Netherlands Green Plan
In the Netherlands, all the elements of successful green planning have come together to make environmental recovery a reality. The Netherlands possesses one of the most advanced frameworks for achieving sustainability of any industrialized nation: the National Environmental Policy Plan, or NEPP, which was first adopted in 1989. The NEPP has been revised every four years into three progressive variations reflecting the growth, lessons learned, challenges, and new objectives. A recent addendum to the NEPP, A Future Environmental Policy Agenda, has been released to meet NEPP and EU goals and regulations.
The NEPP provides a blueprint for other nations to take positive environmental action for sustainability. It is supported by innovative environmental management approaches with a reliable fiscal commitment, and strategic governance that is highly accountable to its participatory citizenry. The intention of NEPP is to create a sustainable environment within 25 years, one lifetime. Proof of the NEPPs' success is that over 70% of the original goals have been achieved.
Thirty years ago the river Rhine was so polluted no one was allowed to eat the few remaining fish. Now children swim and fish abound in the Rhine due to halting of large-scale salt dumping by French potassium mines and stricter NEPP requirements on industrial discharges. Phosphates, a leading cause of eutrophication in surface water, have been eliminated by NEPP policy promotion of phosphate-free detergents and water purification plants removing phosphates from wastewater. Impacts of wastewater on surface water have decreased dramatically as a result of new sewage policies. In addition, international agreements on water quality for the Rhine, Meuse, and Schelde rivers have supported cleaner flowing rivers and averted the threat of a drinking water shortage.
From generation to disposal the waste problem in the Netherlands has been resolved. In 1972 the Dutch identified an increase in quantities of waste difficult to process, such as chemical and industrial waste, and special waste types including hospital waste and car wrecks. They sought solutions by expanding processing capability of incinerators and landfills. NEPP policies have now taken waste disposal to a new sustainable level of prevention through "producer responsibility" incentives, recycling, and prohibiting landfill when incineration is possible. Furthermore, NEPP policy has prohibited the exportation of waste to landfills in other countries.
Today the Dutch are enjoying healthy local air quality, a dramatic change from the acute public health problems of yesteryear, particularly in the Rijnmond area. Air pollution caused by sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and lead compounds has become manageable as a result of the implementation of NEPP policies, and air quality in the Netherlands has dramatically improved. Use of these chemicals is controlled by voluntary covenants between the government and industry, with industry providing stringent measures of restraint on release of chemical pollutants.
The Netherlands is a small and densely populated country known for its progressive social policies and rich tradition of cooperation. Since the 13th century, the Dutch have worked together to alter their country's geography by reclaiming 30% of their land from the sea through a series of complex dikes and drainage canals. This cultural understanding of their limits has led to a modern environmental policy that has become the model for green plans and is characterized by consensus building and comprehensive, long-range planning. Increasing industrialization in the Netherlands led to growing environmental concerns and development of a disparate collection of environmental regulations in the 1970s.
In 1988, three incidents riveted the attention of the Dutch population to the fact that they were losing environmental ground and the existing regulatory system was not working. First, 14,000 North Sea harbor seals, whose immune systems had been weakened by water pollution, died. Second, the publication of a scientific report entitled, "Concern for Tomorrow," made the Dutch realize that they were nearing their carrying capacity and called for an overall reduction of emission pollutants by 70-90% by 2010. The final catalyst was the Christmas message from the beloved Queen Beatrix when she warned her citizens "the earth is slowly dying," and called for immediate action. Queen Beatrix has since become known as the Green Queen, and although her speech inspired environmental action, existing regulations were not up to the task.
Insufficient environmental protection, economic decline, and a serious burden placed on Dutch companies by the existing regulatory system combined to push government officials toward a more comprehensive, management-based approach benefiting both the environment and economy. The government sought direct input from both industry and environmental groups into the policy development process. As a result, the first National Environmental Policy Plan (NEPP) was adopted by Parliament in 1989 to achieve a sustainable, high-quality environment within 25 years, one generation. The government, industry and non-profit community continue to move progressively toward the goal of sustainability and are well on their way to accomplishing most of their targets. These targets, set in 1989 with the first NEPP, were revised every four years in three variations of the NEPP. Despite significant changes in parliament, shifting priorities of the electorate, and an increase in environmental regulations required by the European Union, the goals of the NEPP remain intact.
The Environmental Ministry and RIVM developed the following special management Framework to deal with the complexity of environmental issues and support comprehensive solutions:
of general category in which all environmental problems are subsumed include: acidification, eutrophication, dehydration of the water table, dispersion of uncontrolled hazardous substances, waste, squandering of resources, local noise-odor-air nuisances, and global climate change.
