The Embassy and Consulates | Kingdom of the Netherlands, Canada

Sustainability in the Netherlands

Working Together, Living Together
Policy Programme of the Fourth Balkenende Government, 2007-2011
A sustainable living environment


The government wants to take real steps towards creating a sustainable society, by promoting responsible and efficient use of energy and natural resources. By reducing energy consumption and generating energy from more sustainable sources, we will help curb global warming and ensure that our children and grandchildren will also have sufficient energy. Innovations that reduce our burden on the environment have enormous ecological and economic potential.

Water - the sea, rivers, lakes, waterways and canals - is a dominant feature of the Netherlands, and climate change will make sustainable water management even more important than it already is.

Compactness is another feature of our country. We must value the little space we have and avoid cluttering our landscape by concentrating economic activity and maximising the use of space in built-up areas. We will continue to follow our National Spatial Strategy on this point. We want to preserve our country's most beautiful sites, which are found in both cities and the countryside. In this, 'vitality' and 'beauty' can coexist. The Netherlands' characteristic landscapes and unique nature areas deserve our attention and protection. A robust, innovative agriculture sector recognises the importance of natural values and of raising animal welfare to a yet higher level.

Problem analysis

The Netherlands has a good record in the area of spatial planning, water management, nature policy and environmental performance. But this does not mean that our living environment is already entirely sustainable, or that our consumption has no negative impact. The government sees four major challenges that need to be taken up to make the Netherlands more sustainable.
The first challenge will be to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate our transition to more sustainable energy sources. This can only be achieved through concerted effort at global and European level, with the Netherlands contributing its share to these international commitments. The government has set ambitious targets for climate and energy policy that can only be achieved if we turn around the prevailing trend. All the stops will have to be pulled out and everyone will have to pitch in: government, civil society organisations, individual citizens and businesses.

The second challenge will be to use resources and energy more efficiently and promote fair, socially responsible products.

The third challenge is to use the limited space in the Netherlands sustainably, in a way that will enhance its beauty and vitality. In the years to come, the demand on space will remain high. The cities are wrestling with serious traffic congestion and environmental problems, while in rural communities, first-time home buyers and older people have difficulty finding suitable, affordable homes. Not enough green spaces are being developed around urban areas. Since 1900, we have lost half of our cultural-historical landscape elements. The landscape is becoming cluttered, especially along motorways, and glasshouses are cropping up in too many different places. Many opportunities are being passed up. A recent social cost/benefit analysis, for example, showed that investments in landscape can be highly profitable. The restructuring and rejuvenation of neighbourhoods and business parks should be accelerated. Our cities, neighbourhoods and buildings can be made more attractive.

The fourth challenge is integrated water management. This includes adapting our water defences to cope with the effects of climate change and a cost-effective implementation of the water quality targets of the Water Framework Directive. We need to frame a coherent approach to this task.


  1. Climate and energy: the 'Cleaner and more efficient' project

    An annual energy saving of 2%, an increase in the share of renewable energy to 20% by 2020 and a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, preferably at European level, by 2020 relative to 1990.

    The government proposes implementing measures, between now and 2011, that will put the Netherlands on course to achieve the 2020 targets. We will need to introduce new, energy-efficient technologies and market incentives, and form international coalitions. Above all, measures will have to be cost-effective. The government distinguishes four approaches to achieve the climate targets.

    • Carbon pricing systems. An emissions trading system for businesses is already in place at European level. The Dutch government will seek to have this scheme tightened up and expanded. The possibility of stepping up efforts is being discussed with the private sector.
    • Higher standards. Energy performance standards for certain products, such as cars and household appliances, are set at European level. At national level, we can introduce energy performance labels for homes and buildings, or set obligatory percentages for renewable energy.
    • Greener taxation: there must be a financial incentive for purchasing products and services that contribute to the climate targets. This will also directly stimulate businesses to develop new, sustainable products and technologies. Environmental performance will have a heavier weighting in car and motorcycle tax.
    • Promoting technologies that are not yet competitive, like renewable electricity. The government aims to remove obstacles facing pioneers in this field. Existing innovative forces in the private sector will be mobilised.
    Measures will be differentiated per sector. In the construction sector, for example, new homes and commercial buildings will have to be climate neutral as of 2020. As for current building projects and existing buildings, the government will stimulate innovation and tighten existing environmental standards.

