By: Catalina Iorga

In January, the Impact Hub Amsterdam is moving to the stunning building of the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT), and joining 35 social impact-driven organisations already based at KIT. For the last public event before the big move, we invited Marjan Minnesma, director of Urgenda and co-founder of DRIFT, to share her insights into accelerating societal transition to a more sustainable and resilient world.

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Described by DRIFT’s Flor Avelino as “the best the Netherlands has to offer in the space of sustainability”, Minnesma wants to convey the urgency of tackling disruptive climate change. “We need to do much more, 2050 will be too late”, she said in reference to the mainstream time frame for switching to renewable solutions. “You, as young people, should knock at the door of those in power and demand immediate action”, Minnesma added.

And it’s easy to see why the time to act in is now; “the difference between 2 and 4 degrees is human civilization”, said John Schellnhuber, Chair of the German Advisory Council on Global Change, But even an increase of 2 instead of 1.5 degrees would make drier areas uninhabitable, leading to unprecedented migration. In addition, the next 20 years will be crucial for preserving the planet’s air conditioning mechanism, the Arctic ice sheet, and determining the long-term survival of countries under sea level, such as the Netherlands, and island nations battling the rising oceans.

 

“Many people suffer from adaptive optimism, but every one should do their part”

 

“Many people suffer from adaptive optimism, but every one should do their part”, Minnesma believes. And her native Netherlands, as founders of the climate change treaty, can play a much bigger role. Currently, the Dutch have the OECD’s third lowest share of renewables in energy supply in OECD, while in 2015 the country’s overall emissions increased by 5 per cent. In fact, laggards such as China and the US are now leading the way in the energy transition, while former EU climate leaders are falling behind.  

The historic Paris climate agreement generated a flurry of global headlines o the end of the fossil fuel era, adding momentum to divestment efforts. Meanwhile, renewables are growing and becoming cheaper; both solar and wind energy levels are exceeding the predictions of the IEA’s World Energy Outlook.

And the growth renewables comes with serious economic incentives: according to Minnesma, a Dutch society powered by 100 per cent sustainably energy by 2030 would translate into 150,000 new jobs, and saving of 3 billion euro when compared to a gas-based economy. “We have all the innovation we need, the only negative effect would be a delay in growth, which we also had and overcame during the financial crisis”, Minnesma says.

The most pressing question is: do we feel responsible? Using data from the 2013 World Energy Outlook, and the Carbon Dioxide Information Analyses Center, Lars Boelen showed that over half of all CO2 humanity will have emitted before going over the 2 degree limit will have resulted from the activities of the generation born after 1990.

Although scientists in the Netherlands, for instance, may be skeptical about fully transitioning to renewable energy by 2035, there are several developments that can encourage our generation to step up to the plate. For instance, 286 billion dollars invested in 2015 in renewable energy, with developing countries investing more than the western world. Meanwhile, the 4 biggest US-based coal companies have been facing dwindling profits. Even oil giants such as Shell had to use borrowed money to pay shareholder dividends. “That’s not a good business model” Minnesma quipped.

 

Getting into action mode

According to Minnesma, there are five crucial areas for channeling joint efforts to accelerate the advent of a new, more sustainable economy: housing, transportation, food, manufacturing, and energy.  Taking the example of housing, Urgenda, the organization Minnesma runs, estimated that a typical Dutch family spends 35,000 euro in energy over 15 years, but with the same amount of money, houses can be retrofitted with solar panels. And Urgenda has already helped retrofit 40 homes, including one in Groningen, “in the heart of earthquake region”, as Minnesma puts it.

In terms of actual modes of action we can use, Minnesma emphasizes new physical mass movements, as well as increased divestment. Regarding the latter, research shows that 4 fifths of fossil fuel reserves should stay in the ground. But the road to change is paved with contention; when the Rockefeller Family Fund chose to divest fro, and accused ExxonMobil – a company founded by a Rockefeller – of misleading the public on the impact of fossil fuels, Exxon hit back with conspiracy accusations.

So what can social entrepreneurs and young change makers do? Minnesma stressed that work is needed in all of the five areas outlined above; they’re interconnected, after all, and require simultaneous progress. Or, in her words, we need to “take small but quick steps together. Different people have different expertise, so follow your passion, and you won’t get bored. Keep going even if people think you’re crazy.”

 

Or, in her words, we need to “take small but quick steps together. Different people have different expertise, so follow your passion, and you won’t get bored. Keep going even if people think you’re crazy.”

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jesseywoodley

jesseywoodley