Five Geographic scale models
include: local, regional, fluvial, continental, and global.
Six Target groups
of the business sector with many subgroups include: agriculture, building trade, consumer and retail trade, energy sector, industry and refineries, and traffic and transportation.
Tax policies have been very effective and will continue to play a large role in the future. Green taxes have been designed primarily to change behavior rather than raise funds for environmental expenditures. Revenue taken in by green taxes is allocated to the general budget as environmental policy, like other policy fields, is financed from the general budget.
Fuel Green Tax
Fuel was chosen as a tax base to provide a general link with the "Polluter Pays Principle." Parties who extract, produce, import and use coal as fuel or transfer it to others for domestic use as fuel pay this tax. As of 2004 this green tax concerns only coal, taxes on other energy products were transferred to the energy tax and excise duties on mineral oils. Revenue raised by waste tax in 2004 was €9 million.
Energy Green Tax
This tax is provided to stimulate conservation through price impact and focuses on target groups difficult or impossible to reach through long-term agreements or environmental permits, mainly small users of energy such as households, small commercial establishments such as restaurants and shops, office buildings, and schools. It includes taxing on use of natural gas, mineral oil products used as substitutes for gas, and electricity. Revenues raised are recycled back to taxpayers through reductions in direct taxes in line with government's aim of shifting the tax burden away from labor and capital based income and towards the environment; part of the revenue is recycled through specific energy saving incentives. The energy tax is the keystone to a multi-instrument policy approach developed for small users also including the energy performance norm for new housing, sector-oriented programs and on-going development of energy saving technologies. Revenue raised by waste tax in 2004 was €3,213 billion.
Tapwater Green Tax
The primary aim of this tax is to promote water conservation and raise revenue for restructuring and greening of the fiscal system. The tapwater tax is levied on suppliers of drinking water who can then pass the tax on to consumers. Exemptions to this tax are supplies for emergency provisions such as fire taps and sprinkler installations. Revenue raised by waste tax in 2004 was €111 million.
Groundwater Green Tax
The goal of water policy is to reduce groundwater used for drinking relative to that produced from surface water. However, groundwater-based drinking water is less expensive, so the addition of this tax reduces the price difference between the two types of drinking water. Besides leveling the price between types of drinking water, the tax raises revenue making it unnecessary to increase other taxes with less favorable side-effects, such as labor taxes. A secondary aim of the tax is to conserve water for a secure future supply and mitigate the detrimental environmental effects of the extraction of groundwater on ecosystems. Taxpayers for groundwater include farmers and industries for watering crops and for production processes. In addition, drinking water companies incorporate the cost of their tax into the full water price for consumers. Revenue raised by waste tax in 2004 was €144 million.
Waste Green Tax
This tax is levied on waste delivered to landfills and incinerators, and waste dumped on the company premises after incineration. Landfill costs are substantially lower than incineration costs and considered a drawback to waste policy because depending on landfills is the least desirable method of disposal. The waste tax raises landfill costs to match those of incineration and leads to even more preferable alternatives such as recycling and prevention. The proprietor of the waste establishment is liable for the tax, passing costs on to suppliers of the waste. Municipalities pass the cost increase on to their citizens by raising the local waste disposal charge. Waste streams are generally not differentiated with the exception of organic waste, which is collected separately for composting and not taxed. Revenue raised by waste tax in 2004 was €187 million.
Making progress on environmental problems requires technological, economic, socio-cultural and institutional changes. Innovative objectives must be formulated, modified as needed, and interrelated policy instruments applied. Transition management requires coordination by government with concepts of uncertainty, complexity and cohesion at its core in addition to a long-term time frame of reference with short-term decisions.
Emissions, Energy & Mobility
For a sustainable energy system, a strategy of publicly funded activities in conjunction with national government financial support in areas of research, development and demonstration projects is being developed. Additional financial government support will be needed for introduction into the public sector.
Achieving Sustainable Agriculture
Sustainable agricultures requires discussions between farmers, consumers, nature and environmental organizations as well as administrative action by government agencies that engages citizen input and stakeholder appeals. For quality assessments of area value it is justifiable to aim for higher quality where social, economic, and environmental problems reinforce each other. To strengthen environmental policy innovation, the national government sets rigid minimum environmental quality standards to be monitored in conjunction with lower tiers of government during implementation and enforcement. In many cases local government is better able to improve the quality of living environment than the national government. In these cases, municipalities will be given greater freedom and integrated responsibility for quality improvements, whether part of the regional plan or as separate environmental policy plans.
