Nitrogen remains a persistent problem: according to the estimate of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), ammonia emissions will not decrease enough to meet the government target.
The fact that things are going in the right direction does not mean that the problems for public health and nature quality have also been solved. The European reduction targets ‘have been agreed to reduce these problems, but not to solve them’, the report says.
Although legal standards are intended to have a certain effect, feasibility is also taken into account in the final compromise. The World Health Organization concluded not so long ago that air pollution is harmful to health even in small quantities.
European and Dutch targets
One of the most notorious forms of air pollution is particulate matter, and in particular the finest fraction thereof, PM2.5, with a maximum diameter of 2.5 micrometres. According to the European Environment Agency, air pollution leads to more than 300,000 premature deaths in the EU every year. The largest part of this is due to particulate matter, followed at a distance by nitrogen oxides.
In addition to the substances mentioned above, there are also European standards for sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds, which are used as solvents, for example. It is expected that the emissions of all five substances studied will remain below the European standard in the coming years.
In addition to the European standards, the Netherlands has formulated separate reduction targets for the two best-known forms of reactive nitrogen, namely nitrogen oxides and ammonia. This is due to the high emissions in the Netherlands of ammonia in particular, originating from intensive livestock farming.
While nitrogen oxide emissions are estimated to be reduced enough to meet the national target, this is not the case for ammonia. Not even by a long shot: the government’s target for the reduction of ammonia is ‘out of reach’.
What goes up, also comes down
The emission of nitrogen is one thing, for the Natura 2000 areas it is about what descends from the air: the deposition. RIVM will calculate the deposition on the basis of the estimated emissions from this estimate. The results will follow later this year.
In 2030, 74 percent of vulnerable nature areas must be brought below the critical deposition value for nitrogen. Whether that government target is achieved depends not only on how much, but also on where the emissions are reduced. Because nitrogen – especially ammonia – mainly precipitates close to the source, emission reduction close to nature reserves is most effective.
‘Buying out is expensive’
What can contribute to the reduction of ammonia emissions is the National Termination Scheme for Livestock Farming Locations (Lbv), or the buy-out scheme. This will contribute more than 2 kilotonnes to the estimated ammonia emission reduction in 2030, out of a total of approximately 100 kilotonnes.
“This is the upper limit, the most positive scenario, because the scheme is voluntary,” warns Emma van der Zanden of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. “The assumption is that the budget can actually be spent, in other words that enough companies really stop. This does not mean that buy-out arrangements often do not work as well and as quickly as intended. Buy-out is expensive.”
The projection expects a slightly larger effect from the use of low-protein animal feed (3.5 kiloton reduction in 2030). But all such numbers are surrounded by great uncertainties, van der Zanden hastens to say. Also with regard to alternative animal feed, it remains to be seen whether enough farmers will start using it.
Only policy that has been sufficiently elaborated has been calculated based on the expected effects in 2030. The National Program for Rural Areas (NPLG) ‘is not yet specific enough to include in the emission estimates’, the report states. In the NPLG, goals for nature, climate and water quality are tackled integrally, that is the idea.
The authors do not want to venture into an estimate of how much such measures that are not included, of which the NPLG is the most important, will contribute to the reduction of ammonia emissions in 2030.