CETA is dangerous and should not be ratified

On 15 February 2017 the European Parliament approved the Canada-EU Trade Agreement (CETA). Now the treaty will need to be ratified by individual member states before it comes into effect. Let’s hope that CETA is either adequately modified before it’s ratified or rejected. I’m not principally against free trade agreements, but CETA is a bad treaty. As you might already know, CETA contains many nasty provisions favouring big business over the small citizen.

The Stop TTIP campaign (which also wants to stop CETA) covered these issues very comprehensively. There are too many to discuss in a single post so let’s single out one which worries me most: the investment court system (ICS), also known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). This is not unique to CETA, but included in many other free trade agreements as well.

The problem with ICS is that it gives foreign investors acces to special courts for investment disputes with states. I can imagine this is justified in case the state in question doesn’t have an impartial legal system, but the EU and Canada have high-quality legal systems. ICS is only accessible for foreign investors, which creates inequality for domestic investors and other actors in society. The rights for foreign investors to have their investments protected are vague and can interfere with the democratic process of lawmaking. And even after modification, judges aren’t employed on a tenured full time basis and a fixed salary, which gives a potential for conflict of interest. These objections, and more, are voiced by 101 European law professors.

Recently South Africa decided to withdraw from treaties with ISDS, Indonesia won’t renew them. India will remodel its treaties to nerf ISDS. Brazil never signed an investment treaty with ISDS at all and doesn’t have difficulty to attract foreign investment. Why do the EU and its member states not notice that? Do we really have to wait for ridiculous claims from foreign investors before we realize that ICS was a terrible idea? Unsurprisingly, my own political party GroenLinks voted against provisional application of CETA for this and other reasons. Another left-wing party, the Dutch Labour Party, thought that ICS was okay after it had been softened (but still subject to the above criticism). D66, slightly less left-wing, maintained that CETA shouldn’t interfere with the rule of law, but voted in favor anyway. They didn’t explain at all why a separate court for foreign investors is necessary.

Fortunately, the regional government of Wallonia resisted CETA fiercely before it reached a compromise with the Belgian federal government to approve the treaty on 27 October 2016. The compromise consisted of an addendum to the treaty which is analyzed in detail here. The most important succes of the compromise is that it requires a review of ICS for compatibility with European law by the European Court of Justice. It also states that the Wallonian region may veto the treaty if the chapter on investment protection is not improved by the time of ratification. We will have to see what their effort is worth by the time they make the decision to ratify the treaty or not.

Even though he couldn’t stop CETA, I’m grateful to Paul Magnette, the minister-president of Wallonia, for his efforts. In an opinion peace on CETA he not only discusses the danger of corporate privilege, but also the environmental consequences of international trade. International trade accelerates climate change through transportation of goods with fossil fuels and should therefore not expand any further. We have to produce more of our goods locally to counter climate change.

Make high-speed rail travel more efficient

Last year I wrote that I had stopped using aircraft because of their excessive use of fossil fuels. The consequence was that from then on I would only use other forms of transport to travel for holidays. In fact mostly trains for their speed. Last year we practiced what I preached and used the train to travel to Puglia.

The journey went well. The French TGV and the Italian FrecciaRossa high-speed trains can reach speeds of 300 km/h, shortening travel times significantly compared to ordinary trains and buses. On the railroad from The Hague in the Netherlands to Foggia in Italy, you’ll experience these speeds between Paris and Lyon as well as Milan and Bologna for example. It’s awesome to see the surroundings next to the train flash by in the blink of an eye. The problem is that you won’t be travelling so fast for most of the time.

Take the part from Rotterdam to Paris, Lyon and then Milan for example. Coincidentally, according to Google Maps the distance covered by all three legs of this journey is very close at approximately 450 kilometers each. Travel times are also close, at 4:30 hours each. This doesn’t take into account possible congestion, but the route is a worst case scenario which passes through the center of each city. For the train journey with Thalys (from Rotterdam) and TGV (from Paris onwards), the three legs take 2:46, 1:51 and 5:11 (!) hours respectively.

