Articles / The Paris Agreement is a legal fact

The Paris Agreement is a legal fact

The energy transition affects the whole of society. Legislation is increasingly forcing companies to embrace renewable energy. But there are also economic reasons for pressing ahead with the energy transition. It pays to lead the way.

After 2050, Europe is expected to be the world’s first climate-neutral continent. This mantra is repeated so often that governments and companies seem to be more concerned with the destination than how to get there, despite the fact that becoming “climate-neutral” is a huge challenge. In the Netherlands alone, millions of cars, tens of thousands of office buildings and thousands of industrial processes still depend on fossil fuels. Whether it’s public authorities, businesses or households, everyone has to make the change over the next 30 years.

So there’s much work to be done, because the Paris Agreement, the European Green Deal and the Dutch Climate Act are a legal fact. Governments and companies that fail to comply with laws and regulations are at risk, as demonstrated by environmental groups’ lawsuits, such as Urgenda’s against the Dutch state and Milieudefensie’s against Shell.

A force for good

Some companies regard the energy transition as a burden. After all, it takes time, effort and money to switch from fossil fuels to sustainable operations. “But governments and businesses do have the motivation and the power to achieve social objectives, such as the energy transition,” says Robin Evens, an administrative law and property law specialist at Boels Zanders. Indeed, there are many parties intrinsically driven to be a force for good, as former Unilever boss Paul Polman used to put it. Climate and environmental issues must be addressed to keep the planet habitable for future generations.

But now it’s not just idealistic CEOs who are leading their companies through the transition. Parties who can see beyond the current quarter’s financial results no longer regard the energy transition as a burden or a risk, but as an economic opportunity. Due to the current shortage, experts expect energy to remain structurally expensive over the coming years. Companies investing in their own renewable energy generation can do good business. “It’s a social and economic imperative to keep up the momentum of the energy transition,” says Robin Evens.

For example, renewable energy is an economic no brainer for companies moving into new premises. Moreover, it is necessary to opt for off-grid solutions wherever possible because of the congestion on the power grid.

Sustainability as a differentiator

In any case, continuing along the current path is not a future-proof option. Legislation will resolve the issue by forcing unsustainable businesses to change course. That’s if the labour market has not already done so, because young talent wants to work at a company that is sincere and serious about addressing the transition. Sustainability is increasingly becoming a differentiator, including from a commercial point of view.

Although the goal and direction is clear, the implementation is not. Legislation should facilitate sustainable projects, but in practice often gets in the way. “We want to remove legal obstacles to make difficult projects possible,” Evens says. “We look at issues relating to the energy transition from the point of view of the client’s project, not the areas of law concerned.”

Boels Zanders has already advised several companies on licensing processes for solar farms, obtaining connections to the congested electricity grid and drawing up energy-saving and sustainable property maintenance programmes. Municipalities have also been advised on the installation of wind turbines and the discussion concerning landscaping and the requirement for neighbours to tolerate the blades rotating over their property.

Ambition versus achievement

There are numerous obstacles standing between ambition and achievement. For instance, many renewable energy projects are in danger of being put on hold because of limited nitrogen space. Then there is the problem of grid congestion. Not to mention the new Dutch Environment Act, which sets high standards for public participation and support. Regarding all these challenges, Boels Zanders aspires to facilitate solutions, irrespective of the legal discipline required.

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