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Bordering the North Sea between Belgium and Germany, there is a delicate balance between land and sea in the Netherlands, with around half of the country lying below sea level and much of the land having been reclaimed from the sea. To protect from flooding, there is a large network of dikes and dams.
The growth in both the country’s population and economy has led to increased pressure on the environment. Air and water pollution are of particular concern for The Netherlands, with the country's rivers becoming particularly polluted from agricultural activity. Heavy metals, organic compounds, nitrates and phosphates form a large part of this pollution problem. However, as a whole, the water quality in The Netherlands is excellent, with its public drinking water supply being one of the best in Europe.
The key environmental issues affecting the Netherlands include loss of biodiversity, climate change, and the overexploitation of natural resources. Habitat fragmentation, atmospheric nitrogen deposition, and the loss of farmland bird populations are still being experienced despite national measures to combat these issues. Several of these problems have arisen as a result of the Netherlands’ extensive agricultural transport, which has been greatly developed in recent years.
Unfortunately, the Netherlands has not met a number of its environmental commitments, for instance its goal to curb CO2 (carbon dioxide), NH3 (ammonia), NOx (nitrogen oxides), and VOC (volatile organic compounds) emissions, increase green spaces in urban areas, and goals regarding the protection of nature.
According to the Executive Summary from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), it's necessary for the Netherlands to improve the cost effectiveness of its environmental policies, investigate environmental concerns, and reflect them in positive social and economic decisions.
These issues seem to be at the forefront of Dutch citizen’s minds. It was reported that in 2017 81% of Dutch citizens expressed concern about the effects of plastic pollution and 83% of Dutch citizens were concerned about the impact of chemicals on the environment.
In 2014, the Netherlands was one of the first European Union countries to present a program for a circular economy, which has gained good support throughout the country and is considered a leading example of its kind in the EU.
Pollution and Emissions
According to a study by The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), the country spends €31 billion on damage to the environment caused by the emission of harmful substances. Nearly 98 percent of all of the calculated environmental damage is due to air pollution, mainly including greenhouse gases like CO2 and CH4 (methane).
As is common, traffic and transport are the main source of these air pollutants and subsequent environmental damage. After transport, the agriculture sector places second for causing the most environmental damage. This sector costs the country €6.5 billion from damage every year with half of the damage caused by ammonia in particular.
Pollution and emissions aren’t only a threat to environmental stability; there is a significant risk to human life as well. In 2015, there were 1,900 premature deaths reported due to nitrogen dioxide pollution, 9,800 premature deaths attributed to fine particulate matter concentrations, and 290 premature deaths attributed to ozone concentration.
In recent years, subsidies and exemptions for petroleum and natural gas have been removed and taxes on carbon dioxide are becoming more common.
Recycling can be carried out in supermarkets where there are deposit systems for baby bottles and other plastic and glass containers , and many kerbside recycling units exist throughout Holland. In Amsterdam there are a good number of recycling bins for paper and glass. Small businesses in particular are becoming increasingly circular and overall the recycling rate for municipal waste is among the best in the European Union.
Clean Technology and Renewable Energy
The main sources of renewable energy in the Netherlands are biomass, wind, and solar technology. In 2014, the Netherlands only produced 5.5 percent of its total energy from renewable sources. This was one of the lowest percentages in the EU, and the Netherlands is considered one of the countries most likely not to meet its 2020 national renewable energy targets.
The country generates its electricity from gas and coal in the majority, but the use of renewable energy sources (wind power in particular) has been increasing in recent years. Wind turbine installations have increased steadily over the last decade with 2009 achieving a 2,225 megawatt capacity from wind power increasing to 4,471 megawatts in 2018.
By 2020, the country aims to generate 37 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.
As the Netherlands is a small country, it is easy to travel throughout it by bus or train. It is also a prolific cycling country, with over 13 million bikes and 15,000 kilometres of bike lanes.
Amsterdam’s council plans to ban cars and motorbikes running on petrol or diesel from 2030 to reduce air pollution in the city. This also includes a reduction in buses and coaches that emit exhaust fumes from 2022, and by 2025, the ban on petrol and diesel will extend to certain boats using the canals, and to mopeds. This is part of the Clean Air Action plan.
Citizens are being encouraged to use electric and hydrogen cars instead of those running on petrol and diesel.