Column | The world is on fire, but in the Netherlands we postpone extinguishing it for a while

With the start of the political season and the swelling wave of election news, it’s good to put everything in perspective. Here’s a kind of disclaimer. It is a good idea to realize in the coming period that our representatives, who are in the news so much, have less and less to do. It is raining fait accomplis in The Hague. A lot of buttons they can turn are broken or given to judges, Brussels or science.

That was proven again this week. A new one appeared Wageningen report in which the nitrogen standards in this country were adjusted downwards. Various types of nature turned out to be even more sensitive than previously thought, making our nitrogen lockdown even more hopeless. You can vote until you weigh an ounce, but the reality is that the results of these kinds of scientific studies are literally incorporated into our policy without a political process. No debate, no interpretation or balancing of interests, no mercy – just bad luck.

That is not the fault of science, but of the way we have set it up. Just like when we unquestioningly handed over the governance of our country to the Outbreak Management Team during corona, we now use new scientific insights as a dictate about who can do what where in our country.

Not only is this unworkable, because you cannot make reliable policy based on constantly changing values, it is also unfair to the farmers who now have to reassess whether the nightmare of peak load becomes reality. But sometimes it’s just plain stupid.

Outgoing Minister of Climate and Energy Rob Jetten (D66) has to wriggle around in a thousand corners to get necessary infrastructure works for the electrification of this country licensed. This electrification results in considerable nitrogen reduction, but that is not included in the legal reality. The CO2We do not include profit at all, because that is a different element, a different ministry and a different court case.

The result is that without political prioritization, local nature conservation now often prevails over the global climate problem. The country is not standing still because of the global CO2problem but because of the local nitrogen problem. It would be nice if Tata’s green steel plant or the wind energy network could be built as a matter of urgency, but the proximity of sensitive nature makes it all extremely uncertain. The world is on fire, but we postpone extinguishing it in the Netherlands because the narrow snail and the green tuber lorchis suffer from it.

Penny wise, pound foolish. We saw another example of this in a recent one decision of the Council of State on the protection of bats in cavity walls. Insulating the hollow spaces was the low-hanging fruit of the energy transition. Payback costs less than four years, a considerable amount of CO2reduction and warm feet as a bonus.

But cavity wall insulation turned out to be a threat to bats. And the Council of State was again extremely strict: just looking for bat tracks with a camera was not enough. A full ecological survey had to be carried out. In the ruling, our highest administrative judges say that they do realize that this means that wall insulation is becoming more expensive and cumbersome, that the most important and most affordable sustainability measure has been knocked out of the hands of citizens, and that our climate goals have become more unrealistic again, but bad luck. The next judge may again rule harshly on climate.

Everyone is doing great on their own square meter and can be satisfied with another protective habitat, or mammal. And everyone shouts from that square meter that those other goals are also very important. When asked, the mammal association points out that they also understand the importance of sustainability and that it is really unnecessary for every private person who wants to insulate their wall to have a biologist camp out on the doorstep for a few months to spot potential victims. But that kind of reasonableness is never translated from science into legal-bureaucratic reality. The most realistic consequence of this statement is that we will continue to emit greenhouse gases in the Netherlands for a little longer, because of the bat.

It would be nice if, after these elections, someone would set priorities, separate the main issues from the side issues, and make a reasonable weighing of interests. A little politics, that would be nice. But I fear it will be a long time before anyone is allowed to decide for themselves again.

Rosanne Hertzberger is a microbiologist.