Getting rid of Dutch farms won’t halt climate change

Lucas Farmer

March 29, 2023

Environmental activists joined farmers to protest against new policies that aim to half the Netherland’s Nitrogen emissions by 2030.

In May 2019, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands ruled that the Dutch licensing system for Nitrogen emissions, known as the Programmatic Approach to Nitrogen (PAS), was in breach of EU rules. Overnight, the PAS invalidated thousands of farmer’s emissions licenses in order to free up space for important industrial projects. Over the next 12 months the government will make use of a dedicated £22bn to buy out over 3,000 ‘unlawful’ farms. In the long-term, over 10,000 farms may be forced to shut down.

The Dutch government’s aggressive approach towards combatting carbon emissions will certainly improve local biodiversity; however, ‘environmental leakage’ will inhibit these policies from remedying global environmental challenges.

A reduction in the supply of Dutch livestock will cause a diversion of EU agricultural products. At present, the Netherlands is the EU’s biggest exporter of meat. However, COPA-COGECA predict that the Netherlands could be a net-importer of agricultural products by 2030. Resultantly, E.U. countries such as France will have to ramp up livestock farming in order to fill the gap left by Dutch farmers. With similarly industrious farming practices, nitrogen emissions across the EU would remain relatively unchanged.

Agricultural imports from countries outside of the EU could also increase. Brazil, for example, is the world’s largest exporter of beef products and currently supplies 45 per cent of E.U. beef imports. With longer supply chains and weaker domestic environmental regulation, an increase in agricultural offshoring from continental Europe can be expected to cause a boost in global greenhouse-gas emission

Environmentalists have been cheated.

Whilst energy, industry and commerce make up nearly half of the Netherland’s nitrogen emissions (and account for the bulk of carbon emissions), it’s apparent that the Dutch government has disproportionately targeted the agricultural industry. Dutch policymakers are taking the easy way out in an apparent attempt to please EU legislators overnight. It makes little sense that the Dutch agricultural industry, a sector that fundamentally embraces nature, must bear the brunt of a burden partly born by other emissions-intensive industries.

Hopes are placed in the newly elected citizens-farmers party (BBB) – who promise to promote sustainable farming technologies whilst simultaneously stamping out disproportionate state support for fossil fuels and heavy industry. Conversely, if Mark Rutte’s VVD party wishes to return to government, it will have to reflect on its environmental policy myopia. Long-term climate planning will be key to ensuring that countries such as the Netherlands can make sustainable progress towards meeting environmental targets.


  • Lucas Farmer

    Lucas is an intern at Institute of Economic Affairs. He writes about energy and climate change, particularly nuclear energy.

Written by Lucas Farmer

Lucas is an intern at Institute of Economic Affairs. He writes about energy and climate change, particularly nuclear energy.

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