Much of this is to blame on the route through the Alps where the TGV can’t go fast and stops at every provincial backwater. This will be solved with the Turin–Lyon high-speed railway, but that is expected to be finished by 2028 due to the construction of the 57 km long Mont d’Ambin Base Tunnel. Another big issue is that the Thalys arrives in Paris at Gare du Nord and that the TGV to Milan departs from Gare de Lyon two hours later. There is a good subway connection between both stations, but you lose a lot of time which could have been spent in the train.

Such important tunnels as the Mont d’Ambin Base Tunnel should already have been constructed in the past if there had been foresight of the future. Paris should have one huge TGV station on the outskirts of the city. Give it a good connection to the center with a subway line so the TGV’s can be focused on serious long distance travel and short transfers between trains (which also means more trains). When that’s done, high-speed trains will be able to compete much better with aircraft.

In other places the story is the same. Milan also has two stations for high speed trains, requiring you to make a transfer. When you travel from Milan to Foggia, there simply is no high speed rail on Italy’s eastern coast. The intercity on that route wasn’t slow, but I’m looking forward to the new high-speed line from Napoli to Bari which is due to finish in 2022. When I explored options for a trip to Spain (which also has a decent high-speed rail network) I noticed that there is still no high-speed railway between Montpellier and Perpignan (in France) and that there is no high-speed railway from Madrid to Lisbon (even the ordinary railway connections to Lisbon are scarce).

I can deal with such limitations by spending the night in a city half way through the journey. But others will just take a flight. If we want to make long distance train travel attractive, we have to do a lot more.

Why I don’t want to travel with aircraft anymore

To travel to Nepal and the USA from the Netherlands several years ago, I’ve used aircraft. For traveling to closer holiday destinations such as Spain and Italy, I’ve also taken flights to get there. Since I’ve become more conscious of climate change, I decided to investigate the climate change impact of flights. My findings shocked me.

Flights cause much more carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than cars, buses and trains. How much more depends on the method you use to calculate it. There are various calculators available on the Internet which can calculate CO2 emissions for a specific route. Because calculation methods and results vary so widely, I’ve compared them in the table below, on the basis of a journey with the train from Rotterdam Centraal railway station (Netherlands) to our next holiday’s destination, Bari Centrale railway station (Italy). For the flight I chose a hypothetical, non-existent flight from Rotterdam The Hague Airport (IATA: RTM) to Bari Karol Wojtyła Airport (IATA: BRI).

This is one way to do the comparison. In reality, you would need to travel 200 kilometers with a car (or three hours and a quarter with the train and bus) from Rotterdam to Maastricht Aachen Airport (IATA: MST) to get a flight to Bari. You would also need to take the metro from Bari Airport to Bari Centrale, which takes around twenty minutes. This makes the comparison more favorable for the train. Also consider that the huge advantage of faster air travel can be negated in practice; the flight departs only on Wednesday and Sunday in the second week of September. We depart on Thursday with the train, which departs every day.

Calculator Flight CO2 (kg) Train CO2 (kg)
MyClimate 310
EcoPassenger 269 63
Carbon Footprint 210
Loco2 144 27
ICAO 141

I should mention that the Carbon Footprint calculator has an option to include or exclude radiative forcing. Without radiative forcing, the CO2 emissions will be 110 kilo, but considering the effect of radiative forcing I think it’s fair to include it.

EcoPassenger seems to have to most refined methodology of all the calculators. If I just enter departure station and arrival station it gives me a figure of 70 kilo for the train, but it tends to select a strange route via Switzerland to come to this result. I got to the figure of 63 kilo by calculating every leg of the journey independently, for the exact trains I’ve booked:

  1. Rotterdam to Paris (Thalys) = 6,0
  2. Paris to Milan (TGV) = 16,5
  3. Milan to Bari (FrecciaRossa to Bologna, then FrecciaBianca) = 40,3

The difference between rail transport in France and Italy is explained by the methodology used by EcoPassenger, which is accessible on their website. They take into account which fuel sources were used for electricity production in 2013. It turns out that nuclear power had a share of 75% in French electricity consumption, followed by renewable energy with 18%. Because this gives very limited CO2 emissions the journey through France scores well. Italy doesn’t use nuclear power and had a share of 41% renewable energy in total consumption. I had expected the journey from Rotterdam to Paris to emit more because the Dutch electricity mix is lagging behind. It is heavily dependent on fossil fuels with a pitiful share of merely 14% renewables in electricity consumption.

