Farmers protested in the Netherlands as lawmakers voted on Tuesday on proposals to cut emissions of harmful pollutants, a plan likely to force farmers to cut back their herds or stop work altogether.
The government says emissions of nitrogen oxides and ammonia produced by livestock must be drastically reduced near natural areas that are part of a network of protected habitats for endangered plants and wildlife that stretches across the 27 nations of the European Union extends.
As tractors gathered outside Parliament, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said farmers had the right to protest but not to break the law.
“Freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate are an essential part of our democratic society and I will always defend them,” Rutte said. “But … it’s not acceptable to create dangerous situations, it’s not acceptable to intimidate officials, we will never accept that.”
WHAT DOES THE GOVERNMENT PROPOSE?
The governing coalition wants to reduce emissions of pollutants, especially nitrogen oxides and ammonia, by 50% nationwide by 2030. Ministers call the proposal an “inevitable transition” aimed at improving air, soil and water quality.
They warn that farmers will have to adapt or face the prospect of closing their farms.
“The honest message…is that not all farmers can continue their business,” and those who do will likely have to farm differently, the government said in a statement this month as it announced emissions reduction targets.
Farm animals produce ammonia in their urine and feces. The government has in the past urged farmers to feed their animals less protein to reduce ammonia emissions. The problem is exacerbated in the Netherlands, known for its intensive agriculture, with large numbers of livestock kept in small areas.
It’s not just farmers who are being targeted. In the past, the government has also lowered the national speed limit on freeways from 130 km/h (80 miles per hour) to 100 km/h during the day to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from vehicle engines.
The government was forced to take action after a series of court rulings blocked infrastructure and construction projects over fears they would produce emissions that violate environmental regulations. It gives provincial authorities one year to work out ways to meet emission reduction targets.
WHAT DO FARMERS DO?
About 40,000 farmers rallied in the agricultural heartland of central Netherlands last week to protest the government’s plans. Many came on tractors, backing up traffic across the country.
On Monday and Tuesday, farmers again took their protests onto crowded highways, driving slowly down the streets or stopping altogether. Some threw bales of hay in the streets and small groups demonstrated outside town halls, in some cases lighting bonfires in front of buildings.
Some farmers set fire to bales of hay along highways on Tuesday, while others gathered in cities including The Hague.
Farmers argue they are unfairly targeted as polluters, while other industries such as aviation, construction and transport also contribute to emissions and are subject to less sweeping regulations. They also say that the government is not giving them a clear picture of their future given the proposed reforms.
WHICH NATURAL AREAS ARE THREATENED?
The government has released a map of reduction targets across the country based on proximity to areas designated as part of the EU’s Natura 2000 network of vulnerable and vulnerable plant and animal habitats. There are Natura 2000 sites in the 27 member states, covering 18% of the bloc’s land area and 8% of its marine area.
On its website, the European Commission says that the conservation and sustainable use of Natura 200 sites “are largely focused on people working with nature, not against it. However, Member States must ensure that the sites are managed in an ecologically and economically sustainable manner.”
Dutch farmers argue that other EU countries are not as tough on agribusiness as the Netherlands. During a Monday protest, a group of farmers in a Dutch Natura 2000 site near the German border put up flags and a ‘Welcome to Germany’ sign to symbolically make it a neighboring country.
HOW IMPORTANT IS AGRICULTURE TO THE DUTCH ECONOMY?
Agriculture – from dairy farming to growing crops and greenhouses – is a significant part of the Dutch economy.
According to a national farming lobby group, LTO, there are almost 54,000 farms in the Netherlands with exports totaling €94.5 billion in 2019.
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/forestry-enviro/environment/explainer-why-are-dutch-farmers-so-angry-over-their-governments-emissions-plans-41800588.html EXPLAINER: Why are Dutch farmers so angry about their government’s emissions plans?