Tag Archives: Netherlands

Netherlands wants to cut livestock herd by millions

Every country has to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, that’s a given. But how to do it depends on each one, with different strategies in place. For the Netherlands, fewer emissions mean less livestock, with a new government plan now being considered that would force most farmers to reduce the size of their cattle. 

Image credit: Flickr / Fred Davis.

Back in 2019, the Dutch government was forced by the Supreme Court in The Hague to reduce its emissions even further, following a seven-year legal battle with a group of environmental NGOs. The government accepted the ruling and started thinking of ways to increase climate ambition, from cutting coal power to now reducing livestock.

Livestock production brings several environmental and public health effects. At the global level, it contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and the overuse of finite resources such as land and water. Locally, it contributes to nutrient surpluses, affecting soil and water quality, as well as causing toxicological effects of pesticide application. 

These problems are especially relevant in locations with a large density of animal and human populations, such as in the case of the Netherlands. The country has one of Europe’s largest livestock industries, with over 100 million cattle, chickens, and pigs. It’s also the largest meat exporter of the European Union, worth about 8.8 billion euros in 2020. 

“We are a relatively small country with a lot of inhabitants, industry, transport and agriculture, so we are reaching the limits of what nature can take,” Rudi Buis, a spokesperson for the agriculture ministry told the Guardian. “There is a high level of urgency for us to tackle the nitrogen compounds problem. This means that in the near future, choices must be made.”

The future plans 

Government officers at the Agriculture and Finance ministries have drafted a proposal to cut down livestock numbers by 30%, something unseen so far in Europe. Two scenarios were proposed. The government could either buy livestock production rights or instead force farmers to sell their land, which would be much more expensive. 

The new move comes after a previous voluntary plan to buy the land from pig farmers, but only 300 accepted the offer. So now the government decided to step up its game. An official decision is expected in a few weeks and has already caused a big repercussion, with NGOs celebrating the move and beef producers complaining. 

“It’s a step in the right direction. We would do more on buying out farmers and helping them transition to sustainable agriculture,” Bram van Liere, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told The Guardian “The nitrogen crisis is very severe in the Netherlands, but there’s also very high nitrogen deposition in Germany and Belgium, for instance.”

Meanwhile, Wytse Sonnema, head of public affairs at the Netherlands Agricultural and Horticultural Organization (LTO), questioned the move, claiming expropriation is a bad idea. They have instead proposed a voluntary farm relocation or closure. Expropriation would take up to seven years so it doesn’t make sense time-wise, he added.

Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture account for 14.5% of all human emissions – with beef contributing to 41%. And they are set to grow in the future, with beef demand expected to rise by 88% between 2010 and 2050. With this in mind, the plan by the Dutch government could bring a local solution, but not necessarily a global one. 

The Netherlands announces ambitious climate action plan, in line Supreme Court ruling

We need more ambitious climate action, that’s clear at this stage, with evidence across the globe of the climate crisis. But sometimes, a bit of pressure is needed on governments for them take it seriously, as seen now in The Netherlands.

From massively reducing the use of coal to limiting livestock herd, the Dutch government has just announced a wide array of climate measures to lower the country’s greenhouse gas emissions — complying with a recent ruling from the supreme court.

Back in December, the Supreme Court in The Hague ordered the Dutch government to reduce its emissions by 15 megatons in 2020. The ruling was the result of a seven-year legal battle started by the NGO Urgenda Foundation.

“That is an enormous win,” Marjan Minnesma, the director of Urgenda, told The Guardian. “For many people this will give hope that it is possible to use the law as a strategic instrument for change.”

The Supreme Court had said the Dutch government had explicit duties to protect its citizens’ human rights in the face of climate change, asking for emissions to be reduced by at least 25% compared with 1990 levels by the end of 2020.

Now, the government has unveiled the roadmap to comply with the ruling, adopting the majority of the suggestions of Urgenda – which had developed a plan with other 800 civil society organizations from the Netherlands.

