Johan Remkes arrives in Nieuwspoort to present his findings on the nitrogen crisis.Image ANP

    This is stated in the advice that nitrogen mediator Johan Remkes presented on Wednesday after months of consultation with the cabinet, farmers and other parties involved in the nitrogen crisis.

    Remkes’s help was called in after massive farmer protests broke out in June, because the cabinet had laid down a firm demand that by 2030 in some parts of the country a 70 to 90 percent nitrogen reduction must be achieved. In practice, this would mean the end of many farms.

    As a way out of the deadlock, Remkes advises that the cabinet should stick to the nitrogen reduction targets in 2030, but that an escape clause should be built in. Between 2025 and 2028, ‘there must be room to re-examine the timeline for the reduction targets’, Remkes writes in his report. What is possible. ‘It should be possible under certain conditions to give more space to specific areas, if there are compelling reasons to do so.’ Some flexibility should therefore be possible.

    The escape clause is not without conditions, emphasizes Remkes. It should only be possible to give a specific area more time if a province can demonstrate that it is on the right track and has already achieved a large part of the reduction target and if nature restoration has been ‘irreversibly initiated’.

    Another reason to give more time: if the restoration of nature is already ‘well on track’ and the remaining problem can be realized ‘through natural attrition’. For example, if a number of farms are going to stop in the foreseeable future, it is possible to deviate from the 2030 deadline. Remkes recommends ‘legally anchoring’ that the timeline is reviewed again in 2025 and 2028.

    The reference year 2030 is in the coalition agreement that VVD, D66, CDA and ChristenUnie concluded at the end of last year. That appointment is now politically sensitive, because CDA leader Wopke Hoekstra said in an interview that the year is ‘not sacred’ as far as he is concerned. D66 does want to stick to 2030. Remkes’ advice is a compromise between those two thoughts.

    Buy out peak loaders

    In total, nitrogen mediator Remkes makes 25 recommendations. Another notable recommendation of his is to ‘buy out 500 to 600 peak loaders within a year’. These are companies ‘from the agricultural sector and the business community’ that cause so much nitrogen emissions near vulnerable nature areas that buying them out would immediately lead to an enormous reduction. ‘By doing this in a targeted manner, it affects as few farmers as possible, namely about 1 percent of the population,’ writes Remkes.

    By buying out the peak loaders, Remkes thinks he will meet the more than 2,500 so-called PAS detectors. These are livestock farmers who have expanded their business with the permission of the government, but whose courts subsequently determined that they needed a permit. According to Remkes, a number of important construction projects can also receive a permit through targeted buy-out of peak loaders.

    Until now, the government has assumed that it is voluntary. Remkes advises that entrepreneurs who are forced to stop should have ‘worthy’ arrangements. The government will have to pull out the wallet for that. ‘It is crucial to stretch the buy-out arrangement as widely as possible and to guarantee that there is no better offer’, advises Remkes. ‘The government must also be open to any other proposal that leads to the guaranteed reduction within the year.’

    Remkes emphasizes in his report that it is necessary to emit much less nitrogen in the short term, in order to enable nature restoration. If this does not happen, the consequences for life in the Netherlands will be serious, warns the nitrogen mediator. ‘The Netherlands will then be locked up, because it is hardly legally possible anymore to grant permits. Not for houses, not for farms, not for roads. That also means that construction will come to a standstill, with significant economic and social consequences,” the report says.

    Restore trust

    In his recommendations, Remkes also lashes out at the national government that has faltered too much with the nitrogen policy. He calls farmers who previously received a permit from the government, which was later revoked, ‘victims of unreliable policies’.

    In order to restore farmers’ confidence in the government, Remkes advises, among other things, to wipe the much-discussed ‘nitrogen ticket’ off the table. Many farmers and rural areas were taken by surprise by this map, which contains detailed nitrogen reduction targets for each area in the Netherlands. Communication to farmers needs to improve, says Remkes. ‘So this map shouldn’t have been presented in this way.’ He recommends ‘regional maps’ that are less detailed.

    Another important requirement from farmers is to reconsider the critical deposition value (kdw), the scientific standard for the maximum nitrogen precipitation a given area can tolerate. According to Remkes, the legal embedding of the kdw is ‘not strictly necessary’. It remains for judges the standard against which they assess licensing, but it should not be ‘canonized’.

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