'There is no planet B'march 25, 2019
Manon Janssen captivates during Brightlands Horizon presentation
Manon Janssen is still opposed to a generic CO2 tax for industrial companies in the Netherlands. The chairman of the Climate Round Table on Industry fears the adverse effects of such a tax: CO2 goals might not be met, and companies might decide to move to countries where no extra tax is imposed or will import raw materials instead of producing them themselves. However, if such a tax must be imposed, the rates and conditions of this tax must quickly be made clear, Manon argued during the annual Brightlands Horizon lecture at the Provincial Government Building in Maastricht.
It has now become a tradition, the Brightlands Horizon lecture presented against the fitting backdrop of the TEFAF art fair. This appealing context enables administrators, politicians, scientists and other guests to combine the useful with the enjoyable. This sun-drenched third Friday in March was no exception, but Manon Janssen didn’t come to the State Room at the Gouvernement building on the Meuse to hold a talk free from engagement. The top female executive of the international research and consultancy Ecorys, headquartered in Brussels, was unable to attend the TEFAF, “to her great regret.” She’s too busy, and since she was expected back in Brussels for meetings, she was only able to enjoy a quick lunch after her presentation, where she was happy to expand further on the standpoints she highlighted in her lecture.
Manon Janssen is not really happy however, that much is clear. It still bothers her that the “green alliance” left the Industrial Round Table she chairs in December of last year, one of the five so-called Climate Round Tables designed to set out agreements to fight climate change. The government’s announcement two weeks ago that a CO2 tax must be introduced for business was yet another disappointment.
The sustainable energy advocate tries to stay as far away from politics as possible, but it’s not easy. “We have had very constructive meetings with our Industrial Round Table for a year now, and laid out a really good plan,” she says, adhering to her standpoints. “Industry in the Netherlands is capable of reducing CO2 emissions by 49 percent by 2030, compared with the levels seen in 1990. We have discussed dozens of plans and projects, explored many different paths. It’s possible, even without the generic CO2 tax. And there already are taxes, both via the ETS (Emission Trading Scheme) system, but also the penalty tax in the plan that has been submitted. Industry pays the lion’s share of the bill, between nine and sixteen billion Euros. We have assumed our responsibility, and know that we have to build a sustainable society. There is no planet B. And all this just gets reduced to a political debate that focuses solely on the CO2 tax as a goal.”
Why? Manon Janssen has an explanation. “Industry doesn’t have a likeability factor, it doesn’t elicit sympathy. The producers are the polluters, the wrongdoers. The media conveys the impression that average citizens will get stuck with the bill. This isn’t true; business pays for its own sustainable plans. By this, I don’t mean to insinuate that citizens don’t have to make an effort. I drive a car that runs on diesel. Is this the manufacturer’s fault, or do I also play a part in this? Citizens make their own choices as consumers. Of course, they will be affected by the energy transition; it affects everyone. But this is a separate issue from the Industrial Round Table.”
The Chemelot industrial park was a prominent participant in the Industrial Round Table. “This goes without saying,” Manon Janssen continues. “After all, Chemelot is responsible for 13 percent of the CO2 emissions in the Netherlands. During these meetings, I was impressed by how aware the companies at Chemelot are of their own role and their responsibility. They work together to shape the energy transition, are looking for alternative and sustainable energy sources and actual steps have already been taken.”
Robert Claasen, CEO of Chemelot, who also took to the stage to give a (shorter) presentation, confirms what Manon says. “Chemelot has to be energy-neutral by 2050. We are also committed to cutting CO2 emissions in half by 2030 as compared with the levels in 1990. We have experience with the energy transition. Here in Limburg, we have already switched from coal to gas and naphta.
We know how to cross the ‘Valley of Death’; in other words, how we can implement new processes successfully. The hundred companies based at our property and at the Campus are motivated and have woken up to the fact that we need to switch to sustainable sources. The ambition to become the cleanest chemicals site in the world didn’t just come out of nowhere and is a firm goal. However, we can’t do this alone. Government, knowledge institutes, citizens; everyone has to do their part.”
Manon Janssen advocates trust and common sense. “Blindly imposing expensive CO2 taxes doesn't help, and neither does blind trust. We are absolutely not opposed to a no-claims bonus system that uses CO2 tax as a tool. Actually, the Industrial Round Table had already agreed that companies that don’t comply with the agreements will be subjected to extra CO2 taxes.
Incidentally, this is in addition to the European ETS levy that is already in place. Companies that make extra efforts will see financial benefits. You have to monitor and verify everything of course. The Industrial Round Table agreements aren’t optional. I am however convinced that all of the parties are convinced of the urgency. The Netherlands is a ‘polder’ country, characterized by consensus-based decision-making; we approach problems together.”
So, just imposing the tax with brute force doesn’t fit into this scenario? “No, not as far as I’m concerned. There are so many plans and ideas, and so many initiatives that have already been taken. Let’s get started, put in some mileage. A CO2 tax can be an excellent means, but is not the end. This is the point I’m trying to make and I am in fact disappointed that the debate is becoming so one-dimensional.”
The question now is where do we go from here? Manon Janssen concludes: “I hope that the government thinks very carefully about the rates and conditions if the tax is introduced. I hope that our proposals will be taken into consideration. And I’m also advocating rapid clarity on the matter. Businesses have to make decisions for the long-term. Technologies change and development costs time and money. When you have uncertainty, there’s a high likelihood that companies will leave to set up in countries with less stringent regulations. This naturally doesn’t do us any good. We can’t wait any longer.”