Chemical Substance Implementation Agreements
Government continues to play a significant role in balancing costs and benefits while assuming maximum risks in relation to chemical substances. Use of the precautionary principle governs unknown risks. Government and business are drafting implementation agreements in steps to be accomplished by 2020, when all chemical substances will have been categorized as follows: concern according to risk, use of less harmful alternative taken when possible, chemical substance profiles be publicly available, and when it is impossible to classify substances they may be restricted or prohibited.
A Target Group Case Study
The primary metals voluntary agreement, or covenant, was the first to be negotiated under the NEPP, and is a good example of what can be achieved over time. Among the stakeholders at the table were government representatives from the ministries of the environment (VROM), economic affairs, and transport and public works. The provinces were also represented, and a union of the Netherlands' municipalities.
The primary metals industry formed a foundation that became the main negotiating group for the businesses. The individual companies are all listed in the signed covenant.
The agreement lays out which actions the primary metals industry will take to reduce its portion of environmental pollution in the Netherlands, within ten years. In addition to provisions for reduction of emissions into air, water, and soil, it also incorporates policy related to energy conservation, waste materials, soil cleanup, external safety, management systems, and nuisances like odor and noise.
In addition to the industry-wide plan, each individual company develops its own green plan every four years. These plans encompass the same issues as the main agreement, including energy conservation, the transportation of employees, and so on.
One of challenges these companies face is reducing sulfur dioxide emissions. In 1985, the industry released about 16,000 tons into the air. The goals for reduction of those emissions are 35 percent by 1994, 75 to 80 percent by 2000, and 90 percent by 2010. The amount each facility is responsible for relates to its contribution to the problem. Knowing that there will be changes, breakthroughs, and difficulties during the implementation of all these agreements, a consultation committee process has been established to manage uncertainties in a way that allows the process to continue and improve.
Decoupling of Economic Growth and Environmental Pressure
The concept of decoupling is described in a recent thesis that makes the case for a collaborative stakeholder approach for government and business. Gerard Keijzers, a former director at VROM, and the lead author of NEPP3, explains in Creating Sustainable Directions: "The experience of the Netherlands shows that environmental policies that encourage eco-efficiency do influence the nature of economic growth, but they do not reduce the overall rate of growth. In the Netherlands, consumers have demanded more environmentally friendly products, greatly changed their waste disposal habits [75% recycling rate], and improved the energy efficiency of their homes and cars. However, Dutch consumers have spent their increasing incomes in more energy-intensive ways: more cars, more mileage, more air traffic, bigger houses, and higher energy content diets. This was possible because investment in eco-efficiency allowed the country to reduce pollution levels while permitting economic growth." (Gerard Keijzers, 2003, p.48.) Thus, in the case of the Netherlands, "relative decoupling" has been attained at this point rather than absolute decoupling due to growing consumerism in the midst of eco-efficiency.
The objective of the "Waste of the Electric and Electronic Equipment Decree" of 2005 is to create a leak-tight disposal system of goods refers to all electronic domestic appliances and office equipment that will result in the reuse of as many products and materials as possible, and minimize associated risks to the environment. This includes but is not limited to: computers, electronic equipment, appliances, tools, refrigerators, freezers, heating, washing and drying equipment, and sound equipment. In addition, manufacturers or importers must take back their own brands from suppliers, repair companies, or local authorities for the purpose of disposal. When providing a supplier with a new product, the manufacturer or importer takes back the similar older product for disposal. Consumers buying new products give the old product, free of charge, to the supplier, or hand in the old one to the local authorities for collection. The supplier is free to resell the old product or give it to the local authorities. Refrigerators and freezers containing CFCs or HCFCs must be processed to minimize emissions and may not be resold.
Ecosystem-Based Comprehensive Planning
The Dutch have learned that a solution for one issue creates problems in another, and that a comprehensive, integrated approach is necessary to achieve sustainability. Through the process of developing the National Environmental Policy Plan (NEPP), all areas of environmental concern were included in one overriding principle of sustainable development that is ecosystem-based, long-range, and builds consensus and includes integration economic and social systems.
Vibrant Environmental NGO Sector
Dutch Non-Governmental Organizations educate the public and affect environmental policy debate through market campaigns. Some of the larger NGOs act as consultants to the government, and increasingly, to industry. One of the more effective NGOs is Stichting Natuur en Milieu (Society for Nature and Environment). Its staff informs leading entrepreneurs, scientists, journalists and opinion leaders on a range of issues, such as how to make energy conservation a high priority on the political agenda. Another of the larger membership organizations is Friends of the Earth Netherlands. Its leaders worked for years with scientists at the Wuppertal Institute in Germany to develop models and interactive surveys explaining a nation's "ecospace" and suggested ways for individuals and nations to lessen their ecological footprints. The concept and science behind "ecospace" was later incorporated into the NEPP process.