    The need for an international level playing field is important in the energy sector. Emissions trading will play a key role. The government will invest in the further development of wind-generated electricity and is studying the possibility of doubling wind-generated electricity production on land. One or two large-scale demonstration projects for carbon capture and storage will be started.

    The government wants to make concrete efficiency agreements with at least ten branches of industry, following the example of the pulp and paper industry, which is striving to reduce energy consumption by 50% in 2020.
    There is enormous scope for efficiency improvement in the transport sector. Stricter European standards for cars would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new cars by 20%. The government will use tax incentives to promote fuel-efficient cars and driving. It will also make biofuel blends compulsory and introduce new ways of paying for mobility, taxing car use rather than car ownership.

    In agriculture, the government will promote energy-neutral glasshouse production. The scenario for 2020 is that glasshouses will store their summer surplus of solar heat for use in winter. The government also wants the agriculture sector to do more in the field of renewable energy.
    Central government also has targets to meet. Its aim is to be climate neutral as soon as possible by reducing energy consumption and buying renewable energy.

    There have been consultations with the construction industry, energy, manufacturing industry, the traffic and transport sector, and agriculture. The government has talked with other public authorities and non-governmental organisations. The sectors have agreed to the government's climate objectives and detailed plans are now being drawn up in mutual consultation.

  2. Developing markets for sustainable goods and services

    By 2010, sustainability must be a major criterion in all government purchasing.

    By leading the way in the purchase of innovative products, the government has the potential to stimulate innovation and sustainability in business. In defining 'sustainable procurement', sustainability criteria are being drawn up for all relevant product categories, from government cars and catering to ground works and road construction. There will be criteria for most categories by 2007, with the remaining categories being completed in 2008. The government is in favour of criteria that are as stringent as possible, within financial and legal constraints. The aim is that by 2010 at the latest, sustainability will be a major performance commitment in all government procurement and investments, which total more than 40 billion euros per year. With this kind of purchasing power, the private sector will be stimulated to produce more sustainable goods and make them more affordable. The government will report on progress in implementing its sustainable procurement policy in early 2009.

    The government will work with businesses and member states that also have an ambitious sustainable purchasing policy.

    Promoting sustainable consumption and production

    Environmentally-friendly products and services need to be more attractive in comparison to non-sustainable alternatives. The government will create conditions which will encourage consumers and producers to make sustainable choices.

  3. Sustainable spatial development: locations for living and working

    To meet the demand for good quality sites for business parks and build 80,000 to 100,000 new homes per year. These should be situated where they blend well into the surroundings.

    The government aims to build 80,000 to 100,000 new homes each year. This will be no mean feat. As the capacity proposed in regional plans is routinely cut, a 130% surplus will be aimed for. Land exploitation grants are proposed to compensate for the discrepancy between the high land prices for housing and the returns. The government will seek agreement with the housing associations on a target for new housing of about 40,000 homes per year. Due to the overwhelming preference for single-family dwellings, it will be necessary to capitalise on the development of smaller locations within and outside urban areas.
    Increased pressure on mobility and space can be prevented by concentrating 25 to 40% of new homes in brownfield sites. A location that blends into the surroundings is one that directly borders an existing built-up area, or is in any case situated very near to it. Other characteristics of harmonious development are green spaces in and around built-up areas and good public transport. In pursuing these aims, the government distinguishes four approaches:

    • establishing quality control teams to help other public authorities achieve spatial quality standards (launch 2007);
    • promoting the development of a planning framework for building activities in open countryside;
    • developing and implementing a programme of incentives to improve the spatial quality of cluttered landscapes (launch in 2008);
    • increasing, through closer monitoring, the consistency of the spatial plans of municipal and provincial authorities with the spatial plans made at national level.
    Business parks are vital for a sustainable economic development. Sufficient space for business is achieved through regional coordination of the restructuring of existing sites, the judicious granting of land, sound management and, if necessary, development of new sites. Local and provincial authorities, the private sector and other stakeholders will be asked to take part in analysing the problems associated with a regional approach to business parks. And in developing smart solutions to the demand for space for economic activity. Later this year, the government will be presenting a more detailed description of possible solutions (possibly including a restructuring fund) to accelerate restructuring operations and improve the spatial design, quality and integration of business parks in the landscape.

