Nitrogen crisis in the Netherlands

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Per the CIESIN, nitrogen from manure production is a significant polluting agent in the Low Countries

The nitrogen crisis in the Netherlands (Dutch: stikstofcrisis) is an ecological and legal crisis that has been defined as such since 2019, following a ruling by the Administrative Jurisdiction Division of the Council of State.


Origin of nitrogen deposition in the Netherlands in 2018[1][2]

  Agriculture (46.0%)
  Foreign sources (32.3%)
  Households (6.1%)
  Road traffic (6.1%)
  International shipping (2.9%)
  Other traffic (2.2%)
  Ammonia from the sea (2.2%)
  Industry (1.0%)
  Other (construction, waste, energy, etc.) (1.2%)

At the root of the crisis lie the effects of human impact on the nitrogen cycle. In the Netherlands, the soil is burdened by a very high deposition of reactive nitrogen compounds, in particular ammonia (NH3) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Of these, ammonia poses the biggest issue. It is released to the air by animal manure. Nitrogen oxides are emitted by internal combustion engines, such as those in motor vehicles, airplanes and industry. The release of nitrogen compounds in large quantities is a form of nutrient pollution and leads to undesirable effects on the quality of soil, water, air, and nature through the process of eutrophication.[3]

In essence, the nitrogen crisis is the successor to the acid rain problem of the 1980s. Acid rain is caused by the deposition of ammonia and nitrogen oxides, but also sulfur dioxide (SO
). From 1980 to 2020, the emission of sulfur dioxide was reduced by 80%. The emission of nitrogen compounds was also reduced by 50%. The emission of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has been steadily decreasing ever since 1980. However, the reduction in the emission of ammonia came to a standstill around 2010, the last year of the fourth Balkenende cabinet.[3]

In 2015, the Dutch government under the second Rutte cabinet launched a new program to reduce nitrogen pollution, the Integrated Approach to Nitrogen (Dutch: Programma Aanpak Stikstof, PAS).[3]


2017 Sentinel-5P satellite imagery of high levels of atmospheric nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over the Low Countries

2019 Court of State ruling

When the nitrogen crisis came to a head in 2019, it already had a long history, both legal and ecological. The first European standards were set as early as 1991. European Union member states are obliged to comply with the Habitats Directive, which states that a 'favourable conservation status' must be aimed for in Natura 2000 areas.

In May 2017, the Council of State submitted a number of preliminary questions to the European Court of Justice,[4] which in November 2018 provided a further explanation of the relevant provisions of the Habitats Directive. On 29 May 2019, the Administrative Jurisdiction Division of the Council of State ruled on this basis that the government's use of the Integrated Approach to Nitrogen (PAS) was invalid when granting permits due to the anticipation of future reductions in nitrogen deposition.[5] As a result, the PAS could no longer be used for granting nitrogen permits in the vicinity of Natura 2000 areas. This ruling led to the immediate suspension of various projects (mainly housing, which aggravated the ongoing Dutch housing shortage), and the government had to urgently seek solutions.[6] Although nitrogen pollution had been an issue for many years, the Council of State's ruling promptly suspended an estimated 18,000 construction projects.[7]

Later official recommendations and decisions

In June 2020, the Advisory Committee on the Nitrogen Problem under former Deputy Prime Minister Johan Remkes published a report titled Niet alles kan overal ("Not Everything Is Possible Everywhere")[8] which recommended reducing nationwide emissions of NH3 and NOx by 50% compared to 2019, for a long-term solution (up to 2030). The NH3 should be reduced even further in certain areas close to natural areas.

As of July 2021, construction projects could proceed without nitrogen testing under the so-called bouwvrijstelling ("construction exemption"). However, this exemption was overturned by the Council of State in November 2022, and a "protracted nitrogen crisis" continues.

Protests and political developments

In the wake of the 2019 ruling and related government policies, a sizeable farmers' protest movement arose, which saw livestock farmers using tractors to block major Dutch roads and occupy public spaces.[9][10][11]

In response to these protests, the agrarian and right-wing populist political party Farmer–Citizen Movement (Dutch: BoerBurgerBeweging, BBB) was founded in October 2019. In the 2021 general election, it pledged for the creation of a "Ministry of the Countryside" (Dutch: ministerie van Platteland) located at least 100 kilometers from The Hague[12] and a removal of the ban on neonicotinoids.[13] In addition, the party calls for right-to-farm laws, which would allow for farmers to have more say on agricultural expansion matters, in response to local opposition to pig and goat farms over public health, environmental and agricultural concerns.

In 2023, the BBB won the provincial elections and became the party with the largest number of seats in the Dutch Senate following the Senate election.[14][15]

See also


  1. ^ Hoogerbrugge, R.; Geilenkirchen, G.P.; Den Hollander, H.A.; Van der Swaluw, E.; Visser, S.; De Vries, W.J.; Wichink Kruit, R.J. (11 September 2019), "Rapportage 2019", Grootschalige concentratie- en depositiekaarten Nederland, RIVM rapport 2019-0091 (in Dutch), National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, pp. 66 pages, doi:10.21945/RIVM-2019-0091, Table 5.1: Composition of nitrogen deposition (mol ha−1 year−1) in 2018{{citation}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ Advisory Committee on Nitrogen Issues (25 September 2019). ""Not everything is possible" - First advice from the Advisory Committee on Nitrogen Issues" (pdf) (in Dutch). Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. pp. 51 pages. Pie chart on page 11
  3. ^ a b c "Stikstof" (in Dutch). Wageningen University & Research. 25 September 2019. Retrieved 15 April 2023.
  4. ^ "Arrest Europees Hof over Programma Aanpak Stikstof" (in Dutch). Council of State. 7 November 2018. Retrieved 10 July 2023.
  5. ^ "Uitspraak 201600614/3/R2, 201600617/3/R2, 201600618/3/R2, 201600620/3/R2, 201600622/4/R2, 201600630/3/R2". Council of State (in Dutch). Retrieved 15 April 2023.
  6. ^ "Gemeenten worstelen met stilgelegde projecten door stikstofuitspraak". Nieuwsuur (in Dutch). 9 September 2019. Retrieved 15 April 2023.
  7. ^ Teije, Stefan ten (11 October 2019). "Huizenbouwers wakker geschud door stikstofcrisis: 'Het kán anders'". Algemeen Dagblad (in Dutch). Retrieved 15 April 2023.
  8. ^ Advisory Committee on the Nitrogen Problem (8 June 2020). "Niet alles kan overal" (in Dutch). Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. Retrieved 11 July 2023.
  9. ^ "Protesting farmers close roads and borders in nationwide campaign".
  10. ^ "Two arrested as farmers gather in The Hague to protest".
  11. ^ "Eight arrested after violent farmers' protest at nature minister's home".
  12. ^ "Een ministerie van Platteland, op minstens 100 kilometer van Den Haag" (in Dutch). Farmer–Citizen Movement. 10 February 2021. Retrieved 25 July 2023.
  13. ^ Buning, Stefan. "Caroline van der Plas gekozen als lijsttrekker BoerBurgerBeweging". Agraaf. Archived from the original on 9 April 2021. Retrieved 25 July 2023.
  14. ^ "BBB up to 17 seats in Senate, Coalition down to 22".
  15. ^ "BBB biggest senate party, GL and PvdA can give gov't a majority".