Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency

A clean, healthy and safe human environment calls for strong policy today


Nieuwsbericht -- The Netherlands is still not fully prepared for the far-reaching chances in demography, climate, biodiversity and resource availability that may become reality over the coming decades. In order to achieve targets later, we need policy today. This cannot be done without a certain 'transition pain'. Director-General Maarten Hajer presented the Dutch version of the Assessment of the Human Environment to Melanie Schultz van Haegen, the Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, on Wednesday 10 September 2014.

The motto adopted for this Assessment of the Human Environment is: ‘the future is now’. Thus, PBL indicates that, for various long-term issues in the Netherlands, policy action is required today in order to achieve targets in the future, as current efforts will not suffice.

Policy accelerators needed to implement energy agreement

In the fields of energy and nature, the current pace of change is not fast enough to deal with long-term issues, in time. For example, the transition process from polluting, fossil energy to clean energy in the Netherlands is too slow. The energy agreement that was signed by over 40 parties in 2013 is focused on the short term (up to 2020). As large changes require large amounts of time, it is prudent to formulate clear policy for the longer term, today. It would be sensible for the current Dutch Cabinet to think about 'policy accelerators'.

Build with caution

In other areas, however, it is better to act with caution, with respect to the future. This applies, for instance, to the housing market. Although in certain mostly urban Dutch regions this market is recovering, new development is not a matter of course in large parts of the country. In the long term the number of young families is expected to decline and many privately owned homes of elderly people will also come on the market. Provinces and municipalities in particular will have to take these facts into account. Timely anticipation may prevent problems such as are currently occurring in the shrinking regions. Examples of these problems are the rate of unoccupancy and the strong decline in house value. Adjusting the existing housing stock to fit in with current requirements will become more important, in the Netherlands, than new housing development. Also, finding other uses for existing unoccupied office space, shops and other commercial real estate may be an alternative for new housing construction.

New road construction less profitable

The declining automobility in the Netherlands and the uncertainty about its further development also have implications for policy. After all, investments in new road construction will be less profitable if there is less growth in road traffic. It would therefore be prudent to adopt a policy that takes this uncertainty into account.

Water safety should be incorporated into Delta programme

'The future is now' particularly applies to the issue of water safety. In the Netherlands, this perspective is already being considered.  In September 2014, the Dutch Cabinet presented its draft policy on water safety, containing the target for having this subject under control by 2050, including taking possible climate change into account. Over the coming years, the challenge lies in incorporating and implementing the water safety solutions in the Delta programme.

Transition 'pain' is unavoidable

It is important to develop a coherent strategy, soon, to implement the required and politically desired systemic changes. Such a transition takes time, but also will involve some 'pain'. In certain cases, existing structures need to be adjusted even before the end of their economic lifetimes. Houses, shops and offices that remain unsold, animal housing facilities for pigs or poultry that cause nature losses because they are in the wrong location, coal-fired power plants that no longer suit a low-carbon energy system, wind turbines in the landscape – these are all examples of unavoidable transition pain. 

This version of the Assessment of the Human Environment 2014 contains the main overarching and thematic conclusions from the study that also includes six more elaborate and background reports on the themes of Housing and property, Energy, Food and agriculture, Mobility, Water quality and flood protection, and the new policy concept of ‘Natural capital’. These six background reports have not been translated.

In addition, the Dutch website of the Assessment contain the latest data on the human environment in the Netherlands as well as a number of complementary policy analyses. The book version and the website are closely linked and can be used together.

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