    In 2009, central and local/regional government will agree on urbanisation measures from 2010. These measures will be aligned with the policy for 40 'problem neighbourhoods' as described in the fourth pillar of this government's policy programme. The government will ask all stakeholders to give their ideas on how space may be used efficiently so that the quantitative and qualitative demand for homes and workplaces can be met.

  4. Sustainable spatial development in the Netherlands: a living countryside

    In 2011, the Dutch countryside will be rated more highly by the public, there will be new green space, more vital and dynamic rural communities, and investment in nature areas.

    The government is committed to boosting the quality of the Dutch countryside and to improving and increasing access to green space around towns and cities. The government also supports a living countryside, made up of economically vital communities with adequate facilities. In pursuing these aims, the government will:

    • develop 16,000 hectares of urban green belts by 2013;
    • implement the area-specific measures laid down in the Delta Plan (Nederland weer mooier), to restore cultural-historical landscape elements;
    • work with other public authorities to concentrate and restructure undesirable economic activity, including isolated glasshouse production units. The possibility of a restructuring fund is being looked into;
    • promote the role of the agriculture sector in recreation and in the management of nature, landscape, water and cultural heritage. At European level, the Netherlands will strive for an agriculture policy that is an even better reflection of social values;
    • allow rural communities to build homes for their own populations, through an amendment to the Housing Allocation Act and a special budget item for promoting basic facilities and accessibility in rural communities.
    The biological diversity of nature in the Netherlands is on the decline, as more and more plant and animal species become extinct. There is a real risk that we will not meet national and international nature targets. The government aims to turn the tide by increasing its investment in nature, so that the national ecological network will be completed, in quantitative terms, by 2018. We will also fulfil our commitments under the European Natura 2000 policy by 2015.

    This spring, government ministers visited scores of projects in the countryside. Everywhere, nature and landscape managers, farmers, rural people, civil society organisations and local authorities are working hard to develop and preserve valuable nature areas and landscapes, and to produce food. Consultations were organised that expressly included people who hold different views so as to accurately identify the challenges in our countryside. Time and again, people underscored the need for stronger connections between the market, the countryside and society in general, and between town and country. Civil society organisations also stressed the need for updating the legislation and funding system for historic buildings and monuments.

    In 2011, livestock animals and pets will be treated better. Five per cent of animal housing will meet high sustainability and animal welfare standards, providing a level of animal welfare that surpasses legal requirements.

    The Animal Welfare Policy Document sets out what improvements are envisaged, what type of legislation is required to realise this, how this can be financed, and how enforcement could be improved. The government will provide funding for research into animal housing that integrates the demands of sustainability and animal welfare, and will support the development of these in demonstration projects. These housing units will typically offer more space per animal than laid down in animal welfare legislation. Extra government funding will also be available to improve enforcement of existing laws on animal welfare, animal abuse and misuse.

    The Netherlands will seek a dialogue at European level about higher legislative standards for animal welfare.

  5. Sustainable spatial development in the Netherlands: living with water

    To prepare the Netherlands for the consequences of climate change. Water will become an increasingly dominant factor in spatial planning decisions, including development location decisions. More space will be set aside for natural processes (soil, water and nature) to run their course.

    Preparing the Netherlands for climate change is one of the greatest spatial planning challenges of this century, and the single greatest challenge for water management. All tiers of government and the water boards share in this responsibility.
    The fundamental principles of a 'climate-proof' country will be based on long-term research into the vulnerability of our main spatial networks. An assessment framework will be developed for decisions on the location and structure of large-scale projects, area development and investment programmes. The assessment framework will be based on climate scenarios developed by the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute.
    The government will achieve existing policy objectives to restore the water table in priority nature areas. The National Spatial Strategy budget will be used to 'climate-proof' polders such as Haarlemmermeer, Zuidplas and Almere/IJmeer, as well as smaller areas. The government will draw up a new policy framework for the management of the IJsselmeer.

