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Environmental Balance 2009. Summary

Report | 29-09-2009
Photo of a wind turbine in front of a blue sky with cirrus clouds

The feasibility of meeting both the short-term and long-term targets of environmental policy is heavily influenced by the consequences of the current recession. In the short term, the environment will profit from the recession because the decline in economic activity will result in lower emissions, especially to the air. In the long term, the recession will have unfavourable effects on the environment because it will slow down the development and introduction of environmentally-friendly technologies. Until 2015 the targets for climate and air policy will probably be achieved or are within reach. Also, targets for soil remediation and waste management are within reach. Targets for the environmental conditions within nature conservation areas in the rural areas will probably not be achieved by 2015. The same applies to the targets for noise, odours and external safety in the urban environment.

What is the Environmental Balance?

The Environmental Balance is an annual report by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency on the current status and future trends in the environment in relation to government policies and social trends. This Environmental Balance pays specific attention to the consequences of the current economic recession for environmental quality and for the progress being made with environmental policies. The main conclusions of the Environmental Balance 2009 are the following.

Short-term environmental targets for climate and air pollution within reach

With current policies, the Netherlands will very likely comply with its climate targets under the Kyoto Protocol. Emission reductions caused by the economic recession further alleviate meeting this target. The Dutch government is expected to have a surplus of 30-40 megatonnes of emissions credits (range 10 to 60 megatonnes), which can be used in the next trading period.

With current policies, emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds will probably fall below the national emission ceilings in 2010. The chance that ammonia emissions will be below the ceiling in 2010 is about 50%. The measures in the ‘National Cooperation Programme on Air Quality’ (NSL) can bring concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM10) at hot spots, such as very busy roads, down to near the limit values.

Long-term environmental targets require policy overhaul

Under currently adopted and proposed policies almost none of the targets for 2020 and beyond will be achieved. This means that a much more stringent environmental policy is needed to achieve the long-term targets. Policies for energy generation from wind, sun, biomass and other renewable energy sources and for energy saving and surface water quality will have to be fundamentally revised to bring policy instruments in line with the targets to be achieved.

Additional measures needed to meet climate targets for 2020

The Dutch Government aims for a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020, bringing emissions down to a maximum of 150 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent. The Dutch government is therefore pursuing a more ambitious goal than the European Commission, whose current target is a minimum reduction of 20%. Under its Clean and Efficient programme the Government is developing policy instruments not only to realise these emission reductions, but also to achieve the targets for energy saving and renewable energy. At the moment the work programme contains adopted policy instruments as well as policy proposals and options to be worked out in more detail. Under the adopted and proposed policies in the programme, emissions will fall to 182 to 222 megatonnes in 2020, depending on the rate of economic growth and decisions to introduce stricter measures under current and proposed policies. This means that additional measures will be needed to bring emissions down to the Government’s target of 150 megatonnes maximum.

Economic recession slows down investments in clean technology

In the long term, the recession will have unfavourable effects on the environment because it will slow down the development and introduction of environmentally-friendly technologies. Investments in entirely new environmental technologies, such as carbon storage, are generally more risky than more traditional investments, and are therefore likely to be hit harder by the credit crisis.

Moreover, the recession has lead to a collapse in price of CO2 emissions credits, and to a lower oil price. When the economy picks up again, the price of carbon is not expected to rise substantially, partly because rights that are left over from the 2008-2012 period can be transferred to the period 2013-2020. This will make companies more reluctant to invest in CO2 reducing measures. Also, investments in technologies for replacing fossil fuels will be less profitable than was recently thought.

Expected global demand for meat and fish incompatible with global climate and nature ambitions

The global production of meat, fish and dairy products already places a huge burden on the environment. This production is currently responsible for 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions and about 30% of biodiversity loss. The latter is caused primarily by arable production for livestock feed, which displaces biodiversity mainly in the tropics. Between now and 2030 the global consumption of meat, fish and dairy products will rise by 50%, as will production and its associated pressures on the environment. At the same time, international agreements have been made to halt the loss of biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These two trends are incompatible. The Dutch government wants to leave its citizens as free as possible to choose what they eat, but it will eventually have to find a balance between the social goals for food production and consumption, climate and biodiversity.

European air quality standards could be directed more at heath protection

The European standards for fine particulate matter (PM10) and nitrogendioxide (NO2) are intended to reduce the damage to human health from local air pollution. However, there are growing indications that this damage is more closely associated with exposure to fine particulate matter from combustion processes (combustion aerosols) than with exposure to PM10 or NO2. Moreover, the observed health effects can be explained better by the toxicological properties of the combustion aerosols. This does not mean that the current standards for PM10 and NO2 do not lead to benefits for human health, but it does mean that reducing exposure to combustion aerosols will probably deliver greater health benefits at lower costs. Research into possibilities for targeting policy more specifically on reducing exposure to this type of fine particulate matter would be a useful step towards a more effective air quality policy.

Author(s)Hoogervorst NJP (eds)
Report no.500081016
Publication date29-09-2009