Let’s make the Netherlands green

Author: Ashita Khandelwal
March 23, 2021

When thinking about pollution you might think of countries like India and China. However, you might be surprised to find out that the Netherlands is also currently facing a big pollution problem. Major Dutch cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague and Maastricht all have air quality below European standards. When compared to other countries, Dutch emissions are amongst the highest in Europe, with CO2 emissions being as high as 9.23 tonnes of CO2 per capita. We will take a closer look at where this pollution comes from and what we can do about it.

Around 94% of ammonia emissions in the European Union is accounted for by agricultural activities. Consequently, a discussion was initiated in the Dutch parliament about air pollution and a proposal was made which aimed to slash the livestock population in the country by half. This proposal by coalition party D66 saw massive uproar from the farmers, as they protested in the Hague. However, the fact remains that government data shows that 3/4th of the surface area of the Netherlands exceeds critical nitrogen limits and something will have to be done. At present, the Netherlands is the second largest agricultural exporter next only to the United States, despite being about 237 times smaller in size than the US. According to green match UK, forested areas in the Netherlands take up only 11.2% of total land, with the rest being reserved for residential, industrial and agricultural use. If the Netherlands wishes to avoid a nature completely depleted due to excess nitrogen, decisive steps will need to be taken. 

Nitrogen however is not the only pollution problem facing the Netherlands. According to Dutchnews.nl, a news website, around 8000 people die every year due to air pollution and coal power plants account directly for 10% of those deaths.The European measures taken to improve the air quality since the 1970s have provided about 6 extra years of life on average per capita in the Netherlands, according to a study conducted by RIVM. However, cities like  Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague and Maastricht still face air pollution problems. As most of the population lives in or around these cities, the pressing issue of air pollution should be on the top of the agenda in order to ensure the good health of the residents. As suggested by the RIVM data, following the EU guidelines with regards to air quality has worked in favor of the Netherlands. This provides a solid reason to continue adhering to these protocols now and in the future. 

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize the importance of clean air for our health and the environment. How can we as individuals contribute to the greater cause of reducing air pollution in the country? According to RIVM, 23% of fine particulate emissions in the Netherlands is a result of burning wood in home fires. In 2018 alone private houses burnt around a billion kilograms of wood. This is something that we should strive to reduce. On top of this, the European Environmental Agency (EEA) report of 2015 found that the Netherlands is the least sustainable EU country along with Luxembourg. But there is hope. The Dutch are known to be innovative and entrepreneurial. With increased use of renewable energy sources, electric vehicles and reduced meat and dairy production, the country can improve its position on the sustainability ladder.

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