Halfway through 2019 Dutch society had alarm bells ringing because it had reached its hard Nitrogen-emissions limits. This prompted the Dutch Parliament and Cabinet to freeze all nitrogen-emitting activities which brought an abrupt and near full halt to Dutch society.
This all stemmed from the 2015 Nitrogen Law passed to monitor and issue permits to farmers and other businesses that emit Nitrogen containing substances. But these emissions are souring the soil in nature reserves that are part of the European Union Natura 2000 program. So, when the Highest Civil court in the land, the Raad van State, ruled the legislation to be unlawful in its assumption that future emissions would be reduced, a crisis ensued; 18,000 permits were suspended or denied. This made the Cabinet look for answers.
Parliamentarian Tjeerd de Groot (D66) thought he had one. An amendment to cut the Dutch Nitrogen emission levels in half by 2030 and by 74% in 2050 after a commission led by Johan Remkes concluded that clearer goals were needed.
When de Groot was asked in an interview not much later how that would be achieved, he stated:
“By cutting the cattle population in half, farmers produce way too much emission on a post stamp of land this is devastating our nature reserves. Farmers either quit voluntarily, are forced to quit by the revoking of permits or commit to forming circular agricultural practices.”
This started a farmer’s resistance to this law and amendment. Especially after interest groups like the arable farmers and horticulturists organisation LTO (Land- en Tuinbouw Organisatie) were ignored following their statement that “…this will not go over well with our 35,000 members.’ You’re asking farmers to do more and give more with stricter rules on manure, fertiliser, pesticide and fuel use. Farmers had already cut their GHG- and NOx-emissions by 70% since 1990.
When the amendment and ideas around it were announced and D66 (one of the governing coalition parties) called for halving the cattle population, the farmers were fuming. There was little to no discussion about privileges given to KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines), Schiphol airport or to the shipping industry. They continued to enjoy little to no taxes at all on fuel. The chemical industry was also spared.
Farmers were angry about bottom prices being forced on them for their products while maintaining strict guidelines on quality leading to lots of waste. Simultaneously, farms — especially the smaller family farms — have increasing difficulties staying afloat and finding people to take on their companies. This constitutes a terrible loss to the countryside leading to widespread abandonment of buildings and poverty because of disinvestment.
Indeed, in most places around the country farmers are leading the charge to make sure local produce is being locally sold. This saves a lot of pollution in the Netherlands because there will be less transport of goods throughout the country.
These radical two years have left their mark on the Dutch political landscape. Since then, every political party developed agricultural policies to appeal to farmers. What Dutch politicians should learn is that a Green Revolution isn’t just about banning bad things but also about stimulating good things. The following neo-liberal grievances sparked the protests:
- Monopolisation: for example, Ahold, parent company of supermarket Albert Heijn, DelHaize, online store Bol.com and liquorstore Gall&Gall saw a massive rise in its sales.
- Extortion: By large intermediate suppliers and supermarkets asking wildly low prices and forcing investments on farmers, eating into their profit margins leaving both larger and smaller farms in financial trouble.
- Disinvestment: for the past forty years the governments’ investments were largely focused on the urbanised part of the country from Alkmaar in the north to Rotterdam, Arnhem and Nijmegen in the south, most of the industrious centre of the country. This has left the rest of the country starved from infrastructure, job opportunities and facilities like hospitals, doctor clinics, schools and quality internet access.
Solutions: Sustainable land practices
The Green New Deal for Europe (GNDE) offers us a solution. The GNDE is an 85 point policy plan to transform society to make it future proof.
- First point #68: rewarding farmers for good practices such as rewilding of their lands.
- Second point #69: sustainable land practices like putting a stop to unnecessary tilling, pesticide use by using for example, natural enemies of pests which restores the natural balance in the ecosystem, promoting carbon retention/absorption by submerging peatlands, planting trees and circulating animal herds so the grasses have time to grow longer absorbing more GHG and Nitrogen into the soil.
Also by giving more space, a longer life and more locally grown food to at least 50% less animals. In other words, free-range farming or pioneering food forests in the fruit tree or arable land farming industries that work with nature instead of against it. Yielding better quality products with less emissions and less strain on the small pocket of land we are.
Investment in Fishing
A first opportunity for a G.P.W. would bet: fish-farming mostly on open water. These farms farm kelp, fish and crustaceans; a sector that is struggling in the Netherlands but can be made sustainable easily.
An example of how this could look is the Schelde estuary nature reserve, where the water quality is suitable for a diving experience thanks to oyster, mussel and lobster farms helping the local ecosystem tremendously while also rising to be a national, and profitable, source of pride.
Breaking supermarkets Monopolies
Another policy point is #58: Making supermarket chains and intermediaries pay their fair share giving a fair percentage of profits straight to the farmers and producers of food products, so they have the money for the Green transition.
Throughout the GNDE DiEM25 wants to level a higher corporate tax and utilise the European Investment Bank (EIB), investing these revenues directly in society to create Green Public Works (GPW).
For example in the countryside; repairing broken roads, improving internet access, providing opportunities to youth by investing in social life, start-up farmers or aspiring farmers to perpetuate their parents’ business in a green way. Whilst providing the older generation with a decent pension, elderly homes and medical facilities.
Increasing biodiversity via Green Corridors
Another example of a GPW would be connecting all Natura 2,000 reserves with green corridors, so that animals can roam across the country boosting biodiversity and opening up eco-tourism opportunities.
The COVID-19 pandemic showed that a lot of people have needs for greenery — parks, estates and trails have been full with visitors when the weather is pleasant. The police have had to close off most of them every time since the safety and health of both humans and nature could no longer be maintained.
By connecting these parks, we can create a lot of space for planting trees for the Green Transition of the Netherlands to live up to its ancient Germanic name again Holland: land of woods.
We have a lot to do in very little time. We need to diversify our diet, lessen the amount of meat we eat, plant trees, let nature regrow, and help it capture every bit of GHG and Nitrogen we can in every way possible. Otherwise, we will bear the continued consequences of the climate crisis — increasingly devastating natural disasters, and more.