Science-Based, Right-to-Know Report Card
RIVM [the National Institute for Health and Environment], a highly respected, independent, scientific resource institute, carries out research commissioned by the government ministries and provides expertise, knowledge, research, and data for the benefit of society and the environment. Every two years, RIVM provides a "report card" of accomplishments, setbacks, problems, and implications of future policy to the government, businesses, and citizens, which informs the next iteration of the NEPP.
Effective Waste Management
Toxic waste problems are becoming manageable through conservation, the use of life-cycle analysis, the "producer-responsibility initiative," recycling, and dumping bans on priority waste streams. In addition, there is a prohibition on any waste being exported to developing countries.
Acidification and Air Pollution
Chemical substances such as SO2, NOx, NH3, and VOCs are causing acidification and air pollution which is, in turn, having adverse effects on human health, eutrophication, deterioration of groundwater quality, and damage to buildings and materials. Approximately 30 to 40 percent of the acid rain and nitrogen deposits in the Netherlands originates in other countries, with even greater contributions to ozone and particulates from other European countries. To improve air quality, the Netherlands government is pursuing a two-track policy of both national regulations and economic incentives, and encouraging international regulations.
Global Climate Change
Recognizing the climate system as a shared resource, in 1994 the Netherlands signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to support intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge. In February 2005, The Netherlands was among the first nations to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Due to global climate change the oceans are rising, and with 30% of their land below sea level, it behooves the Dutch to take the lead in arresting the progression of climate change and inspire other nations to join them. According to NEPP 4, global emissions must be stabilized at present levels by 2030 and halved by 2100.
Negotiating international agreements and regulations for sustainable management of the oceans and Antarctica puts the Netherlands in the forefront once again. In particular, progress has been made by setting more strict requirements than are demanded by international agreements on industrial discharges in the Netherlands. This is also true in the international waters of the Rhine basin with respect to heavy metals and other pollutants. The Netherlands is committed to entering into global agreements on sustainable fishing based on the precautionary principle to be finalized no later than 2015.
The numbers of genetically modified plants being grown worldwide are continually increasing, which has brought about a debate on the possibility of uncontrolled spread of transgenic DNA through the environment. The Netherlands Commission on Genetic Modification (COGEM) advises the government on the potential risks of genetic modification to human health and the environment, and brings ethical and social issues linked to genetic modification to the attention of the ministers involved.
Sustainable Supply Chains
As a trading nation, The Netherlands is a key player in many areas, including reducing or halting unwanted effects for sustainable development in other countries. This raises the question of whether production methods, social conditions, and environmental load and/or ecological parameters in countries of product origin are sustainable. Global trading has brought attention to the need for clarity regarding sustainability claims, quality labeling, and reorganization of initiatives in supply chains from business-to-business and raw material to end product. This has led to new initiatives such as the Marine Stewardship Council for sustainable fisheries and the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil.
International Trade and Transboundary Issues
As a result of global movement and international trade, environmental problems are becoming transboundary issues and a new broader vision is necessary to create a sustainable planet. For instance, transport is spreading bacteria, fungus, and insects into areas with no natural enemies. As a result of global movement, environmental problems are becoming transboundary issues and a new broader vision is necessary to create a sustainable planet. Global climate change is perhaps the most critical transboundary issue of our time.
The Netherlands is roughly twice the size of New Jersey with a population of 16 million people. There are approximately 381 people per square kilometer, the second highest density in the world, after Bangladesh. Given its lack of resources and small size, the Netherlands has exceeded its environmental carrying capacity. Even with a decrease of immigrants and greater emigration, overpopulation continues to be a major issue affecting all sectors, and has yet to be directly addressed.
The incidence of BSE (Mad-cow) disease and dioxin contaminated-chickens and pigs have led to a loss of public trust in the government's ability to regulate food safety and protect Dutch citizens' health. With live animals and food being transported across countries and continents, there is a greater likelihood of unknown bacterial risks. These new risks require greater research and development of a more structured, integrated system of early detection.
Many issues have been adequately addressed and are being appropriately managed; however, some persistent problems remain and are enhanced by economic growth, which leads to overconsumption and waste. Noise and odor nuisances along with their cumulative effects are also persistent problems affecting the quality of life in the Netherlands. Environmental policies addressing these issues employ tools such as the polluter pays principle and are expressed in sustainable terms.
