(Adds government reaction, background)
AMSTERDAM, Jan 25 (Reuters) - The Dutch government is lagging far behind on its climate goals and will need to take immediate action in order to meet legally required improvements, new data showed on Friday.
Carbon dioxide emissions next year in the Netherlands, one of the most polluting countries in Europe, are expected to be 21 percent lower than in 1990, the government’s environmental agency said, despite a court order to reduce them by 25 percent.
The calculations are a blow for the government, which is already struggling to generate support for measures needed to reach its ultimate goal of halving CO2 emissions by 2030 and banning them by 2050.
The government said in October that it would implement the court order. In recent days, however, politicians have expressed doubt about the expensive and often unpopular measures that would be needed to do so at such short notice.
“It’s complicated,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters on Friday. “We will take it step by step, to make sure our measures are well supported. The task is big, but the aim is to reach the goal.”
Plans to reach the 2020 goal will be presented in April, Rutte said, around the time the government is due to decide how to reach the targets set in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
Uncertainty over the cost of meeting those goals has put Rutte’s government under pressure, less than two months before elections that could cost the coalition its majority in the Upper House.
The court order to step up the fight against climate change has increased pressure on the government to close immediately at least two of five coal-fired energy plants.
Current plans call for two to be shut in 2024 and the other three by 2030.
Shutting two immediately would cost hundreds of millions of euros and deliver just half of the CO2 reduction required.
Further savings would need to come from energy-saving measures such as lowering speed limits, improving home insulation and raising energy prices, experts have said.
“Closing the coal plants is the most obvious option”, ABN Amro energy expert Hans van Cleef said. “Another option is to buy emission rights abroad. But that will be a hard sell politically, as it doesn’t reduce emissions in the Netherlands.”
Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Dale Hudson and Jason Neely