The Netherlands will not meet the first of its key targets on nitrogen reduction, opening the door to further legal challenges by environmental groups, the public health agency RIVM has warned.
The nitrogen law that came into force three years ago requires the government to cut nitrogen compound emissions such as ammonia and nitrous oxide by 40% before the start of 2025.
The target is a stepping stone on the way to the goal of halving emissions by 2035, in order to comply with European standards designed to protect vulnerable conservation areas known as Natura-2000 zones.
A judgment by the Council of State in 2019 forced the cabinet to take immediate measures to reduce emissions, including cutting daytime speed limits on motorways to 100 kph.
Major construction projects, including roads and housing estates, have also had to be shelved because provincial governments cannot issue environmental permits for them.
A recent survey by the RIVM found that the condition of Natura 2000 zones in the Netherlands is improving slowly, with 30% of the total area expected to have less than the prescribed limit of nitrogen depositions in 2030, compared to 28% in 2021. But that falls far short of the target levels of 40% by 2025 and 74% by 2035.
In a reply to questions from parliament last week Van der Wal said extra measures were needed quickly to prevent the situation declining, but added that it was not her place as caretaker minister to implement them.
“Given the current political situation, I thin it is appropriate to leave the choice about these measures to the coalition formation process,” she wrote.
Three of the parties currently holding talks to form a new government after the election last November – PVV, NSC and the farmers’ party BBB – want to scrap the nitrogen law and introduce a new one.
But campaign groups such as Greenpeace and Mobilisation for the Environment are already preparing legal challenges based on the existing law, on the basis that the 2025 targets will not be met.
Jan Willem Erisman, professor of environmental sustainability at Leiden University, told NRC that the case had a good chance of being successful, given the outcome of the Urgenda case in 2019, when the Supreme Court ordered the government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“That was also a court case about targets and forced the government to adopt extra measures,” he said.
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