Air pollution (Netherlands)
Why should we care about this issue
- Air pollution
The high population density and related emissions make many Dutch people worry about exposure to relatively poor air quality. In the past years, air quality has been debated intensively and many spatial development plans were put on hold by the courts because of air quality concerns.
The state and impacts
Exceedances of the limit values for NO2
Between 1990 and 2007, NO2 concentrations decreased (Figure 1). In 2008, the limit value for hourly average concentrations of NO2 was complied with throughout the country. In the same year, the limit value for yearly average concentrations of NO2 was likely exceeded along between 300 and 1000 km of roads. About 1 % of the Dutch population was exposed to concentrations in exceedance of the limit value for yearly average concentrations of NO2.
Figure 1: NO2 concentrations in the Netherlands in 2007 (top) and measured trends since 1990 (bottom). Source: http://www.milieuennatuurcompendium.nl/indicatoren/nl0231-Stikstofdioxideconcentratie.html?i=14-66
Exceedances of the limit values for PM10
In 2008, the limit value for yearly average concentrations of PM10 was complied with throughout the country, except in the direct vicinity of large point sources such as harbours with storage and handling of dry bulk goods (Figure 2). The limit value for daily average concentrations of PM10 was likely exceeded along between 50 and 100 km of roads. Exceedances also occur in the direct vicinity of stables in intensive agriculture and in the vicinity of harbours. In 2008, about 0.1 % of the Dutch population was exposed to concentrations in exceedance of the limit value for daily average concentrations of PM10.Figure 2: Number of days in 2008 with PM10 levels above 50 g/m3 (top) and measured trends since 1990 (bottom).
Figure 2: Number of days in 2008 with PM10 levels above 50 mg/m3 (top) and measured trends since 1990 (bottom). Source: http://www.milieuennatuurcompendium.nl/indicatoren/nl0243-Fijnstofconcentratie%2C-daggemiddelde.html?i=14-66
Exceedances of the target and limit values for PM2.5
Average PM2.5 concentrations in the urban background were about 16 mg/m3 in 2008. This is below the EU target value of 20 mg/m3 for 2010 for the average urban background concentration. Concentrations in busy streets were about 18 mg/m3 in 2008. This is below the EU target value of 25 mg/m3 for 2010 that applies anywhere.
Ozone concentrations are below target value
Ozone concentrations are below the target value for protection of human health throughout the country. The number of days with 8-hour average concentrations above 120 mg/m3 has decreased substantially in the period 1990-2000 (Figure 3). Since 2000, further improvement is absent.
Figure 3: Number of days per year with an ozone level above 120 mg/m3. Source: http://www.milieuennatuurcompendium.nl/indicatoren/nl0238-Ozonconcentraties-en-volksgezondheid.html?i=14-66
Deposition of acidifying and eutrophying substances, and exposure of vegetation to ozone
The deposition of acidifying substances has been reduced by about 50 % since the early 1980s. In 2007, the deposition was about 2920 mole H+/ha (Figure 4). The deposition is still above the national target of 2.300 mole H+/ha to be met by 2010.
Deposition of nitrogen has been rather stable during the past five years. In 2007, deposition was about 2190 mole N/ha. The deposition is still above the national target of 1.650 mole N/ha to be met by 2010.
Since the mid 1990s, ozone concentrations, expressed as AOT40, have been below the target value for the protection of vegetation of 18000 (mg/m3) x hour, averaged over five years. However, the long-term target for 2020 of 6000 (mg/m3) x hour is being exceeded.
Figure 4: Deposition of eutrophying and acidifying compounds, and exposure of vegetation to ozone. Source: http://www.milieuennatuurcompendium.nl/indicatoren/nl0189-Vermestende-depositie.html?i=14-66; http://www.milieuennatuurcompendium.nl/indicatoren/nl0184-Verzurende-depositie.html?i=14-66; http://www.milieuennatuurcompendium.nl/indicatoren/nl0240-Ozonconcentraties-en-vegetatie.html?i=14-66
Current and future impacts of air pollution on public health and vegetation are discussed in Section 5 (Outlook).
The key drivers and pressures
Domestic energy consumption
In 2008, total domestic energy consumption declined by 0.8 % compared to 2007. The decrease was largest in the industry (-6.5 % in 2008), because of the economic recession. Primary energy consumption and electricity production by the power sector fell by 4 %. In contrast, energy consumption by households increased by 6 % compared to 2007 (which had a mild winter), and electricity use by households increased by 2.3 % compared to 2007. In addition, energy use by traffic increased by 2.5 %. More information can be found at:
- Brandstofverbruik door de industrie, 1990-2007
- Energieverbruik door huishoudens, 1990-2007
Road transport: volume developments and emissions
Road transport volumes have grown further, while air pollution by traffic (NOx and PM10) continued to decline (Figure 5). Recently, it has become clear that NOx- emissions from diesel cars have decreased much less than anticipated by the subsequent EU standards. This has not been fully accounted for in Figure 5.
