Your nitrogen questions answered: ‘Does Germany not have a nitrogen problem?’ † NOW

On Friday, the government announced more about its plans to halve nitrogen emissions by 2030. Emissions of nitrogen, mainly caused by agriculture, must be significantly reduced to give nature areas the chance to recover. Internal Reporter Harm Ede Botje stood ready for an hour on Monday to answer all your questions about these new plans. Read a selection of the best questions and answers here.

Question by Freek: “Why is it bad if the amount of nitrogen in nature continues to rise?”

Because the accumulation of nitrogen in the soil leads to acidification. You can already see the consequences of this in Veluwe. Colleague Rolf Schuttenhelm wrote an article about this, which you can read here. He wrote of Veluwe: “Many oak forests are on the verge of death. Chickens break their legs in the nest due to calcium deficiency. Heather butterflies and unique flowering plants are on the verge of extinction. Cause: nitrogen pollution, for decades.”

Question from reader: “In recent days, it has been in the news several times that the supporters of VVD and CDA do not support the plans and want change, but is it not partly because of these parties that the problem has become so big?”

It is true. For years, VVD and CDA politicians have focused on growth in the agricultural sector. Holland was the world food producer. It was also PvdA MP Diederik Samsom and CDA colleague Ger Koopmans who in 2009 came up with the solution of giving free rein to new economic activities, later steps would be taken to prevent nitrogen precipitation in nature reserves. Only it never happened. The turning point was a ruling in 2019, in which the Council of State put an end to the overly loose nitrogen policy. Since then, the previous and current cabinet has been working on plans to drastically reduce nitrogen emissions, which were presented on Friday.

Question from reader: “If our farmers are rehabilitated, can it have consequences for our food supply?”

No, 70 percent of what farmers in the Netherlands produce goes across the border. Even if there are fewer farmers, or if the farmers produce less food, there will be more than enough left over to support the Dutch citizen.

Question from reader: “Why does the nitrogen problem stop at the border? Does it make sense to take measures that are not taken to such an extent in, for example, Germany?”

The Netherlands is a frontrunner in Europe when it comes to nitrogen emissions, four times as much as the average. Nowhere are so many animals kept as in Holland. Flanders and Germany follow in second and third place. In Flanders, it was decided in February this year that forty companies near nature reserves should close by 2050. The number of pigs to be reduced by a third, the trade magazine De Nieuwe Oogst reported in February. In Germany, the problems are less serious because there is a lot more space. In Germany, measures are also being taken to reduce nitrogen emissions.

Question by GJ: “The Aerius model is used to determine a company’s nitrogen emissions, it is known that it can be used nationally but may have a margin of error of 30 to 70 percent at the local level. Not measured what a company’s actual nitrogen emissions are?”

It is impossible to measure nitrogen emissions on each farm. The Aerius model has been used for years without the big comments. It’s the only model we have. A commission of inquiry said last year that Aerius could be used as a basis for policy. There is a certain margin of error in all calculations. One thing is for sure: Nitrogen emissions in the Netherlands are far too high, and you can then calculate an upward or downward margin. It does not mean much for the end result: nitrogen emissions must be drastically reduced.

Question by Lorenzo: “Is there a possibility that the cabinet will fall due to the nitrogen crisis? That VVD and CDA are pulling the plug. This is a very sensitive issue, especially among the supporters of VVD and CDA.”

That chance is not great at the moment. The proposal at the VVD Congress, which calls on the VVD faction to reconsider the nitrogen policy, is no more than a piece of advice. That proposal was discouraged by VVD Agriculture spokesman Thom van Campen. Minister Christianne van der Wal said she saw no reason to adjust the policy. She believes that the House of Representatives should now have its say. Prime Minister Mark Rutte also takes this position. After the VVD conference, he told De Telegraaf that “certain aspects should be considered when developing the policy”, but he did not want to go further.

Are you curious about the other questions and answers? Then click here.

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