Some of the calculators indicate a huge difference in CO2 emissions between aircraft and train. A Dutch environmental organization, Milieu Centraal, calculated the difference at a factor of 7,5 for a journey from the Netherlands to Nice in France. With Loco2, aircraft emit more than five times more CO2 than the train. EcoPassenger shows the smallest difference with a factor of more than four. Their estimate is the most conservative, but their methodology is also appears to be the best and the most transparent.

So how does 269 kilo of CO2 emissions compare? Consider for example that in the Netherlands, cars traveled 12.935 kilometers on average in 2012. They emitted 119 grams of CO2 per kilometer on average in the same year, giving a total of 1.539 kilos of CO2 for the whole year. So a return flight from Rotterdam to Bari equals four months of driving an average car in the Netherlands. This still might not seem much to you. Actually, considering that in the real world you can take a one way flight from Maastricht to Bari with Ryanair for less than € 20, you might not care.

But consider some other things. If you fly long distances, CO2 emissions will equal or exceed the emissions of a car in a year. Commuting to work with your car might be a necessity, but a holiday with a flight is certainly a luxury. With all options for video conferencing today, I think flights for business reasons aren’t essential either. You can also commute to work with electric public transport, an electric car or a more efficient bus. Electric cars and buses are already showing strong growth and are likely to replace their counterparts on fossil fuels in the near future. On the other hand there is no alternative to aircraft which run on kerosene for the foreseeable future.

Because there is no way to make air travel environmentally sustainable at this time, I think we should stop doing it altogether. We have to take action against unchecked climate change. The year 2016 will be another year with a new temperature record, just like the six other years after 2000. If it goes on like this, southwest Asia is predicted to become uninhabitable due to extreme temperatures. More needs to be done to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Why not start with air travel, which was conveniently kept out of that agreement?

The question is, can we do with less? Commercial aviation is still relatively young and became popular no sooner than the 1960’s in the Netherlands. Our parents could enjoy their holiday in the Netherlands itself or elsewhere in Europe without a flight. If they could be content with that, we should be able too. I’d still love to go to Mexcio, Brazil, India and Japan one day, so this is not easy for me either. However, I can live with less and be satisfied with holidays in Europe by train. Given the danger we are in, our climate should take precedence over my and your desires. Don’t fool yourself with arguments like ‘that aircraft will still fly without me’. This assumes you are the only one prepared to act. I’m asking you to assume something different: it might take no more than two hundred people to make one flight unprofitable for an airline.

Now you know what is at stake and you know what you can do about it. What will you choose? The earth or your own desires?

Is Zwarte Piet racist?

The Sinterklaas celebrations in the Netherlands last year again featured a very heated debate about the alleged racist character of Zwarte Piet. A group protestors consisting of mostly black people (and some whites) consider Zwarte Piet racist, while the majority of Dutch white people see it as tradition rather than racism. I recently watched a documentary about the matter, “Zwart als roet”, also available in English. This documentary, made by the (white) Sunny Bergman, appeals to a white public to consider the issue from a different perspective.

The matter was not a big deal to me before the discussion. Initially I considered the protestors a bunch of self-victimizing whiners who took offense at a tradition which was not meant to be offensive. Recently, and certainly after watching the documentary, I’ve come to see that the protestors are mostly right: Zwarte Piet is racist. Zwarte Piet became a tradition in the Netherlands during the 19th century, during a time when there were not as much Dutch people with foreign heritage as now. This, and the character of that time, meant that no one spoke up about the issue. Back in the day Zwarte Piet may not have been conceived of as consciously racist, to demean black people, but it is rightfully experienced as racist by black people now.

Especially revealing to me are the scenes where Sunny Bergman and a collaborator walk around in a British city as Zwarte Piet. Sunny remarks that most white Dutch people are prejudiced because we grew up with Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet. For British people this is not the case: they are quick to condemn Zwarte Piet als gravely racist. This is because Great Britain and the United States had a tradition in blackface performances, we are told.

