Dutch policy efforts on sustainable development are geared broadly to ensuring that the opportunities for growth and development available to future generations are at least equal to those enjoyed by ourselves. As a tangible objective of Dutch sustainability policy this has been translated into the goal of achieving absolute delinkage between economic growth and emissions.
In preparation for the 14th Meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD, responsible for the implementation of Agenda 21), the CSD secretariat has asked each country to prepare a national inventory on the themes of industrial development, energy and air pollution/atmosphere. The Dutch input is being furnished by CE Delft.
Compared with other European countries, the Netherlands is highly urbanised and densely populated and has an energy-intensive industrial base. Dutch emissions per square kilometre are consequently higher than the EU average. There are also substantial pollution imports from across the borders. Lying low in a river delta, the country is moreover vulnerable to the potential impacts of climate change: as the world’s climate warms, there will be a greater risk of extreme weather events. All in all, the Netherlands therefore has much to gain from additional international efforts to control emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.
In the last few decades Dutch environmental policy has been successful in several respects, with the human environment becoming healthier and safer on a variety of yardsticks. The eco-efficiency of Dutch production – the ratio between a sector’s earnings and the emissions that entails – has improved and there has consequently been a marked decline in emissions of NOx, NH3, SO2 and particulates over the past few decades. National as well as European legislation has proven quite successful in this respect. This has led to an improvement in Dutch air quality, though still not sufficient to comply with international standards. Overall, there has been absolute delinkage of economic growth and environmental impact. This achievement has been due largely to technical measures and to historical shifts in the structure of the Dutch economy, in particular the growth of the services sector.
The Netherlands has been pursuing an policy on energy conservation for thirty years now, using a wide range of instruments to achieve steady and continued improvement in energy efficiency, targets for which were recently tightened once more. Renewable energy does not have a long tradition in the Netherlands, particularly as the country lacks any real hydro-power resources. Wind power and bio-energy both have considerable potential, however. Although there has been some decline in CO2 emissions growth, there has been no absolute delinkage. This represents a fundamental challenge to Dutch envi-ronmental policy-makers.
The report reviews progress and problems in the fields of industrial development, energy and air pollution/atmosphere as well as their interrelationships.