Agriculture emissions hardly decreased in recent times


The emission of greenhouse gases and nitrogen in agriculture barely decreased in recent years, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) reported. Although emissions of most substances have fallen compared to 1995, the decrease stagnated in 2003 for greenhouse gases and in 2008 for nitrogen. Agriculture production increased by 20 percent in roughly 25 years.

According to CBS, agriculture makes a relatively large contribution to the total emissions in the Netherlands. The sector is responsible for 12 percent of greenhouse gases, the same as in 1995. After that year, emissions of the gases that contribute to global warming fell, but they have risen slightly again since 2003.

Nitrogen emissions decreased significantly between 1995 and 2008, but progress stagnated after that. Agriculture is the largest emitter of the nitrogen compound ammonia, which is released when animal manure and urine mix. Nitrogen oxide is also released in agriculture, for example, by running tractors and heating greenhouses.

The dairy sector emits the most ammonia. This sector is also responsible for the most greenhouse gas emissions. Cows release methane when they breathe or burp. Horticulture also emits a lot of greenhouse gases due to the energy generated for the greenhouses with natural gas.

Agricultural machinery has emitted much less particulate matter since 1995, but the machinery still accounts for a large share of the total particulate matter emissions in the sector. Poultry farms also emit a lot of particulate matter due to dust in the stables. The overall particulate matter emissions from stables and greenhouses increased compared to 1995.

All in all, agriculture’s very high production comes at a high price, CBS said. It puts tremendous pressure on the environment and animal welfare. Agriculture accounted for 1 percent of the Dutch economy in 2020. In 1995 it was still 3 percent.

LTO response

The Agricultural and Horticultural Organization of the Netherlands (LTO) submitted plans to the Cabinet in 2021 that could have reduced greenhouse gas emissions to the desired level, chairman Sjaak van der Tak said in response to the CBS figures. The organization “doesn’t deny” that emissions haven’t fallen much in recent years. “But we have submitted plans with proposals to accelerate the reduction of emissions, especially in dairy farming,” said Van der Tak.

It concerns the “acceleration agreement,” concluded with Natuurmonumenten, Natuur en Milieu, Bouwend Nederland, and VNO-NCW. It includes agreements on how technological innovations can reduce emissions, for example, by renovating stables, making machines more sustainable, and adjusting manure storage. The plans would require a sizeable annual contribution from the government.

Nitrogen targets won’t be reached

On Tuesday, a new report from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) also showed that the agriculture sector still emits too much ammonia. The government will, therefore, likely not achieve its goal of drastically reducing nitrogen emissions around nature areas by 2030. The announced National Program Rural Area is intended to change that, though the plans therein were not concrete enough for the PBL to include in its calculations.

Noord-Brabant halting projects around nature reserves

The province of Noord-Brabant will temporarily not grant any permits for infrastructure, agriculture, industry, housing, or sustainability projects if they have nitrogen effects on Natura 2000 areas. Analyzes of these vulnerable areas show that nature is deteriorating, and the province won’t aggravate the situation further.

Due to acidification, eutrophication, and desiccation, plants and trees are slowly but surely disappearing from the nature reserves, reducing the number of insects and making it impossible for birds and other animals to live in some places. “If this development continues, we will have a total impoverishment of nature,” the province of Noord-Brabant said on Wednesday. “That has negative consequences for the climate, environment, living environment, and health.”

The province, therefore, halted the granting of permits that will release more nitrogen into Natura 2000 areas for the time being. “Projects in all sectors of Brabant society are affected by this,” the province said. “Projects that do not involve nitrogen deposition on the relevant Natura 2000 areas can be carried out.”


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