The country committed to reducing by 75% the capacity of its three coal-fired power stations, even possibly closing one of them. Cattle and pig herds will also be reduced, compensating farmers who drop their emissions levels, and energy efficiency will be encouraged.

The government will allocate specific funding to achieve the emissions reduction target. For example, 400 million euros will be given for household energy-saving measures and two billion euros for renewable energy projects such as rooftop solar, just to name a few sectors.

The set of measures, unveiled last Friday at the parliament, will likely create an economic stimulus for the country and help reduce nitrogen pollution, a growing problem in the Netherlands, the government said.

At the same time, the fact that the Dutch NGO was able to push forward with their claims for seven years and force the government to finally take action will help to inspire similar action in other countries, local lawmakers said.

“Without a doubt this should encourage climate lawsuits in other countries. It’s a shining example,” Green party politician Tom van der Lee said at the government’s presentation. “This package wouldn’t be there without an order from the highest court. Without that verdict, the government would have chosen a slower trajectory.”

The outcome was welcomed by climate activists, but they warned the government should also be thinking beyond 2020.

“The Netherlands now needs to lay out a strategy to reach net-zero by around the middle of this century,” Bob Ward, policy director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, told The Guardian.

The Paris Agreement, signed in 2015, asks countries to take sufficient climate action in order to avoid the temperature to increase over 2ºC. Nevertheless, that goal is far from being met. With the current climate pledges, temperature increase will likely reach between 3ºC and 4ºC.

Netherlands’ Supreme Court forces government to act on climate change

In what is being considered a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court in the Netherlands ordered the country’s government to scale up climate action and reduce much further greenhouse gas emissions – following a six-year legal fight at courts.

Wind farms in the Netherlands. Credit Wikimedia Commons

The government has explicit duties to protect its citizens’ human rights because of climate change, the Supreme Court said, asking the government to cut emissions by at least 25% compared to 1990 levels by the end of next year.

Nevertheless, the chances of that actually happening are slim. Emissions were down 15% by the end of 2018. Dutch climate experts agree emissions could be reduced by 23% by the end of 2020, but reductions will likely be as low as 19% with the current trajectory.

The Urgenda Foundation, which started the complaint at the Supreme Court, welcomed what it considered as a “groundbreaking” ruling. The case is considered a key landmark in climate litigation and has inspired similar actions in other parts of the world.

United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and the environment David Boyd said: “It was the most important climate change court decision in the world so far, confirming that human rights are jeopardized by the climate emergency and that wealthy nations are legally obligated to achieve rapid and substantial emission reductions.”

The Supreme Court said in its ruling that countries have direct obligations due to articles 2 and 8 of the European conventions on human rights, which cover the right to life and the right to private and family life. “There is a great deal of consensus in the scientific and international community over the urgent need for a reduction in greenhouse gases,” the court said.

Back in June, the Dutch government introduced its climate action plan, hoping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 49% by 2030 and phase out coal-fired electricity generation since 2020. Carbon dioxide emissions haven’t changed much in the Netherlands since 1990, while there were cuts in other gases.

Dutch ministers announced last month a reduction in the daytime speed limit to 100km/h (62mph), under pressure to act due to a nitrogen oxide pollution crisis. The government was forced to act due to the Council of State, claiming the Dutch rules were violating EU rules.

Dennis van Berkel, a member of the legal counsel for Urgenda, said: “The enormous importance of this case is not just that the Netherlands is obliged to act but that these principles are universal. No court outside the Netherlands is bound by this decision but the influence that this court has and the inspiration that it will give to others are really big.”

Cholla power plant.

Netherlands announces plans to phase out coal plants by 2030, puts coal’s future in Europe at doubt

The Dutch government has announced plans to close all coal power plants and ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

Cholla power plant.

Image credits John Fowler / Flickr.

