitious plans will pay off. By 2020 central Europe will have a 100 per cent renewable energy powered railway. The success of this plan will inspire other industries and other countries to step up and say yes to ambition, and move forward toward to a far more sustainable future.

Forecasted start year: 
2018 to 2020


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