    The State Secretary for Transport, Public Works and Water Management has visited dozens of sites to examine the different roles water plays in daily life in the Netherlands. Her impressions will be published in a coherent vision on water before the summer.
    Sustainable water policy will connect ecological and economic interests. The Netherlands will be a global leader again in innovative delta technology.

    We need to develop innovative concepts in order to achieve our ambitions in the area of water. An innovative and integrated approach will lead to better results and help keep costs down. Water policy aims should be tackled in conjunction with objectives for nature, infrastructure, agriculture, recreation and urban planning. The challenges in water management are not unique to the Netherlands. Water is not just a cost item; there is a market for our knowledge and expertise in other parts of the world, such as vulnerable deltas in developing countries.

    To accelerate work on shoring up our coastal defences and strengthening primary flood defences that failed to pass a second statutory inspection. To rethink attitudes on water safety and incorporate new views in the flood defence system.

    The government's primary concern is to ensure that flood defences and coastal defences meet statutory requirements. It is also important that we develop water safety policy that takes account of certain risks. Finally, the government also intends to develop an integral long-term vision on coastal development in collaboration with all parties concerned.

  6. Coherent spatial development

    To successfully tackle complex, connected spatial challenges that are of national importance.

    The problems of urbanisation, nature, landscape and climate - as described above - are complex and, to some degree, connected at regional level. The government believes that integrated regional development will lead to sound, coherent measures. Some areas - like Almere, the coast, the 'green heart' of the western conurbation and the regions along the major rivers - are of vital importance for the Netherlands as a whole, and the government has set aside one billion euros until 2014 to support integrated regional development projects here. The government will select projects to be supported this summer.

Central government funding for Pillar III: A sustainable living environment


(x million €)
Envelope for energy125250375500
Electricity Production (Environmental Quality) Act51515151
'Cleaner and More Efficient' project74199324449
Envelope for water and coastline5075100150
Flood defence
Water quality50657560
Envelope for Nature, national ecological network, living countryside *255075100
Landscape, nature/national ecological network*7254875
Enforcing animal welfare2455
Other (incl. air quality, living countryside)16212220
Contribution by Provinces Fund to national ecological network and living countryside **15203550
Landscape, nature/national ecological network10132035
Green belts571515

The Public Transport envelope has been moved to pillar II.
* Part of this amount, 10 million euros, is included in discussions with provincial authorities on how annual increases in funding are to be spent.
** To be fixed in an administrative agreement.

In order to maintain the grants scheme under the Electricity Production (Environmental Quality) Act, a fixed amount of 51 million euros per year will be budgeted as of 2008. The additional expenditure should raise the production of renewable energy above the targets set by the previous government. The rest of the envelope will be allocated as part of a coherent package of measures under the 'Cleaner and more efficient' project, which will supplement existing energy and climate policy and which will be based on initiatives by the sectors concerned. Besides measures requiring government funding, the project will create market incentives such as legislation, obligatory performance levels and market instruments.

Water and Coastline
From 2008 to 2011, a total of 125 million euros will be available on top of existing funds for dike reinforcement. Part of the remaining budget will go to developing cost-effective measures in accordance with the Water Framework Directive.

Nature, national ecological network, living countryside, animal welfare
Funding for nature, the national ecological network and a living countryside will be divided between: unforeseen circumstances and priorities identified in the coalition agreement, the quantitative completion of the national ecological network by 2018, green belt development, and improved policy alignment within the area of spatial planning.

Additional funding will be reserved for improving the enforcement of existing legislation on animal welfare, animal abuse and misuse.
There will be incentives for farmers to invest in air scrubbers, advanced filter technology for animal housing which reduce emissions of fine particulate matter and ammonia, thus improving environmental conditions in the surrounding area.