Nitrogen emissions in the Netherlands: what do we know?
- 24 May 2023
- Edited 6 Apr 2023
- 6 min
- Managing and growing
The nitrogen crisis in the Netherlands has a big impact on our ecosystem and our health. The Dutch government is taking measures to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. Find out which measures apply per sector. These are the most frequently asked questions and answers at a glance:
1. What is nitrogen and why are nitrogen emissions a problem?
About 78% of all the air around us consists of nitrogen. Nitrogen itself is not harmful to people and the environment. But nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ammonia (NH3) are. An excess of these substances in the soil disrupts nature, causing plants and animal species to disappear. It is also harmful to our health (source: RIVM).
Nitrogen oxides are released during the burning of fossil fuels, for example via exhaust gases from cars, ships, and aircrafts. But power plants and industry also emit nitrogen oxides. And households, for example through the use of natural gas.
Ammonia largely comes from animal manure and fertiliser from livestock farming. Some of it evaporates as ammonia and is released into the air. It ends up in the soil and groundwater through rainfall or direct absorption from plants. In addition, a small percentage of ammonia comes from industry, construction, and traffic.
The Netherlands has 161 Natura 2000 areas. This Natura 2000 network consists of nature reserves designated under the Birds Directive (Vogelrichtlijn) and under the Habitats Directive (Habitatrichtlijn). Both European directives are important instruments for safeguarding European biodiversity. All Birds or Habitats Directive areas have been selected on the basis of the occurrence of species and habitat types that require protection from a European point of view. There has been an excess of nitrogen in these nature reserves for years.
Nitrogen deposition in nitrogen-sensitive Natura 2000 areas in the Netherlands
In at least half of the nitrogen-sensitive Natura 2000 areas, the nitrogen deposition must be below the critical deposition values (kritische depositiewaarden, KDW) by 2030. That is the maximum amount of nitrogen that the soil in a nature reserve can handle. Too much nitrogen in the soil endangers plants and animals. In 2018, approximately 78% of the nitrogen-sensitive nature reserves have an amount of nitrogen deposition that is still too high, based on the KDW standard (source: Rijksoverheid).
2. What is the government's approach to the nitrogen crisis in the Netherlands?
The approach to nitrogen has multiple stages: some measures have already been introduced, such as lowering the speed limit on highways. A number of measures have been further elaborated, such as the subsidy scheme for barn adaptations. In addition, a number of new measures will be added.
Half of the required reduction in NOx emissions has already been tackled by government measures. In addition to the measures to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions at the source, the government is also focusing on nature conservation and restoration. The cabinet is coming up with nature-inclusive projects, such as nature-inclusive housing (in Dutch).
In order to be sure of declining nitrogen emissions in the coming years, Minister Schouten has laid down the nitrogen policy and the KDW standard in the Nitrogen Reduction and Nature Improvement Act (wet Stikstofreductie en Natuurverbetering, in Dutch). This took effect on 1 July, 2021.
3. Which measures apply per sector?
Nitrogen measures in agriculture
- Sustainable Agriculture transition program: you can use a transition program to switch to circular agriculture (in Dutch).
- Sustainable barn adaptations: stricter emission standards for ammonia will be introduced before the end of 2023, depending on each animal species. These will come into effect by 2025 at the latest. You may need to adjust your barn accordingly. A transition period and a subsidy scheme is expected.
If you have research carried out on new techniques or management measures for your barn, you can make use of the so-called innovation module of this subsidy. If you want to start using the new techniques, the investment module is available. More information can be found here (in Dutch).
- Agreements (in Dutch) have been made to gradually reduce the amount of protein in animal feed to a maximum of 160 grams per kilogram of dry matter in 2025. Cows emit the unabsorbed protein from their food in the form of ammonia. Less protein in their feed can decrease nitrogen emissions.
- Dairy cows have to spend more hours out in the meadow. The parties aim for an increase of 180 hours of grazing per cow by 2023. This reduces ammonia emissions. For now, grazing and fertilising are not subject to a permit requirement.
- Diluting manure: according to the cabinet, diluting manure helps further reduce ammonia emissions. For example, by mixing manure with water collected via barn roofs. From 2021 to 2023, 40% of the investment costs will be subsidised.