Last Tuesday, the Dutch government announced its road map for the country’s next few years. It was the product of more than 200 days of negotiations, during which time the new government established a course for issues ranging from sports to international diplomacy. One of the most exciting sections of this plan works towards ending the use of coal in Europe: the Netherlands will phase out all coal-powered plans by 2030.

Put it back in the ground

The country will shut down all power plants by 2030, including three that were built in 2015 which ciam to be more fuel efficient than the rest. Despite their higher output, these plants quickly started to decrease in value by 2016, according to Climate Home. The ban will also extend to petrol- and diesel-powered cars. Several publications have reported that the ban will extend to all such vehicles, but that’s not the case — only sales of new diesel and petrol cars will be banned starting 2030, according to Electrek.

The Dutch automotive market is fairly small, with roughly half a million passenger cars sold anually across the country. However, electric cars hold only 2% of that market, meaning the country still has ways to accomplish this transition successfully

“We are proud to have initiated our first pure-electric car sharing service in Europe and, in so doing, to help the city government of Amsterdam achieve its climate targets,” said Chief Operating Officer of Hyundai Motor Europe Thomas A. Schmid.

Given that the coal ban will likely causes prices to drop as offer outstrips demand, the government also set out plans to make sure it doesn’t simply make its way elsewhere in the economy. Such measures include setting a carbon floor price and striving to achieve greater carbon cuts than currently set.

In a report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), IEEFA energy finance consultant Gerard Wynn said the government’s announcement “sent a dramatic signal to electricity markets today that no investment in coal-fired power in Europe is safe.”

“Today’s announcement highlights the risk of investing in either new or existing coal-fired power, and the lesson is clear: national coal phase-out plans such as this, combined with the rise of renewables and the impact on demand of improved efficiency, put old electricity-production models at risk,” he added.

The end goal is to reduce the Netherlands’ emissions by 49% and increase the overall emission reduction goal of the EU from the current 40% to 55%

“Failing that,” Climate Home’s Megan Darby writes, “the coalition said it would seek to agree [to] stronger action with ‘likeminded’ countries in northwestern Europe, to minimise any competitive disadvantage from tougher targets.”

This announcement places the Netherlands in line with other EU countries — France, the UK, and Denmark to name a few — who have all decided to phase out coal completely from their grids in the coming decades. All things considered, the future of coal in Europe seems limited — as governments rule to phase it out, confidence with investors will keep plummeting.

The Netherlands’ decision “sent a dramatic signal to electricity markets today that no investment in coal-fired power in Europe is safe,” says Gerard Wynn, an analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

The Netherlands is shutting down prisons. It doesn’t have enough criminals, and prisons aren’t effective at rehabilitation

Eight prisons were marked for closure in 2009. Nineteen more followed in 2014, and another eight closures were announced in 2016. While this is a problem for the country’s 1,900 prison workers losing their jobs… it’s not such a bad problem to have.

A corridor of the end of the world prison at Ushuaia, now a museum. Image credits: Luis Argerich

The main reason why this happens is simple: crime is going down. Rates are falling around 0.9% per year. This means that by 2021, 3,000 prison cells and 300 youth detention places will be an unneeded surplus. This is a healthy drop, and former justice minister Ard van der Steur said that serious crimes are significantly dropping as well. Aside from indicating less crime taking place across the country, this also saves a lot of money — as prisons are very expensive to maintain.

But this doesn’t really tell the entire story. Somewhere along the line, the Dutch understood that prisons are not particularly good at rehabilitating people. Just like in Norway, the Netherlands focuses on rehabilitating people instead of punishing them — and this works. The Norway recidivism rates are at 20%. Compare that to the 76.6% recidivism rate in the US, and you’ll start to see why this is a good thing. Judges in the Netherlands tend to give community service instead of jail for many crimes. The Duch are closing prisons so fast, they’re actually importing prisoners from Norway — which gains them extra money. They also don’t have a war on drugs, which helps contribute to their success.