Later in the documentary, a parallel to broader racism is drawn. In another experiment, a white person and two persons with darker skin color try to steal a bike. Amazingly, the white person is even given assistance by passers-by to break a chain lock on the bike, because people consider him reliable. On the other hand, the bystanders quickly recognize the darker skinned persons as thieves and alert the police. Being white, it’s difficult for us to recognize this unconscious undercurrent of racism. The experimental method used by the documentary is a powerful means to expose it.

Apart from the unconscious racism, there is also conscious, explicit racism. It’s understandable that black people are upset when they are called ‘Zwarte Piet’ as a joke. All the racist insults hurled at the protestors are also evidence of the problem. I do think that some of the protestors lacked subtlety in their message. The average Dutch person who grew up with Zwarte Piet probably was amazed and insulted when they were indirectly called racists. Had they been more careful in their message, they would have received more sympathy because people would understand better.

I still like Zwarte Piet as a concept and I would want my children to experience the tradition while black people don’t feel shamed. Fortunately, this requires only a small interventions: remove the earrings, the wig with black curly hair, lipstick and completely black facial paint and replace it with smudges of black paint over the face. Anyone who considers the history of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet will realize the tradition has changed a lot in two centuries, so this is no objection to me. I was taught that Zwarte Piet is black because he climbed through the chimney, after all. This has already been done in several places last year, but needs to get wider following. However, some have also painted Zwarte Piet yellow and other strange colors, which is taking it too far in my opinion. Some schools even went further than that and consider Zwarte Piet a negative stereotype in all cases, no matter what color he is. They replaced Zwarte Piet with commercialized ‘minion’ figures. That is completely absurd.

Cowspiracy, meat consumption and veganism

In September 2015 I watched Cowspiracy, a documentary about the impact of livestock on climate change. It explains why cattle rearing is so damaging to our climate and doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It’s well made and is likely to achieve its goal to get the viewers thinking about their diets.

The documentary is reasonably well researched, but there is valid criticism on the sources used in Cowspiracy. An earlier version of the film claimed that livestock caused 18,5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, based on an FAO report. The revised version of the film doesn’t mention a figure, but the creators admit on their website that the FAO lowered the figure to 14,5% later. Unfortunately they do continue to support a single study which concluded that livestock is responsible for 51% of greenhouse gases, which is not credible to me after all the criticism I’ve read. Even so, the 14,5% figure is still more than all greenhouse gas emissions from transport, which are 13% according to the sources used for the film.

Another issue is the claim that you can’t be an environmentalist if you eat meat. As said elsewhere, I don’t think it is black and white. If there is mountainous land which is unsuitable for agriculture but which can be used for entirely grass-fed cattle, I don’t see a problem. The same goes for hunting and fishing responsibly. In practice supply of animal food from these two former categories is very limited in the Western world, of course.

You might take an issue with some of statistics and sources used in Cowspiracy, but its message that we should adopt a vegan diet (or in my eyes, at least drastically reduce our consumption of animal products) still stands. There is overwhelming evidence for the extent of the problems caused by livestock. As you can read on their page about the facts, cattle requires enormous inputs in land, water and fodder crops when compared to growing plants. Feeding half our global grain supply to cattle is crazy.

An recent study from Erb et al. (2016) in the prestigious journal Nature sheds more light on the problem. They studied the options for feeding the world in 2050 without further deforestation. A Western diet for everyone is possible, but only if “cropland yields rose massively and cropland expanded strongly into areas that are today used for grazing”. I don’t see skyrocketing cropland yields happening with all the news about failed harvests and drought caused by climate change lately. The authors state that human diets are the strongest influence on our options. They continue that vegan and vegetarians diets allow us to choose from many more options and that these are “associated with only half the cropland demand, grazing intensity and overall biomass harvest of comparable meat-based human diets”.

We won’t be able to keep up our current level of meat consumption with further human population growth and climate change. *You* are responsible for the preservation of our planet, so start lowering your meat consumption drastically or become vegetarian or vegan. Do what must be done, even if it is inconvenient for you! Personally, I still like meat, fish and cheese, but I haven’t cooked meat in years and probably eat less than a two kilos of fish in year. I do still eat meat a few days a month when others cook for me, however. I will strive to lower my consumption of meat, fish and cheese further.