- Central manure processing: accelerated removal of animal manure from livestock farms prevents ammonia from being formed. The government proposes central processing of animal manure into 'clean' fertilisers. This can be a replacement for current fertilisers or turn into a new export product. There will be a multi-year subsidy scheme for high-quality manure processing and fertiliser replacement.
- Coaches for farmers: you get support from coaches when making choices for your farm. There will be vouchers available for taking courses or engaging with an independent business coach (in Dutch).
- For farmers who want to close their business, there will be a subsidy scheme available: National Termination Scheme for Livestock Farms (in Dutch) (Landelijke beëindigingsregeling veehouderijlocaties, Lbv). This scheme is intended for farms with dairy cattle, pigs, and poultry with a certain nitrogen deposition on an overloaded Natura 2000 area. The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality is now working on a draft scheme. The buy-out scheme for livestock farmers (Gericht opkopen van veehouderijen regeling) is already active. For more information, farmers can contact their own municipality.
Nitrogen measures for industry
- Reducing nitrogen emissions by industrial 'peak polluters': the government is introducing a subsidy to support a limited number of so-called 'peak polluters' in reducing their nitrogen and ammonia deposition. The so-called peak polluters are a few large industrial companies, such as refineries and the chemical industry.
- Improving Best Available Techniques (BAT): large industrial companies are legally obliged to combat environmental pollution. For example, by using as little energy and as few raw materials as possible. The cabinet is examining whether reducing nitrogen emissions can be added to the existing BAT approach (in Dutch).
Nitrogen measures in construction
Over the next 3 years, the cabinet will focus on several pilots with zero-emission mobile equipment. This takes place on construction sites near Natura 2000 areas, so that the construction projects can continue.
Construction companies are asked to depreciate their equipment in advance and to invest in clean construction equipment and innovation in the construction process. Minister Schouten is examining which subsidies there are to support this.
Nitrogen measures for traffic
The government wants new cars to be emission-free by 2030. In addition, the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (Inspectie Leefomgeving en Transport, ILT) will be checking the AdBlue Systems in trucks. These systems reduce emissions in the exhaust gases. The government suspects that 5 to 10% of the systems do not work properly or are being manipulated to reduce costs of the system, maintenance, or repairs.
Do you want to know more about green driving? Read our article on sustainable transport.
- The government is committed to more sustainable inland shipping. For example, there will be a labelling system for monitoring the environmental performance of inland vessels. In addition, there will be a subsidy scheme for the purchase of cleaner engines. SCR catalysts (retrofit) are intended to reduce nitrogen emissions from inland vessels by 80%. The existing scheme (in Dutch) will be expanded. For maritime shipping, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (ministerie van Infrastructuur en Waterstaat, I&W) is committed to a worldwide CO2 tax.
- There will be 5 shore power facilities for seagoing vessels. Probably in the port of Rotterdam and in IJmuiden. Initial investments are covered by subsidy (in Dutch). In order to make the use of shore power more attractive, the tax rate has been reduced as of 1 January 2021. Ships also do not have to pay sustainable energy surcharge (Opslag Duurzame Energie, ODE) for shore-based power.
Schiphol recently initiated a pilot project using an electricity-driven ‘TaxiBot’, which makes it possible for an aeroplane to taxi without using its engine. This reduces exhaust gases from kerosene.
4. Where can I ask questions about nitrogen policy and permits?
As of 1 July 2021, the Natura 2000 permit requirement for construction, demolition, and one-off construction has expired. Instead, the government has introduced a partial permit exemption for construction projects with a temporary and limited nitrogen deposition, such as housing construction and energy projects. This allows construction projects to start faster. The government keeps track of the effect of this exemption on nitrogen emissions and may change the exemption in the future.
For questions about permits, authorisation decisions, and the AERIUS Calculator (in Dutch), you can contact the BIJ12 helpdesk (in Dutch) of the joint provinces. More information about nitrogen policy can be found on www.aanpakstikstof.nl (in Dutch).
5. How do I reduce my company's nitrogen emissions?
Do you want to reduce your company's nitrogen emissions? If you invest in business assets that emit less nitrogen, there are various subsidy schemes that you can use.