Still, many believe punishments aren’t strong enough, as many people who commit light crimes (and even some who commit heavy crimes) never really get a jail sentence. Socialist Party MP Nine Kooiman criticized the government:

‘If this cabinet was really working to catch crooks, we wouldn’t have this problem of empty cells,’ she said.

Yet it’s hard to argue with those figures. So at this point, I guess it’s important (especially for the US, which has a record high incarceration rate) to ask one question: when people commit crimes, do we want to punish them, or do we want to rehabilitate them? Ideally, you’d say both — but this doesn’t seem possible.


An NS train. Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Ad Meskens.

All electric Dutch trains are now 100% powered by wind energy

An NS train. Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Ad Meskens.

A NS train. Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Ad Meskens.

As of the 1st of January, 2017, electric Dutch trains are now completely powered by wind energy, according to NS, the national railway company. Only the couple of Diesel trains in the fleet will use energy derived from fossil fuels.

NS partnered with energy company Eneco for a 10-year contract which will see electricity produced by wind farms directed to powering trains.

The Dutch railway company will use 1.2 billion kWh of electricity this year or as much as all households in the country consume. Roughly 600,000 passengers will travel on trains 100% powered by wind energy in 2017. As an interesting trivia fact, only three strokes of an Eneco wind turbine are enough to push a railway trail one kilometer. Every day, NS operates 5,500 train trips.

“Mobility is responsible for 20 percent of CO2 emissions in the Netherlands, and if we want to keep traveling, it is important that we do this without burdening the environment with CO2 and particulate matter,” Michel Kerkhof of energy company Eneco said last year.

The contract initially stated that the Dutch trains will be wind-powered by 2018, but the milestone was reached much faster, according to NS spokesman Ton Boon.

Boon says more wind farms will be installed in the Netherlands, both inland and off the coast, to offset the new demand. Meanwhile, NS is also working on ways to make train trips more efficient. The goal is to bring down the energy use per passenger by 35 percent by 2020 compared to 2005.

The Dutch Police will train bald eagles to hunt drones out of the sky

The Dutch National Police (DNP) plans to launch the most metal anti-drone program in existence: they will train bald eagles to take down flying unmanned threats. They’re also planning to equip them with armored talons.

It’s going to be a world-first for law enforcement, DNP officials say. In a statement released on Sept. 13, they announced that the DNP is the only police force in the world at this time who will include birds of prey in its done defense arsenal. The announcement comes at the end of a one-year testing partnership between the DNP and Guard from Above, a private company based in the Hague that trains raptors to attack drones in flight.

The company’s chief executive officer Sjoerd Hoogendoorn says the project is “a low-tech solution for a high-tech problem”. He and Guard from Above’s chief operating officer Ben de Keijzer have pooled their experience to bring avian terror on unwanted drones — Hoogendoorn’s expertise is in private security while de Keijzer cares for and trains the birds.

The tests were so promising that the police force recently purchased juvenile bald eagles which it plans to train for this purpose. The birds have a wingspan of around 3.3 feet (1 meter) right now, but they’ll grow to between 5.9 to 7.5 feet (1.8-2.3 m) in adulthood. That’s a lot of bird, and it seems they’re naturally out to get drones in the first place.

Image credits US Fish & Wildlife Service.

“The drones are pretty much the size of a bird of prey, so smaller birds on the ground aren’t likely to mob a bird of prey when it’s flying – but larger birds are, especially when it’s around their nests,” reports the National Audubon Society’s Geoff LeBaron.

“The birds of prey are having an aggressive interaction to defend their territory from another bird of prey.”

This instinct will be enforced through training, so the eagles will see the drones as pray and engage them accordingly. And, just as they capture prey and bring it to their nests to feed, the birds will not only hunt the drones but also take them a safe distance away from crowds.

Michael Baeten, operational manager for the DNP, told AFP that the birds are “one of the most effective countermeasures against hostile drones” the force has at its disposal. Their arsenal includes several other methods as well, such as electromagnetic pulses and laser technology.