This Changes Everything

Naomi Klein should be considered one of the champions of the Green movement. Her book This Changes Everything is excellent in exposing the harsh truth that we are on a collision course with our planet’s climate.

This book is very depressing. And rightly so: in most chapters we are told how we exploit our planet and are addicted to fossil fuel. We place profit above conserving our environment and wage war on the climate in the process. Unbridled capitalism is the culprit. We always want more and more wealth and luxury and are incapable of restraint, to be satisfied with less. Of course there is a positive message as well about change, the rise of a movement which aims to save the climate.

But even so, I’m still pessimistic. As the secretary of GroenLinks (the Dutch Green Party) in South Holland, a few of my fellow board members always eat meat when we have dinner before our meetings. I’ve noticed snacks with meat being served at events organized by our party. If even these people don’t understand the impact of cattle rearing on our climate, how will the average Joe ever understand? It’s the same with air travel.

I read the book while I was on a winter sports holiday in Austria with my family. I never really liked winter sports because of the mass tourism aspects of it, but as I read the book I realized it was harmful to our climate as well. Huge amounts of trees need to be cleared from mountain slopes to make ski slopes. All those lifts, piste caterpillars and snow guns require a lot of fossil fuels. Of course there are much more examples.

Even though I’m observing our collective excesses, I’m to blame as well. That is why I want to improve on myself, I want to drastically decrease the pressure I exert on the climate. Even though I eat almost no meat anymore, I consider going completely vegan. If possible I will never use aircraft which run on fossil fuel anymore and use the train and other public transport instead. The latter might not be possible because I have to compromise with my girlfriend Stephanie. Nor does she want to sell her car, but at least we can switch to an electric car. I want to make our next house energy neutral.

A right-wing and left-wing plan for dealing with boat refugees

Due the increasing amount of boat refugees coming to the European Union as of late, the the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) proposed on 22 March this year that we completely close the outer borders of the EU for asylum seekers. According to them asylum seekers are costly for us, they facilitate human trafficking and it’s hard to separate legit refugees from economic migrants and terrorists. The massive influx of refugees would cause societal breakdown in the EU. Refugees should be housed in their own region and be able to build a new life there, possibly with aid from the EU.

While I am sympathetic to some of the reasoning of the proposal, it lacks solidarity and is short-sighted. In some cases regional capacity for hosting refugees is already stressed to the limit. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan hosted respectively 1,59 million, 1,15 million and 654.100 refugees according to the UNHCR Global Trends report on forced displacement in 2014. Lebanon is even the country with the largest amount of refugees compared to its own population in the world, with 232 refugees per 1.000 inhabitants. That’s insane and makes it obvious to me that our sense of solidarity obliges us to help out with hosting Syrian refugees. During the debate in the House of Representatives about the plan, it was claimed that even 95% of refugees are already hosted in their own region. Also, legal experts were quick to point out that the VVD’s plan would violate international treaties, making it difficult to implement. It was clear that except for the right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV), there was no support for the plan.

My own party GroenLinks, the Dutch Green Party, responded with an alternative proposal. It boils down to five points: preventing that more refugees drown, allowing refugees to apply for asylum while outside the EU, improve facilities to house refugees in their own region, better distribution of refugees within the EU and structural solutions for the refugee problem.

The alternative plan of my own political party sounds good, but it refuses to acknowledge the existence of economic migration. And while they might not form a significant part of the refugees, economic migrants do exist. On several news reports I’ve seen refugees from Pakistan. Yes, there’s a war in North-West Pakistan, but millions of Pakistanis are apparently able to lead relatively peaceful lives in other regions of their country. I think Pakistan should be able to help it’s own internal refugees, possibly with international aid.

Also consider that the public housing sector in the Netherlands can’t cope with the demand exerted by all the refugees which are entitled to housing. They practically receive housing for free because they are likely to live on welfare. They are given precedence over the Dutch citizens who are on the waiting list for public housing. The obvious reason refugees seek asylum in Western Europe is that they are entitled to much more aid than in neighboring states in their region. While I agree that we should spend more on foreign aid for refugees, I think we should make our public services for asylum seekers more sober simultaneously. I don’t feel the plan of GroenLinks addresses these issues sufficiently.

