First evaluation of progress of nitrogen and nature policy | News item

News item | 29-02-2024 | 08:50

The measures that the government has implemented since 2021 make a positive contribution to the future quality of nature. This is the conclusion of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and Wageningen University and Research (WUR) in their first evaluation reports of the nitrogen and nature policy. The average exceedance of critical deposition values ​​for nitrogen-sensitive nature will decrease by a third until 2030. But the task of reducing nitrogen and restoring nature is great and the measures taken so far do not yet yield enough to achieve legal goals, while we previously were still on course.

The task for nitrogen reduction and nature restoration turned out to be greater last year when the latest scientific research showed that nature is even more sensitive to nitrogen than we already thought. As a result, the task has also become greater in the short term. The current government is committed to intensifying existing policy and making preparations for additional measures. It is up to the new cabinet to make a decision on these new measures, the Minister for Nature and Nitrogen wrote to the Senate and House of Representatives.

Legal objectives

The Nitrogen Reduction and Nature Improvement Act (Wsn), which came into effect on July 1, 2021, includes the obligation to monitor the progress and effects of measures from the nitrogen reduction and nature improvement program (PSN). The PSN was established at the end of 2022 and contains measures to reduce nitrogen and measures to restore nature. The first evaluation reports have now been completed by PBL, RIVM and WUR. These knowledge institutes have evaluated the government’s policy until May 1, 2023 and mapped out the forecasts for the legal target range for 2025 and 2030. The recent measures in the National Rural Area Program (NPLG) and the ultimate results of the current Approach peak loads are not included in these forecasts. The PBL has looked at the measures from the NPLG to date in a separate report.

The PSN reports confirm and clarify the picture that has emerged from previous reports. The Wsn sets legal objectives to bring 40 percent, 50 percent and 74 percent of nitrogen-sensitive nature to a healthy level by 2025, 2030 and 2035 respectively, i.e. below the Critical Deposition Value (KDW). The KDW is a scientific benchmark that indicates how much nitrogen nature can handle without the risk of deterioration. The calculations estimate 31 percent of the nitrogen-sensitive nature under the KDW in 2030, while this should be 50 percent according to the law. Due to the recent revision of the KDWs as a result of the latest scientific insights into the nitrogen sensitivity of nature, and the fact that the calculated nitrogen precipitation is higher for the forecast years due to more recent measurements, it has become clear that in order to achieve the environmental values, nitrogen emissions must be reduced more should be than when the PSN was established. The task has therefore become greater

Nature monitoring

PBL notes that the nature restoration measures from the Nature program have a positive effect, but also notes that there is still a need for information when it comes to nature monitoring. There is enough knowledge to know that nitrogen-sensitive nature is doing badly, but more information is needed about causal relationships between measures taken and changes observed in the field. Previously noted Ecological Authority It is also already clear that monitoring and development of the quality of Natura 2000 areas needs to be strengthened. The government and provinces have also set up an Improvement Program for monitoring the Birds and Habitats Directive (VHR).

Implications for policy

The Minister for Nature and Nitrogen has stated in a letter to the Senate and House of Representatives that the reports confirm that it is urgently necessary to continue and, where possible, intensify the policy that the cabinet has initiated. For example, the government wants to increase the budget for the Peak Load Approach by an additional 1.45 billion euros, and the National Rural Area Program (NPLG) will be further developed together with the provinces to achieve the goals for nature, water and climate. The government wants to allocate a total of 1.28 billion euros for concrete measures by the provinces to restore nature, improve water quality and make the agricultural sector more sustainable.

The PBL evaluation reports are based on the legal goals related to the Critical Deposition Value. The government has previously recognized that controlling nitrogen deposition (precipitation) is complex and is working on systems in which, in the long term, controlling emissions could be more central. What additional national policy may be needed to achieve the goals is being worked out officially and it is up to a new cabinet to make decisions about this.