Dutch green policies keep targets on track

Green policies in the Netherlands are beginning to bite with particular success in the reduction of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and inputs of agricultural nitrates, according to the latest annual survey by the national environmental research agency, RIVM.

Figures confirm that emissions have been reduced for sulphur deposition and the number of days exceeding the ozone standard, following a general downward trend for the last three to five years. In particular, the Netherlands has attained its VOC reduction target of 50% in 10 years following implementation of a national VOC reduction programme specifying flue gas desulphurisation for all power plants and refineries.

Despite a 1% rise in CO2, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions remained at 1999 levels, greatly assisted by a 10% reduction in the three industrial fluorinated gases. Although this leaves Dutch GHG gas emissions at 3% above 1990 levels, they have been relatively stable for the last three years, Leon Janssen, RIVM environmental balance project leader pointed out to edie. He believes that even if, as predicted there might be a slight increase in CO2 over the next ten years, the Netherlands will be able to meet its 6% reduction by 2008-12 target with the help of emissions trading.

The dramatic drop in nitrate and phosphate levels in surface and groundwaters by 18% over the past year, compared with 9% over the previous 20 years, is being directly linked to an increased tax on fertiliser usage. Although levels are still above target, the trend is downwards now, and without any significant impact on crop yields, said Janssen. However the Dutch are awaiting the outcome of a legal challenge by the European Commission over the use of the novel “Minas” nutrient accounting system, for being in breach of procedures for meeting the EU’s nitrates directive. A decision is expected next year.

The Dutch figures also suggested that in certain sectors economic growth was putting less pressure on the environment, particularly in waste management, land fill, and eutrophication. But pressures were still rising in local hotspots, often where local authorities were not fully equipped to tackle problems such as air pollution or high concentration of ammonia.

New research areas will include locating sources and output levels for fine particulates in preparation for a forthcoming EU directive; further studies into the nature of ammonia deposition around farms; and support for the decentralisation of emission inventories.

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