Farmers need to reduce their nitrogen emissions much less than previously thought to achieve the natural goals. If the Netherlands complies with all its climate agreements, it will provide a huge bonus in nitrogen gains, which means that agriculture will have to reduce its emissions by a quarter to a half. It appears from calculations that have not yet been published by the Ministry of Finance, the results of which are known per. NRC†
In June, the Cabinet presented a map showing the reduction percentages for agriculture per capita. region: In some provinces, emissions need to be (almost) halved, and around nature reserves they need to be reduced by 95 percent. These harsh interventions are needed, according to the government, to make three-quarters of the nitrogen-sensitive natural areas healthy again by 2030.
But the nitrogen gain from achieving the climate goals is not on the map. Only the already measured reduction is calculated in this, not the future profit. The climate goals set out in the climate agreement and the coalition agreement must significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. But if more Dutch people start running on electricity, coal-fired power plants will close and the factories use their harmful CO2Reducing emissions means significantly less nitrogen emissions.
Nitrogen sensitive nature
Finance officials have calculated this ‘nitrogen bonus’ for the first time. During the last measurements, less than half of the nitrogen-sensitive nature in the Netherlands was below the critical deposition value (KDW), the limit of what is considered healthy nature. If the Netherlands reaches the climate goals, the percentage of healthy nature will grow significantly, without further nitrogen policy. Thanks to this bonus, the government can reduce the nitrogen target for agriculture by a quarter to half, and three quarters of the nitrogen-sensitive nature will still be healthy by 2030.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture says he is not aware of the contents of the investigation. The Ministry of Finance speaks of “a theoretical model”, which “is not a political advice or position”.
If the Netherlands reaches the climate goals, the percentage of healthy nature will grow significantly, without further nitrogen policy
The government’s approach does not focus on reducing nitrogen in places where the damage to nature is greatest; the task is spread all over the country: each farmer must reduce his own emissions a little. Published last month NRC about another official study which showed that by specifically buying out farmers who emit a lot of nitrogen close to nature reserves, the reduction target is reduced for the rest of the sector.
There is an important condition attached to the calculation of Finance: the Cabinet must meet the climate goals. The Route IV coalition agreement states that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 55 percent by 2030 compared to 1990. By the end of last year, the Netherlands was behind schedule. The government is doing everything it can to achieve this goal, if necessary with further action. European agreements also force the Netherlands to work on climate goals.
Boost for farmers
The economy calculation is a boost for farmers who have closed down their land in recent weeks because they think the nitrogen plans are too stringent. According to them, too much emphasis is placed on reducing emissions in agriculture. According to the TNO, agriculture is responsible for about 60 percent of the total nitrogen emissions in the Netherlands.
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Farmers are spared in climate plans. In drafting the climate agreement, the Rutte III cabinet set the goals for each sector in 2019. Energy supply and industry have the biggest challenges. The necessary contribution from agriculture is much smaller.
If the financial calculations become politics, agriculture still has a lot of work ahead of it. It is unclear how to clear it. So far, it has been difficult to buy farmers out. More than a year and a half ago, the provinces started a buy-out scheme for farmers who emit a lot of nitrogen close to nature reserves, but not a single farmer has signed up for this yet – the deadline ends in September.