I totally agree that we should be generous to refugees from Syria. But they can be given temporary asylum in order to force their return when the Syrian Civil War is over. They can be housed in more sober asylum centers or intermodal container housing instead of public housing.

The call for a ban on consumer fireworks

Let’s take a look at some statistics for eye injuries sustained during the New Year celebrations on 31 December 2014 and 1 January 2015 in the Netherlands.

  • Eight people had one eye blinded by fireworks, one person had both eyes blinded.
  • A total of 206 people got injured in the eye and for 93 of these the damage was permanent.
  • For 111 people, the injuries were caused by fireworks set off by someone else.

This time, the allowed time for setting off fireworks was halved, but the amount of people with eye injuries decreased by merely 17%. Innocent bystanders constitute the majority of the injured with 54%. For how long does this mutilation need to continue before we realize that consumer fireworks are too dangerous?

One of the apologists of the fireworks sellers says that bystanders should remain inside when the fireworks are set off or use safety goggles when they venture outside. After being confronted with these statistics I will definitely stay inside. But isn’t it strange that bystanders need to take security measures like buying safety goggles? Should it not be the responsibility of those who set off fireworks to ensure safety?

Year after year it turns out that not everyone wants to buy safety goggles and that consumers can’t handle fireworks safely. It’s evident why Dutch ophthalmologists plead for a ban on consumer fireworks. Just like my political party, GroenLinks. It seems like the movement to ban consumer fireworks is gaining strength: 56% of the Dutch people favor such a ban. I hope a ban becomes reality sooner rather later, before hundreds more have their eyes mangled by fireworks in the years ahead.

Stop operating artificial ice skating rinks

Last year in October it was revealed that artificial ice skating rinks in the Netherlands depend on government subsidies for their survival. Most of the sixteen ice rinks with a 400 meter track in our country would go bankrupt without subsidies. The small amount of ice rinks which do not receive subsidies do receive millions of public funding for new construction or renovations. Electricity used to create and cool the ice floor is responsible for the majority of their operating costs.

For centuries we were restricted to outdoor ice skating when a cold winter allowed it. The first artificial ice rink in the Netherlands (and the third in the world) which was longer than 400 meters was built only 54 years ago in 1961, the Jaap Edenbaan in Amsterdam. That operating these venues would consume large amounts of electricity and thus fossil fuels was second to our desire for luxury and convenience. In these times of climate change, can we still afford to use artificial ice rinks?

My girlfriend who frequents the Uithof ice rink in the Hague during the ice skating season will be cross with me for writing this, but I think they are an unnecessary luxury which we cannot afford. Especially now that our winters have become so mild due to global warming they consume far too much energy. To provide some figures, according to the municipality of Delft the indoor artificial ice rink in Delft consumes 110.000 kWh in one ice skating season. The average household in the Netherlands consumes 3.500 kWh in a year. So, the electricity used by the ice rink equals that of 31,4 households.

Interestingly, the municipality of Delft argues that the ice rink is CO2 neutral because the ice rink finances three wind turbines which generate 500 MWh a year. This argument seems compelling, but does not convince me: that green energy could have been used for more essential things like lighting in buildings. Of course, the average oil refinery in Rotterdam’s port would use more electricity than an ice rink (I couldn’t find sources for this), but that is no excuse. It is essential that we start saving energy to fight climate change, so everything which consumes large amounts of electricity should be scrutinized, especially those things which are luxuries.

At the very least local governments should stop subsidizing ice rinks. They are practically financing climate change. If the public does not want to pay for the real operating costs of ice rinks and some would go bankrupt, so be it. There are plenty of other sports which are not so energy intensive. If you still want to go ice skating in the winter, take a train to go to the Weißensee in Austria or something.

Are electric cars less polluting than cars using fossil fuels?

