How the Dutch nitrogen policy failed and led to serious nitrogen deposition reduction

In 2015 the Dutch government introduced the Programmatic Approach on Nitrogen (PAS) to reduce nitrogen deposition to the sensitive Natura 2000 areas without affecting economic growth. May 29 the highest judge in the country decided that this policy is insufficient to protect the quality of the 160 Natura 2000 areas which have a protection status according to the European guidelines (Bird and Habitat Directive). An appeal to this judgement is not possible. This decision has had major consequences: no new project that emit nitrogen oxides or ammonia, even a tiny fraction, were blocked. Therefore, the whole economy was affected: new housing, building roads, an airport, industry, traffic and farmers all are affected. And the decision was so strict that there was no easy solution other than a significant reduction in nitrogen deposition scientifically grounded and ecologically sound. It is an opportunity for a serious nitrogen policy and maybe an example for other nations!

In 2015 the Programmatic Approach to Nitrogen (PAS) was approved by the Dutch government as an instrument for improving environmental conditions in natural areas. In this programme the national and provincial governments are taking habitat restoration measures and measures to reduce nitrogen deposition on Natura 2000 sites to levels that will create room for further economic development in nearby areas. Restoration measures were expected to compensate for the negative impacts of excessive nitrogen loads – temporarily or permanently – while deposition levels are still too high. Such measures were aimed primarily at restoring the abiotic conditions required by particular species and habitat types (management objectives). They aim to remove nutrients, for example by removing soil, sod cutting, extra mowing and extra grazing. In general, the lower the local exceedance of the critical load, the more successful and lasting the effects of these measures will be.