Threats to Health
Long-term environmental problems causing unknown health hazards include chronic chemical exposure, and risks from newly developed chemicals and genetically modified organisms. Although incentives and alternatives are being introduced, due to the increased numbers of vehicles and pollution from other countries, air pollution continues to exceed standards and is not expected to be reduced by 2030. Threats to external health and safety are due to increased pollution surrounding the chemical industry infrastructure, and increased use of the automobile.
The National Environmental Policy Plan of the Netherlands is firmly based on a scientific foundation of research, data, monitoring, and feedback with an intention to reach sustainability within one generation. Following are examples and links related to the NEPP's scientific process.
Science Behind the Policies
The National Institute for Health and Environment (RIVM) is an independent, government-funded research science institute that monitors and assesses, environmental and health conditions on a national and international level. RIVM develops methodologies and models for setting standards used to underscore the Netherlands' integrated policies, on a local and national level Its scientists are experts in the fields of health, nutrition, environmental protection, risk assessment, and the connections between them.
Calculating Carrying Capacity
A main objective of Dutch green plan policies is to sustain the quality of all life within the carrying capacity of the environment. Exceeding it leads to consequential, irreversible effects in all areas. Overlaying strategic management, "friction time" - time allotted for all sectors to adjust to policy changes - must be taken into account.
Sustainable management and development must meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. One indicator of sustainability is ecological footprinting. An ecological footprint measures how much land is required to supply a particular country, region, city, business or individual with its living and lifestyle needs - that is food, housing, energy/fuel, transport, and consumer goods and services. The larger the footprint, the more resources are needed to support that lifestyle.
Non-Governmental Organizations provide research of environmental conditions and analyze policies. These are often cited or incorporated into government policies. One example is "Sustainable Netherlands", a report by Friends of the Earth Netherlands. Their scientists, working with the Wuppertal Institute in Germany, have created models and interactive surveys that explain a nation's "ecospace" and what actions are necessary to lessen the "ecological footprint" in that space, locally and globally.
Environmental Quality is a Prerequisite for Health
To Choose Or To Lose, the first National Environmental Policy Plan, states on page 39, "Sustainable social and economic development requires good environmental quality as a prerequisite for the health and well-being of humans, animals, and plants. The government's responsibility for good environmental quality is set out in the Constitution of the Netherlands." The Netherlands Constitution, Article 21 states, "The government's concern is directed to the livability of the nation and the protection and improvement of the environment." Fundamental health rights are also stated in the Brundtland report, page 348, annex 1, "All human beings have the fundamental right to an environment adequate for their health and well-being."
A great advantage of the Dutch green plans is its overriding principle for environmental policy; it is comprehensive and integrates all relevant parties and concerns. Through this strategy, pollution sources receive attention and the relationship between ecological, social, and economic systems are considered and integrated into policies and solutions. With the understanding that a healthy long-term economy depends on a sustainable environment, many businesses are willingly converting to sustainable development in their work environments and business practices, and practicing corporate social responsibility.
The traditional adversarial relationship between the government, industry, and citizen groups has been usurped by soliciting the cooperation of all stakeholders through the NEPP. The old system of working from the top down wasn't solving the environmental problem; so Dutch green plans include innovative willing participation of all stakeholders to promote trust and cooperation. This includes industry putting their concerns on the table through target group representatives for the purpose of negotiation. An initial concern was creating consistent policies with long-term timeframes conducive to business investment cycles. Industry is now consulting with other stakeholders regarding a strategic environmental policy agenda to maintain the momentum for environmental policy.
Industry is a primary source of environmental problems, and also has the finances to support research and development needed to be a primary source of solutions. Through the green plan process, target groups were established from all major industrial sectors, and scientists set over-arching environmental goals to be achieved in increments within the NEPP's twenty-five year period. Target groups negotiate with the government to deliver specific goals and meet long-term target dates through voluntary agreements, called covenants. Individual businesses are then free to create their own green plan strategies and budget to meet these specific pollution reduction goals. Each year businesses announce their sustainable plans for the next year and are judged by the success in meeting set goals.
Along with asking industry to develop new ways of thinking and operating, government agreed to provide industry with a level playing field. They did this by making stability a major theme, providing financial support, protecting industry against increased regulatory pressure and future liability for pollution or industrial accidents, and streamlining permitting processes. Although there is an initial decrease of profits in the short-term, one of the principles of green plans is that long-term cleaner manufacturing processes are more efficient and cost-effective, with no after-the-fact cleanup costs. Due to these benefits, competition is driving international corporations, nations, and individual businesses toward green plans business technology.
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