Gov’t plans not enough to drastically reduce nitrogen in nature reserves: PBL

As things stand now, the government will not achieve its goal of drastically reducing nitrogen emissions around nature reserves by 2030. The ammonia emissions – mainly from agriculture – remain too high, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) calculated.

Agriculture will have to reduce ammonia emissions by at least 18 to 33 kilotonnes in the next seven years to achieve the target, the PBL said. The government wants the announced National Program for Rural Areas (NPLG) to bridge this gap, but these plans were not yet concrete enough for the PBL to include in its calculations.

The report, published on Tuesday, included all plans announced before 1 May 2022 if they were clear enough to calculate. In 2019, the Council of State Ruled that the Netherlands’ nitrogen approach program did not comply with nature conservation rules in the European directive. Three years after this decision, agriculture was still emitting much too much nitrogen. The report does not include the Cabinet’s latest plans.

The report shows a good chance that the industry and mobility sector will achieve its nitrogen targets with the proposed policy. These sectors are responsible for the majority of nitrogen oxide emissions. Inland shipping still emits too much nitrogen oxides, but the sector does not count toward the European emission targets.

Ammonia and nitrous oxide are both nitrogenous compounds. Nature needs nitrogen, but excessive precipitation affects vulnerable natural areas, in some cases resulting in acidification of the soil and loss of biodiversity. Ammonia, which comes from animal manure, greatly burdens nature, while nitrogen oxides are generally worse for public health.

When calculating nitrogen emissions in agriculture, the PBL included plans to switch to low-protein food for livestock and the switch to low-emission stables. The latter are not yet demonstrably effective. “But in the coming years, we expect an improvement in practice with these stables,” said PBL researcher Emma van der Zanden. The researchers also included plans to put cows out to pasture more often and the first voluntary buy-out scheme for farmers.

The report also calculated how things are going with reducing other air pollutants, like particulate matter and sulfur dioxide. The PBL expects the Netherlands to largely achieve these European targets. That is mainly due to the regulations for emissions from new cars and industrial installations to collect emissions. Climate policy also provides a strong tailwind, according to the PBL.

Reporting by ANP

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