Nature-Inclusive Netherlands

Nature in the Netherlands is declining at an alarming rate, even though robust nature is crucial for the quality of life here. What does this mean for our current nature policy? The Council for the Environment and Infrastructure issued an advisory report on this subject on 23 March 2022.
Nature in the city

Background and request for advice

Nature is declining at an alarming rate worldwide and the Netherlands is no exception in that regard. From agricultural areas to nature reserves and from inland waters to urban areas, the quality of nature and biodiversity is declining everywhere. This is a troublesome development, because robust nature is crucial to combating climate change and ensuring a sustainable food supply. It is, moreover, essential to people’s health and wellbeing to have nature in their immediate surroundings. Nature also plays a vital role in securing drinking water, healthy food and clean air. Nature is therefore essential for human existence.

In response to this biodiversity crisis, the Council for the Environment and Infrastructure (Rli) has examined whether the Dutch government’s current nature policy is adequate and, if not, what changes are needed.

Explanation

The Council concludes that Dutch nature policy is falling short. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • The focus of nature policy is too narrow. It concentrates mainly on protected areas, but these areas are part of much larger ecosystems that extend beyond the protection boundaries. The current policy fails to ensure proper conditions for groundwater and surface water, the soil and the ecosystem. The narrow scope of the Netherlands’ nature policy also means that nature in rural and urban areas is often neglected.
  • Dutch nature policy is not sufficiently linked to other societal challenges. The government has stalled in its efforts to interweave the challenges related to nature with other activities and to move towards a nature-inclusive society. Well-intentioned parties in society in fact face all kinds of obstacles in that regard.
  • Nature is not given enough weight as a factor in economic and political decision-making. It is mainly perceived as an expense and as a fringe interest that hampers economic growth. Policymakers appear to have a blind spot when it comes to the importance of nature for human existence.
  • The various authorities do not cooperate enough. They lack a coherent approach to governance and fail to cooperate with other parties. They also fail to systematically monitor the results of policy and to put independent oversight in place.

It is crucial for the Netherlands to reverse the decline of its natural assets and to restore nature. To do this, the government will have to work much harder towards shaping a nature-inclusive Netherlands. The Council has four recommendations in this regard:

1. Ensure that the quality of nature is adequate everywhere

The Netherland’s current nature policy is ineffective. The narrow focus on protected nature areas will not reverse biodiversity loss. The authorities must also work to restore nature and biodiversity outside these areas. More green spaces are needed in and around towns and cities that everyone can easily walk or cycle to. Nature must also be restored in rural areas, where it has suffered serious deterioration in recent decades. The Council advocates establishing a minimum quality standard for nature on a region-by-region basis.

2. Integrate the approach to nature into the transformation of the Netherlands

The Netherlands will be undergoing a major transformation in the years ahead in response to the many challenges it faces, for example in housing construction, the energy transition, climate change adaptation, the nitrogen crisis and the transition to more sustainable agriculture. This transformation will create excellent opportunities for nature restoration outside the protected areas. Many public and private organisations and municipal authorities are also willing to adopt more nature-inclusive practices, but they will only succeed if the authorities support their efforts and fully commit to nature-inclusive policy objectives themselves (e.g. by setting a good example when managing or leasing government-owned land). The Council recommends a regional approach that integrates nature restoration and the other challenges society faces, along with relevant sector-specific agreements. The necessary funds can be provided through the Climate and Transition Fund and Nitrogen Fund, among others.

3. Take nature fully into account in economic and political decision-making

Nature is still mainly regarded as an expense in economic and political decision-making and is therefore not accorded its full due. There are still too many financial and other incentives that promote nature loss; damage to nature goes unpunished and nature restoration unrewarded. The Council therefore recommends gearing subsidies and tax measures in agriculture, industry and nature management towards building a nature-inclusive society and giving the value of nature more weight in economic and political decision-making.

4. Cooperate on a regional basis

Integrating spatial planning challenges requires a region-by-region approach that can be implemented jointly by all parties involved, each one assuming its own role and carrying out its own tasks. The Council therefore supports the Government’s intention of adopting an integrated, region-by-region approach to challenges. Nature-related challenges must be linked to other challenges at regional level. That should apply across all regions, whether rural or urban. Systematic monitoring and independent oversight of progress and performance are necessary.

Date of publication and public meeting

The advisory report was presented to the Minister for Nature and Nitrogen Policy on 23 March 2022. It was also presented to the Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, the Minister of Housing and Spatial Planning and the Presidents of the Senate and House of Representatives.

From left: The Minister for Nature and Nitrogen Policy, Christianne van der Wal, receiving the advisory report from Jan Jaap de Graeff (Rli Chair), André van der Zande (Rli Member) and Yvette Oostendorp (Rli Project Leader). Photograph: Marco de Swart

Online public meeting – 19 May 2022

The Rli organised an online public meeting on 19 May about its advisory report Nature-Inclusive Netherlands.

More information:

For more information about the advisory report, please contact Project Leader Yvette Oostendorp at yvette.oostendorp@rli.nl or +31 (0)062702 0642.