Since they were introduced to the mass market a few years ago, I was convinced that EVs (electric vehicles) are much more friendly for the environment than vehicles with conventional internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs). When I had a discussion at work last year about the merits of EVs with a colleague, I desired to show him evidence for my claim. I found this 2013 study which compared the lifecycle environmental impact of EVs with ICEVs. The summary of this study reads as follows:

We find that EVs powered by the present European electricity mix offer a 10% to 24% decrease in global warming potential (GWP) relative to conventional diesel or gasoline vehicles assuming lifetimes of 150,000 km. However, EVs exhibit the potential for significant increases in human toxicity, freshwater eco-toxicity, freshwater eutrophication, and metal depletion impacts, largely emanating from the vehicle supply chain. Results are sensitive to assumptions regarding electricity source, use phase energy consumption, vehicle lifetime, and battery replacement schedules. Because production impacts are more significant for EVs than conventional vehicles, assuming a vehicle lifetime of 200,000 km exaggerates the GWP benefits of EVs to 27% to 29% relative to gasoline vehicles or 17% to 20% relative to diesel. An assumption of 100,000 km decreases the benefit of EVs to 9% to 14% with respect to gasoline vehicles and results in impacts indistinguishable from those of a diesel vehicle. Improving the environmental profile of EVs requires engagement around reducing vehicle production supply chain impacts and promoting clean electricity sources in decision making regarding electricity infrastructure.

The following passage is more specific on the impact of the fuel sources used to generate electricity for EVs:

For all scenarios analyzed, the use phase is responsible for the majority of the GWP impact, either directly through fuel combustion or indirectly during electricity production. When powered by average European electricity, EVs are found to reduce GWP by 20% to 24% compared to gasoline ICEVs and by 10% to 14% relative to diesel ICEVs under the base case assumption of a 150,000 km vehicle lifetime. When powered by electricity from natural gas, we estimate LiNCM EVs offer a reduction in GHG emissions of 12% compared to gasoline ICEVs, and break even with diesel ICEVs. EVs powered by coal electricity are expected to cause an increase in GWP of 17% to 27% compared with diesel and gasoline ICEVs.

A conference paper from 2010 reaches a similar conclusion and supplies some illustrative graphs for those of us who are more visually inclined. The 2013 study was given a spin by some news media to write clickbait articles which portray EVs as more destructive to the environment than ICEVs. That obviously does not follow from the conclusions of the study: EVs are better for the environment if powered by the average European electricity mix, but worse if they are powered by electricity generated with coal. This is also the emphasis of Greenpeace. According to other research from the USA, EVs are better for the environment than average ICEVs, even if the dirtiest electricity mix in the USA is used.  There has been some criticism from the the pro-EV camp as well: due to flaws in the 2013 study it overstated the environmental impact of EV production.

I started wondering, what is the average European electricity mix? In the data supplied with the 2013 study the electricity mix data is referenced to be in the final tab of the spreadsheet, but that tab doesn’t exist. Even so, we can use the data from Eurostat for 2012 (figures converted from GWh to TWh):

Oil Coal and lignite Gas Nuclear Renewables Other fuels Total
72 892 615 882 798 35 3.295
2% 27% 19% 27% 24% 1% 100%

Compare this with the data on the electricity mix for the Netherlands in 2012 from Statistics Netherlands. I converted the data from MWh to TWh. Eurostat should have this data for the Netherlands in the same table they use in their data visualization I referenced in the previous paragraph. However, I can’t figure out how I can distill the same figures from that data as they give in the visualization. The data from Statistics Netherlands and Eurostat doesn’t match exactly so I had to modify the categories, that’s why the total in the Dutch data is 96%.

Oil Coal and lignite Gas Nuclear Renewables Other fuels Total
0,03 24 54 4 13 3 103
0% 24% 53% 4% 12% 3% 96%

The data shows that nuclear and renewable energy constitute a much smaller share of the energy sources used in the Netherlands. Gas is a much more important source. On the other hand coal is used slightly less. Gas is cleaner than coal, though not as clean as nuclear power (considering only emissions) or renewables. Not desiring to make further intricate calculations myself, I’d assume that the electricity mix in the Netherlands is clean enough to make use of EVs preferable over ICEVs. Of course it’s imperative that we invest much more in renewable energy, because our current percentage of 12% is an embarrassment.

Even so, producing all those EVs would demand a lot of resources. Also consider that EVs with seats for five persons, like ICEVs currently, will often be used by just a single person to commute to work. We keep the problem of traffic congestion as well. This is inefficient when compared to public transport, which should still be a preferred investment.