The Netherlands

   

Environmental Policies

#17
Key Findings
With a growing focus on climate-change and climate-adaptation policy, the Netherlands falls into the upper-middle ranks internationally (rank 17) with regard to environmental policies. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points since 2014.

A pair of court verdicts has forced the government to move from green rhetoric to tangible action. A ruling that the failure to reduce CO2 remissions violated human rights led to a halt in numerous construction projects, along with calls to shrink the industrial farming and livestock sector. Mass demonstrations by farmers and construction workers resulted.

Additional actions included a speed-limit reduction on highways during daylight hours. However, the quality of air and surface water generally remains poor, due to intensive farming and traffic. Earthquake concerns have led to a decision to stop natural-gas production by 2030, and phase out household gas use by 2050.

A 2018 climate agreement set the goal of a 49% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020. A new agreement is still being negotiated. The government actively supports EU efforts in the development and advancement of global environmental regimes, and shares resilience-related technology on a bilateral basis, particularly in the area of water management.

Environment

#23

How effectively does environmental policy in your country protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and environmental quality?

10
 9

Environmental policy goals are ambitious and effectively implemented as well as monitored within and across most relevant policy sectors that account for the largest share of resource use and emissions.
 8
 7
 6


Environmental policy goals are mainly ambitious and effectively implemented and are monitored within and across some of the relevant policy sectors that account for the largest share of resource use and emissions.
 5
 4
 3


Environmental policy goals are neither particularly ambitious nor are they effectively implemented and coordinated across relevant policy sectors.
 2
 1

Environmental concerns have been largely abandoned.
Environmental Policy
6
The Rutte III government has described itself “the greenest coalition” to date, and put climate change on its political agenda. A Climate Act was approved by parliament in December 2018. Broad consultations eventually produced a climate agreement that set the goal of a 49% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020. Before the Paris Accords, the Dutch government had resisted more ambitious international climate goals. While the current government has started negotiating a new climate agreement (currently in the third round of negotiations), the government’s ambitions remain neatly within the boundaries of the Paris agreement with few specific policy measures to work with.

There has been a clear policy shift in recent years toward climate adaptation. This appears manageable today because any adverse developments in the Netherlands will be gradual. The Netherlands’ natural-gas reserves have diminished rapidly and will necessitate gas imports from 2025 onward, despite decreasing demand. Meanwhile, earthquakes and soil subsidence are damaging houses in the northern provinces where the Dutch gas reserves are located. The government has introduced compensation measures for victims (still contested as too small). This led to the decision to stop gas production in the region by 2030. Consequently, all households are to be gas-free (for cooking and central heating) by 2050. Sustainable agriculture, particularly meat and dairy farming, is on the agenda and is gaining social support. Plastic is seen as a problem, but is dealt with largely at the municipal level, as a part of local recycling programs. A deposit paid by consumers on certain forms of packaging will eventually be introduced by 2021.

The quality of air and surface water in the Netherlands remains poor, with intensive farming and traffic congestion the primary causes of concern, as well as soil salification within agricultural lands. Half of the country’s rivers, canals and lakes contain too much nitrogen and phosphates. Air pollution, especially particulate matter in the region around Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, is among the highest in Europe, and the concentrations of ozone and nitrogen dioxide are linked to a very considerable amount of premature deaths.

In October 2018, the Urgenda environmental association won a major victory, with the Court of Appeal ruling that the government’s failure to reduce carbon dioxide emissions significantly violated its human rights obligations. The verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court. In a separate case, courts rejected a scheme for trading future emissions in nitrogen, deeming that it failed to protect the environment sufficiently, and failed to assure air quality. The verdict effectively brought a large number of construction projects, including housing construction, to a halt. The reaction was to turn a focus on a primary culprit in this area – Dutch industrial farming, particularly livestock farming, which is the largest contributor to the country’s nitrogen emissions. A call to reduce the sector (which constitutes the second-largest meat exporter in the world) by half led to mass demonstrations by farmers, and even riots in some locations. Construction workers also protested, as their jobs viewed as being at risk.

All in all, the government that originally called itself “green” was forced by these verdicts to increase the pace of its climate action, in some cases through the use of emergency measures. The most visible of these has been the speed-limit reduction on highways to a maximum of 100 kilometers per hour during daylight hours. It remains to be seen whether the industrial farming sector will be affected and/or provided with compensation. These measures have become possible due to a gradual shift in public opinion. The discussion is no longer if emissions reductions will happen, but about the distribution of costs. For example, many have expressed a fear that the weakest shoulders will carry a disproportionately high burden.

At the same time, the Netherlands continues to invest heavily in fossil fuels. Recently, the sustainability of biomass (an important element in the climate agreement) has been called into doubt. The airline industry is still not paying its fair share with regard to the amelioration of pollution, although the government has pledged to to resolve this issue at the European level.