“What I find fascinating is that birds can hit the drone in such a way that they don’t get injured by the rotors,” LeBaron added. “They seem to be whacking the drone right in the centre so they don’t get hit; they have incredible visual acuity and they can probably actually see the rotors.”

The same tough skin on the eagles’ feet that protects them from the efforts of their usual prey should also be solid enough to ward off any small drones’ propellers. But larger drones might prove more dangerous, and the DNP said that the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) is working on designing special “claw protectors” for the birds — klauwbeschermer in Dutch — that will keep the eagles safe while hunting.

LeBaron says that the extra protection is welcome, but doesn’t think the birds will need it.

“Their method of attack is always going to be to hit it in the middle of the back; with the drones they perceive the rotors on the side and so they just go for the rear.”

Here’re two birds (one mature eagle and one juvenile) going at it:

Offshore wind costs hit record low in new Dutch Project

Two new massive 350MW arrays in the Netherlands will supply power to Dutch people at €87/MWh, which translates into under 10 cents/kWh.

Princess Amalia Wind Farm in the North Sea, photo by Ad Meskens

Dong Energy, a Danish company aims to supply electricity at €72.70/MWh (US$80.40), not including transmission costs. The cables will add about €14/MWh according to estimates. This really sets a new industry standard, because until now, the best price for wind energy was €103/MWh by Vattenfall in Denmark last year.

“It was a result that was well beyond anyone’s expectations,” said Oliver Joy, spokesperson for the European Wind Energy Association.

Dong will build 700MW worth of offshore turbines, taking advantage of relatively low steel prices. They also took advantage of low oil prices to get a bargain on installation vessels which would otherwise be used for drilling rigs. All in all, it seems like oil’s decline coincides with a great increase in renewable energy. In the Netherlands, household consumers can choose to buy renewable electricity. The country also imports renewable energy from Norway.

Of course, the Netherlands, like many Western and Northern European countries has very suitable conditions for wind energy. As a result, emissions from energy have dropped significantly, from 186 megatonnes in 2004 to just 156 ten years later.

Netherlands is closing down more prisons because there’s no one to fill them with

The Netherlands’ accent on rehabilitation and social re-integration of criminals seems to have finally paid off. The country no longer considers its prisons as economically viable and plans to close down another five such institutions.

Image via pixabay

The Netherlands have seen a steady drop in crime rate over the past 12 years, a product of several factors: relaxed drug laws, an accent on rehabilitation over punishment in the penal system and wide-spread use of ankle monitoring systems allowing convicted criminals to re-enter the work force. Shorter sentences issued by judges also means that people spent less time in jail on average, and more serious crimes are becoming less common. This has lead to an unlikely problem: the Dutch have been going through somewhat of a inmate shortage these past years.

So in 2013, 19 jails were closed because there weren’t enough prisoners to fill them. Last September, the country had to import 240 inmates from Norway just to keep their facilities full. Addressing Parliament, Justice Minister Ard van der Steur recently said that it no longer made economical sense for the country to maintain its prisons operational. Authorities are now planning to disband five more prisons by the end of summer, The Telegraph reports.

Closing down the jails will mean the loss of nearly 2,000 jobs, only 700 of which can transition into other roles in Dutch law enforcement. But the benefits would outweigh the cost: if the current downward trend in crime continues (with the present average of 0.9% per year,) and there isn’t anything to suggest it won’t, then an estimated 3,000 prison cells and 300 youth detention places will become superfluous in five years’ time.

There’s an incredibly low incarceration rate in the Netherlands: only 11,600 inmates out of the total population of 17 million adding up to 69 incarcerations per 100,000 people. To put that into perspective, the highest incarceration rate in the world, reported in the U.S., clocks in at 716 per 100,000 — a testament to the lack of services and rehabilitation programs aimed at former inmates. Without a safety net to give them any other options, many turn back to crime as a means for survival.