Figure 5: Emissions of NOx and PM10 from road traffic have decreased despite growing traffic volume. Source: http://www.milieuennatuurcompendium.nl/indicatoren/nl0082-Emissies-naar-lucht-per-doelgroep%2C-volgens-IPCC-en-NEC.html?i=14-70
Emissions of air pollutants per sector
About 90 % of the NH3 emissions and 60 % of the CH4 emissions are caused by agriculture (Figure 6). About 90 % of the SO2 emissions are caused by industry, energy and refineries. About 60 % of the NOx and CO emissions are caused by transport. Many sectors contribute substantially to the national emissions of PM10 and NMVOC.
Figure 6: Contributions of different sectors to emissions of air pollutants and their precursors.
The 2020 outlook
National emission ceilings for 2010 within reach
Emissions of air pollutants will decline towards 2010 with current policies (Figure 7). After 2010, emissions of NOx will continue to decline, but emissions of other air pollutants will stabilise or will increase again with current policies. NEC ceilings are projected to be met for SO2 and NMVOC in 2010. For NH3 and NOx, the 2010 emissions will be close to the national ceiling, so it is as likely as not that the NEC ceiling will be met.
Figure 7: Emissions of air pollutants within the Netherlands have declined since 1990. Source: http://www.pbl.nl/nl/publicaties/2009/realisatie-milieudoelen/index.html
Number of streets where limit values are exceeded will strongly decline
With current and proposed national and EU legislation, the length of roads where exceedances of limit values for PM10 and NO2 are likely (shown in red) or as likely as not (shown in yellow) will continue to decline (Figure 8). In the Netherlands, also local measures are being developed whose effects are not accounted for in Figure 8. Exceedances will be more persistent along roads in the inner cities than along motorways, because of the higher urban background concentrations in urban cities and worse dispersion characteristics.
Figure 8: Exceedances of air quality limit values along motorways and city streets for NO2 (top) and PM10 (bottom). These exceedances are to be resolved through measures by local authorities. Source: http://www.pbl.nl/nl/publicaties/2009/Concentratiekaarten-voor-grootschalige-luchtverontreiniging-in-Nederland.-Rapportage-2009.html
Premature mortality by particulate matter is projected to decline further
If proposed national and EU policies are put in place, so that the objectives of the thematic strategy on air pollution are met, the number of life-years lost will continue to decline up to 2020 (Figure 9). In Figure 9, it is assumed that health effects are caused by total PM2.5, irrespective of chemical composition.
Figure 9: Years of life lost, assuming that all PM2.5 is equally health relevant, irrespective of chemical composition. Source: http://www.pbl.nl/nl/publicaties/2009/milieubalans/index.html
Critical loads continue to be exceeded by 2020
About 60 % of the Dutch nature is exposed to nitrogen deposition above critical loads, leading to loss of biodiversity. Although emissions will decline, excess nitrogen deposition will remain to pose a major pressure to many natural habitats in the next decade(s). More information is available at: http://www.pbl.nl/nl/publicaties/2009/natuurbalans/index.html
Existing and planned responses
National emission reduction policies include (status January 2010):
- Tightening emission standards for industry for installations with a capacity of 1 MWth and larger.
- Reducing emissions for the larger installations that fall under the national NOx-trading system, from 40 g NOx per Giga Joule primary energy use in 2010 to 37 g/GJ in 2013.
- Covenants with the energy sector and refineries to limit their SO2-emissions to a maximum of 13,5 and 14,5 kilotonnes from 2010 onwards.
- Action plan to reduce particulate matter in industry.
- Subsidies and fiscal incentives to stimulate cleaner transport, such as retro-fit soot filters and lowering purchase tax for cleaner cars.
- Introduction of a national road pricing system for both heavy duty vehicles and passenger cars, starting not before 2012.
- Subsidies for scrapping old passenger cars.
- Subsidies for placement of air scrubbers on large poultry stables.
The Dutch National Air Quality Cooperation Programme (NSL) entered into force on 1 August 2009. The programme aims to comply with the limit values for PM10 and NO2, before the end of the derogation period (2011 for PM10, and 2015 for NO2 (2013 for agglomeration Heerlen/Kerkrade). In addition to the general measures listed above, this programme also includes many local measures. Examples are ‘environmental zones’ in ten large cities in the Netherlands which may not be entered by trucks that do not comply with the Euro-2 standard or higher, and stimulating clean public transport. The programme is available at:
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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