Although the Netherlands is praised as a pioneer in the area of mapping and assessing ecosystems and their management, and on developing natural capital accounting systems, significant problems remain. The most serious problems involve habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss, atmospheric nitrogen deposition, desiccation and acidification. Over the last 25 years, about 140 species inhabiting the North Sea have suffered a 30% decline, mainly due to recently forbidden commercial fishing techniques.

With so many changes at a speed typically foreign to Dutch politics, 2019 may well represent a turning point in the country’s climate policy.

Citations:
The EU Environmental Implementation Review Country Report – The Netherlands, Brussel, April 2019

Algemene Rekenkamer, Focus op kosten windenergie op zee, 27-09-2018

Planbureau voor de leefomgeving, Klimaat – en Energieverkenning 2019

Urgenda wint hoger beroep klimaatzaak, http://news.smart.pr/urgenda/persbericht-urgenda-wint-hoger-beroep-klimaatzaak, October 2018

WRR-Policy Brief 5, Klimaatbeleid voor de lange termijn: van vrijblijvend naar verankerd, October 2016

Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving, Balans van de leefomgeving 2018, http://news.smart.pr/urgenda/persbericht-urgenda-wint-hoger-beroep-klimaatzaak

Raad voor de leefomgeving en infrastructuur, Duurzaam en gezond. Samen naar een houdbaar voedselsysteem. Maart 2018
Deltaprogramma 2020, Doorwerken aan de delta: nuchter, alert en voorbereid, https://www.deltacommissaris.nl/deltaprogramma, visited 2 november 2019

https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/aanpak-stikstof/uitspraak-raad-van-state-en-gevolgen-einde-pas, visited october 2019

https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/ministeries/ministerie-van-economische-zaken-en-klimaat/documenten/publicaties/2019/06/28/het-klimaatakkoord-in-meer-dan-70-vragen

Global Environmental Protection

#13

To what extent does the government actively contribute to the design and advancement of global environmental protection regimes?

10
 9

The government actively contributes to international efforts to design and advance global environmental protection regimes. In most cases, it demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, contributes to their being advanced and has introduced appropriate reforms.
 8
 7
 6


The government contributes to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes. It demonstrates commitment to existing regimes and occasionally contributes to their being advanced and/or has introduced some appropriate reforms.
 5
 4
 3


The government demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, but does not contribute to their being advanced and has not introduced appropriate reforms.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes.
Global Environmental Policy
6
The Dutch government has traditionally been a strong supporter of EU leadership in the Kyoto process of global climate policy and advancing global environmental protection regimes. It has also signed related international treaties on safety, food security, energy and international justice. The government continues to aspire to a coherent sustainability policy or a “policy agenda for globalization.” It regards resource and energy scarcity, transborder disease control, climate change, transborder crime, and international trade agreements as the most pressing global issues.

As an immediate response, climate change is addressed mainly as a mitigation effort, for example, through the Dutch Risk Reduction Team, offering assistance and expertise to water-related risk areas around the globe. A coherent globalization policy also means that research is conducted and monitoring is performed regarding any ways that one policy may undermine others. In spite of this intention, Dutch reassessment of development aid appears to favor bilateral over multilateral global sustainability policy. For example, the financing of Dutch initiatives in advancing global public goods is no longer separately budgeted but is instead part of the diminishing development-aid budget.
The Netherlands participates in efforts targeting global climate resilience that are focused on tapping technological innovation to reduce CO2. Bilateral projects with various countries outside the EU are centered on knowledge sharing, particularly in the area of water management. Water management is also a key element of the Dutch contribution to the Global Commission on Adaptation, of which the Netherlands is initiator, a convening country and a direct funder.

The Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment is an independent advisory body composed of experts. In 2017, it won an award for the quality of its services. It provides advisory services and capacity development to international governments on the quality of environmental assessments, with the aim of contributing to sound decision-making. However, on the domestic front, its data on nitrogen deposits in protected natural areas were called into question by major political parties when court cases on the issue forced the government to take urgent measures in the agricultural and construction sectors.

Military aspects have been added to the International Safety Budget, which previously referenced only diplomatic and civic activities. Defense spending in response to the revival of NATO in Europe and threats in the Middle East will increase from €220 million to €345 million between 2016 and 2020. As mentioned under the previous indicator (“Environmental Policy”) the Paris Climate Accords have triggered major new Dutch policy initiatives in the area of global environmental protection.

Citations:
Kabinetsreactie op het WRR-rapport: Minder pretentie, meer ambitie (2010) (www.eerstekamer.nl/id/vimdknvvxtfz/document-extern/briefmp110112)

Adapt now: a global call for leadership on climate resilience. Global Commission on Adaptation, September 2019

Additional reference:
http://www.aiv-advies.nl/ContentSuite/upload/aiv/file/webversie_AIV%2084_NL.pdf

Rijksbegroting 2016 Defensie (http://www.rijksbegroting.nl/2019/voorbereiding/begroting, consulted 6 November 2019)
https://www.rvo.nl/subsidies-regelingen/dutch-risk-reduction-team-drr-team

Netherlands Commission on Environmental Assessment, 2018 (era.nl, accessed 8 November 2018)
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